Liberating the Malay mind

LIBERATING the Malay Mind is the title of the book by Dr M. Bakri Musa, a Malay doctor who practises medicine and lives in California. Written in English and Malay, the book was published by ZI Publications.

The second edition will be launched on Jan 30 by another famous and successful Malay, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz. As a Malay, I am proud to be associated with these two Malays whom I consider to be “open-minded”.

Open-mindedness is essential if we want to be a moderate and tolerant society.

Moderation is only possible if people understand the issues and are willing to talk about them openly. They can only understand difficult issues if they are willing to think rationally.

Being open-minded means that even if you think you are right, you know that you could be wrong, and you must therefore always be willing to consider other arguments and ideas.

Open-minded people are usually more tolerant, and when you are tolerant you are also moderate in your actions and behaviour.

An open-minded person is willing to engage in discussions and is generally flexible in his or her approach to things. Many leaders like the late Nelson Mandela, artists, writers and scientists attribute their success to their open-mindedness.

In Malaysia, Malays of my generation and those who are older are generally more open-minded than the present crop. This is partly because our educational approach was more focused on building skills such as reading, writing and thinking.

Science and the arts were subjects that had no socio-political dimension. They were studied purely to understand the physical world, culture and human nature.

Interpersonal relations were measured according to how we dealt with others as human beings, rather than which race we belonged to.

Success was measured by the level of skills we attained after years of schooling, and by the job skills we required to feed our families upon graduation. Back then nothing more than a bit of fun here and there got into our bloodstream.

Open-mindedness started to disappear from the scene when we began to have indoctrination in our schools and universities. In other words, when politics and religion got into the classrooms and lecture halls.

Education now includes courses on political awareness, and a heavy dose of religious instructions. If teachers and educationists do not exhibit some form of conforming identity or partisanship to “political and religious needs”, then they might not go far in their respective fields.

A new sense of historical perspective is also considered necessary. The biggest stumbling block to open-mindedness is, of course, education. Both secular and religious education in this country are not like those in the Islamic world of the 8th century.

Baghdad then was the centre of learning, and had the biggest public library in the world. Jews, Christians and Greek scholars of all faiths and creeds gathered to pursue knowledge without restrictions. It was never vacuous, mediocre and rigid, both in content and methodology, like what we have here today.

The culture of having an intellectual and pluralistic approach to understanding the world, including religious tenets, has not taken root.

In fact, such an approach is frowned upon and considered blasphemous. The state’s monopoly and control of religion is absolute.

The outcome is therefore predictable. Younger Malays are an angrier lot; they are less tolerant and moderate than older Malays. Just read their Facebook accounts and social media comments on any subject that is faintly controversial and you will appreciate what I mean.

They hurl abuse and make personal comments that have nothing to do with the subject matter in question. Extremism in their thinking is clearly visible.

They always see problems as if Islam and the Malays are under constant attack.

My concern in all of this is that the attributes these Malays/Muslims are exhibiting, besides being dangerous to the country’s peace and stability, are actually detrimental to their own well-being.

Their “enemies” – such as Chinese, Jews and the West in general – will continue with their ways and not be bothered with the tantrums thrown by these Malays.

They will continue with their educational and economic dominance. They will continue to make inroads in science and technology. They will continue to produce Nobel Prize winners.

What will become of these Malays? They will continue to be fascinated with ideas of violence and destruction, like the Islamic State teachings.

They will continue to adopt a rigid mindset which will make living in a multicultural 21st century setting more difficult. They can continue to listen to preachers and motivational speakers about how to defend their rights; but they will continue to be irrelevant because they will not be successful or dominant over things that matter.

They will not be able to truly develop the country and exploit its resources because they will lack the necessary know-how.

I am concerned that their frustrations over their own irrelevance will push them closer to those militants who blow themselves up. After all, suicide bombers are usually driven by their sense of helplessness, despair and alienation.

That’s why I hope more young Malays will read Dr Bakri’s book and attend the forum “Merdekakan Minda Melayu”, which will be held after the book launch.

I hope they will listen to what Rafidah has to say to find out what can make them more resourceful, and hopefully, successful.

One thing for sure though: they can only do that if they are prepared to liberate their minds from the toxic influences of the present.

Former de facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim ( is now a legal consultant. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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Opinion , Datuk Zaid Ibrahim , columnist


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