MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku



10 APRIL 2024

Friday, July 30, 2021

Pasal Apa Melayu Nak Jadi Arab Bungkus? At Last The Mice Bell The Cat


This morning a Singaporean friend sent me the latest issue (July 2021) of  this Singapore publication :

This is the publication of Singapore's Yusof Ishak Institute (aka Institute of South East Asian Studies or ISEAS).  This 46 page booklet is a well researched article by one Mohd Faizal Musa on Syed Naquib Al-Attas the well known I-dont-know-what-exactly who according to this article has been  a significant influence on I-dont-know-who-exactly. I will explain both these I-dont-know-whos-and-whats  shortly.  

Just some small trivia - Syed Naquib Al-Attas is the brother of the late Professor Syed Hussein Alatas. I note that their surname is spelt differently Al-Attas versus Alatas. 

As I have mentioned before in this blog, I knew the late Professor Syed Hussein Alatas very well and spent so many late night hours sitting and talking with him about Islam, politics and this and that. 

But the protagonist for today (protagonist simply means the leading character) is his brother Syed Naquib Al-Attas. 

I will just reproduce verbatim some snippets from this 46 page booklet published by Singapore's Yusuf Ishak Institute and then maybe say a few things.

Please note those passages I have highlighted in red. They are critical points. I will just add my comments in blue as we go along.

• The concept of the Islamization of knowledge was introduced by Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas in the late 1970s. It aimed to detach knowledge from Western culture and civilization in order to replace it with Islamic concepts, frameworks and values.

• The Islamization of knowledge was to occur in the fields of education and culture, manifesting in changes to the syllabus in institutions of higher learning and niche areas of interest in selected  research institutes. In the field of culture, however, it resulted in an unintended consequence of Malay literature being heavily characterized by Islamic elements.

Al-Attas’ Islamization of knowledge amounted to the de-Westernizing of knowledge, or the detaching of knowledge from Western culture and civilization, in favour of Islamic concepts, values and worldview (Al-Attas 1978, pp. 131–32). This was to be done through education and the field of culture. This paper discusses the impact of Al-Attas’ Islamization of knowledge since its introduction in the 1970s and shows how it has affected the discourse surrounding Islam’s role in Malaysian history and society. With full government support, Al-Attas was “committed to providing an Islamic response to the intellectual and cultural challenges of the modern world” (Milner 2011, pp. 218–19).

OSTB :  Years ago I started calling this the 'Islami-cessation' of knowledge. Not the 'Islamisation' of knowledge. I am glad that after so many years the Yusuf Ishak Institute is catching on.

"Islamic-cessation" of knowledge is when knowledge ceases.  In Malaysia, one of the trademarks of the Islami-cessation of knowledge is the insistence that no free speech or free inquiry be allowed in religious matters. Hence you actually need a 'license' to talk about religion.  You still cannot legally question their precepts. If you do you can be jailed, fined and whipped. 

So exactly what type of knowledge do you claim to have when your points of view are protected by criminal prosecution or persecution of people who may not agree with you?

Ok no need to talk too much. So what useful knowledge have you produced? Some fellows came out with an "anti- hysteria kit". Sudah lupa ke. And one public university just hosted a 'Berkahwin dengan makhluk halus' webinar or something. 

My question is still unanswered : Can you produce a decent pair of underwear? Or do you import from China?

So what exactly is this Islamicisation of knowledge that you are talking about. More than 30 years have gone by. What do you have to show for it? 

Negara Arab Islam semua sudah hancur. And they are still burning down. Non stop destruction. What happened to Islamicisation of knowledge in those countries? Are there no Muslims there as well?  Are there no Muslims in Egypt? 

This is just the confusion of the village boys or kampong boys (including the likes of Syed Qutb of the Ikhwan Muslimin in Egypt) who could not differentiate between western culture and modernisation. 

Syed Qutb spent two years in Idaho in the USA where he did not like to see American men and women mixing and socialising. But who the hell asked him to go to Idaho? Why not stay in Egypt with the donkeys and the goats? Why go and live in Switzerland? Is Switzerland a very Islamic country? 

