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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Teaching Perkasa about earning a halal living — Mustafa K Anuar



There you go. The primary obstacle to economic success among Malays is that Islam prohibits them from indulging in the businesses of selling liquor, promoting gambling, providing massage services and running entertainment outlets. 
This religious proscription, grumbled right-wing Perkasa chief Ibrahim Ali (right) recently, has put the Malay-Muslim business people at an unfair disadvantage compared to their non-Muslim counterparts — and therefore provides an iron-clad justification for the perpetuation of an affirmative action policy by the government to correct this supposed economic imbalance. 
Serious and even dangerous implications emerge from this grunting complaint. For one thing, Ibrahim’s reported assertion can be interpreted as unfair and appalling for having squarely blamed Islam for the apparent lack of success among Malays and Muslims, particularly in the area of business enterprises, because they, as pointed out by Ibrahim, have been deprived of what seems to be a golden opportunity of making forays into what could be described as “haram activities” that promise immense pecuniary returns. 
Corollary to this contention is the implied notion that all adherents of faiths other than Islam are quite “comfortable” with such nefarious activities as gambling, massage parlours and other extreme and questionable forms of “entertainment” — which is an unwarranted tarring of all non-Islamic communities. Surely to smudge the image of a person or a community in this fashion is un-Islamic. 
This assertion also gives rise to a fundamental question: do Ibrahim and people of similar ilk begrudge the fact that Islam prohibits such a “sinful” form of business to the extent that they perceive it as an unnecessary handicap to Malay entrepreneurship? Isn’t this belittling Islam? I wonder what would be the ulamas’ take, if any, on this issue? 
Furthermore, given that Islam categorically proscribes its followers from indulging in those “haram activities” for all time, does this necessarily mean that an affirmative action plan such as the long-drawn New Economic Policy of yesteryear — which Ibrahim and company appear to have suggested — should be instituted and perpetuated for eternity in the name of helping the Malays? It seems that an eternal socio-economic plan has been given an indirect Islamic stamp of approval. 
A dignified Malay and Muslim community — and for that matter, any human being irrespective of ethnicity, faith and gender — would not be comfortable with such a proposition as this would mean being perpetually assigned to life with an economic crutch and consequently being compelled to be grateful to the powers-that-be. In other words, such a crutch, metaphorically speaking, would be injurious to the self-esteem and dignity of a self-respecting human being over a very long stretch of time. 
Lest I be misunderstood, the needy, the impoverished, the marginalised and the exploited (irrespective of their ethnic and religious backgrounds) indeed require institutional help through various means such as technical training, soft loans for small- and medium-size businesses, and scholarships for bright but poor students, among others things, with the ultimate and noble objective of making them economically independent and boosting their self-esteem. These are, to be sure, transitional and temporary measures that would empower the marginalised. 
Additionally, there have been cases in the past where certain quarters had taken full advantage of such an affirmative action policy in the name of, or representing, their ethnic community even though they are economically well off. This means that they had actually deprived the needy of crucial state assistance, which is obviously unjust and unconscionable. Nothing could be more treacherous and “haram” than that. 
Besides, as any businessperson worth his or her salt would tell us, good business requires hard work apart from essential business acumen. Rent-seeking and ‘Ali Baba’ enterprises aren’t exactly the kind of business that would help stimulate the economy, let alone assist an ethnic community prosper legitimately and professionally in the business world. 
There are other kosher kinds of economic activities that one can go into without having to feel left out by the financial attraction of “sinful activities.” For the Muslims, the life of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace)  who was himself a businessman, would provide inspiration and guidance to those who are inclined towards indulging in businesses that are as lucrative as they are ethical. One can think of businesses in food and agricultural produce, footwear, clothes, industrial goods, construction material, electronic goods, and the tourism-related industry, among other things. 
Moreover, a feeling of business accomplishment, satisfaction and dignity doesn’t necessarily have to come from an involvement in big businesses. Those who earn an honest living through the sheer hard work of selling food at a food court, for instance, are more honourable and can hold their heads up high compared to those corporate people whose “prosperity” is derived from the utter exploitation of their own workers (who may well share the same ethnic backgrounds as their bosses) or from handsome profits skimmed via crony-capitalistic ventures. 
And here we haven’t even started talking about businesses that are mired in corrupt practices that are not only detrimental to the propriety and respectability of the enterprises concerned, but also tear apart the moral fabric of the larger society as these illicit activities are truly “haram”. 
So as Ibrahim and other like-minded people would and should see, one can flourish in various other economic activities if one is not bankrupt of ideas. — harakahdaily.net
* The writer is honorary secretary of Penang-based Aliran Kesedaran Negara.

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