They are confused. Are they really against western culture or are they against modernisation? The two are not the same.

Once a year some Italians throw a live goat from the top of a tower. It is part of their tradition (or culture?) The rest of the world may not even be aware of this part of Italian tradition.  But modern Italians also became an industrial and military superpower, which they used to colonies Islamic countries. 

German men wear leather shorts and knee high socks in summer and blow trumpets and flutes. It is their style of having fun. And they drink beer.  The rest of the world may not know about this. But the Germans export Mercedes Benz, BMWs and Audis. 

So which part of Germany do the islamists come into contact with? Those German guys wearing leather shorts or the BMWs? 

The Japanese, Koreans and now the Chinese are perhaps more modern than the West. Korean k-pop and Korean dramas can match Hollywood and western pop music in popularity.  But no Korean, Japanese or Chinese will say that they have westernised. But they will say that they have certainly modernised. 

So being westernised and modernised are two different things. 

It is not western to be democratic. It is modern to be democratic. 

It is not westernised to be scientifially and industrially advanced. 

It is modern to be scientifically and industrially advanced.   

So what exactly dont they like about the West - the modernisation or the culture? We rarely meet western culture in our countries. But we meet western modernisation everyday of our lives.

Now it is becoming Chinese, Korean and Japanese modernisation that impacts our lives more and more. 

Made in China or Made in Japan are the result of their modernisation. Not the result of their westernisation.  Japanese are still Japanese. Chinese are very Chinese. But they are becoming highly modern. Hence also their success.  

So the kampong boys are still a little confused.  What is it they do not like - westernisation or modernisation?  

To be successful, you need to be modern. 

• Over the years, proponents of the Islamization of knowledge in Malaysia have moved beyond the fields of education and culture.  They have entered the mainstream and become part of the state machinery, thus possibly impacting national policies.

• The concept has also evolved and arguably led to the strengthening of Islamic conservatism among Malaysian intellectual and cultural elites.

OSTB : Ok  here let me answer the "I-dont-know-who-exactly" that I mentioned above.  Some of these "I-dont-know-who" folks are supposedly followers of Syed Naquib Al-Attas. Ok fine. But who exactly are these  so called  "Malaysian intellectual and cultural elites"?  Where exactly do you find them?   Having Milo-ais at the cafeteria on the campuses?  Or living around Bangi? Kampong Tunku? Taman Tun? 

Where do they publish? Does the real world of academia know them? Or do you have to bend really low to step under the tempurungs to find them?  Without a doubt they all live off taxpayer's funds. What does that mean? It means that they are Civil Servant "intellectuals".  And in this country the Civil Servants dance to the tune set by the politicians.  That means you have to start crawling now - to get under the tempurung. 

• More specifically, its exclusivist thinking does not augur well for intra - and intercommunal relations in the country.

said that Al-Attas was responsible for “positioning Islam as the main foundation in Malay studies, and subsequently spearheaded the movement of Islamizing science and education” with the establishment of ISTAC.

It is common knowledge that the institute (ISTAC) receives large funding from the Malaysian government and enjoys political support from the former president of the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (ABIM), and former deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim. 

“the person who had the greatest influence upon Anwar Ibrahim in his ABIM years was Syed Naquib Al-Attas, then Professor of Malay Literature at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia  (UKM).” 

This was further highlighted by Mona Abaza (1999, p. 189) in her article “Intellectuals, Power and Islam in Malaysia: S.N. Al-Attas or the Beacon on the Crest of a Hill”, where she referred to Al-Attas as Anwar’s “intellectual mentor”. According to Komaruddin Sassi (2020, pp. 53–54) who wrote his doctoral thesis on Al-Attas, it was Anwar who appointed him as the first occupant of the Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali Chair of Islamic Thought at ISTAC.

Al-Attas is well known for his negative views on the role of Hindu-Buddhist culture in pre-Islamic Malay society. 

Thus, in order to counteract those who highlight the significance of Hindu-Buddhist culture in pre-Islamic Malay civilization, Al-Attas proposed Islamization. 

As laid out in his book Islam and Secularism, Al-Attas defined Islamization as “the liberation of man first from magical,  mythological, animistic, national-cultural tradition opposed to Islam, and  then from secular control over his reason and his language” (1978, p. 41). 

In proposing Islamization, he was weaving Islam and Malay identity into one

OSTB : So the "Melayu jadi Arab" movement began. Just for some compariosn ok - this is not super scientific but just an observation. The mamaks are closer to Arabia. And true enough Pak Arab pun makan roti, roti nan, makan daging kurma, makan nasi beriyani - (just like the mamaks).  Tapi mamak pun tak jadi Arab. Mamak are still mamak. 

As Mona Abaza (1999, p. 209) put it, Al-Attas’ act of focusing on Islam at the expense of Hindu-Buddhist elements was an “ideological reconstruction that is co-opted within the official ideology of ‘Malayness,’  closely interwoven with a new rising Islamic consciousness.” Thus, while Islam has often been associated with the Malay identity and  while the very definition of “Malay” in the Constitution is connected to Islam, Al-Attas’ efforts went beyond highlighting this lived reality.5

This was symbolized in the functioning of ISTAC, an institution “run in an Mashitah Sulaiman et al. (2017) claim that 

the Islamization of knowledge led to the introduction of Islamic education in kindergartens established by ABIM, who had close relations with Al-Attas and Anwar Ibrahim in the 1970s and 1980s: “Islamisation of knowledge which emphasises a new concept of the integrated education system has contributed to the existence of a systematic integrated education institution pioneered by ABIM with the establishment of the first pre-school education TASKI (known as Taman Asuhan Kanak-Kanak Islam) in 1979, Islamic Primary School (SRI—Sekolah Rendah Islam) in 1988, Islamic Secondary School (SMI—Sekolah Menengah Islam) in 1988. 

The introduction of Islamic education then became the national education policy when the National Education Philosophy was implemented in 1987 as a result of ABIM activists’ effort to bring ABIM’s philosophy in education at the mainstream level.” (p. 913).

OSTB : The Islami-cessation of the Malaysian education system began in 1987 under the influence of  Brader Anwar. So are you still surprised that after 34 years the Malaysian education system is now in the tong sampah? Congratulations.

  • According to Al-Attas, Islam should be the only source and framework for Malay literature, thus conceptualizing and contextualizing Malay literature as Islamic. 
  • In his presentation, Al-Attas referred to Malay as an Islamic language. 
  • He said that “the Malay language should be regarded as an Islamic language and must  be grouped with the history of Islamic culture, just as Malay literature should be understood as Islamic literature.

 Here is another interesting statement : 

  • I will examine the origins of this idea and how it has manifested itself in the fields of education and culture in Malaysia. I argue that Al-Attas’ ideas on the Islamization of knowledge could be one of the reasons for the turn towards Islamic conservatism among Malaysian intellectual and cultural elites, and that it has been used to justify certain forms of discrimination against non-Malays and non-Muslims

OSTB :  So the ideas that 'Melayu is tuan',  'ketuanan Melayu', 'Melayu is islam' or perhaps now 'Islam is Melayu' can also be linked to this. 

'among Malaysian intellectual and cultural elites' ??  The question remains - just exactly who are these intellectual and cultural elites ? What positive impact do they have on Malay society? Can they live without their Civil Servant salaries? Meaning can they speak on their own? Can they think for themselves?  

My conclusion :  Why cant they solve anything? Why cant they achieve anything? The sectarian religion that they are so confused about today is a Persian construct. The period, the people and the place are all known. 

The period was the Abbasid Caliphate (8th - 13th century). The people were the Abbasids, their well known characters being Harun Al Rashid, the Bramakhis (Barmecides), the Baytul Hikmah which was heavily influenced by Christians - please Google them. The location was Khorasan in Persia. 

It was not an Arabian construct.  There was politics, intrigue and power struggles. 

They did not solve their problems. Whatever they had, they soon lost it all. Until today. 

So you think you can do a better job?  

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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