A nation at the crossroads


  • Over the Top
  • Tuesday, 03 Mar 2020

The path to a better future, says our columnist, is based on shared history, economy and spirituality.

MANY of my friends were deeply disturbed and distraught over last week’s events. I was not. My familiar calm disposition came from 20 years of contemplating the root cause of racial and religious conflicts in Malaysia.

Many academics, activists and others point to politics and politicians. I never did that. I know the very root of our problem.

In this article, I elaborate on the direction that we as a nation can take that may help end the racial and religious impasse once and for all. It is really up to us and not a few scheming and selfish politicians. We the people have no one to blame but ourselves.

My strategy for our nation is simply about sharing. We must all “share” as a nation and only then can we feel for each other.

There is no partisan politics in this strategy, which relies solely on various forms of education.

We are always harping on the idea that our education system is in crisis but we often ask for the wrong things, such as more time to teach Science and English and less for religious studies, or more money for computers.

These are merely educational tools and infrastructure that mean nothing without the proper perspective and attitude concerning what we teach.

The first thing that our education must do is to present a construct of a shared history. Through it, we will know about all our many ethnic groups instead of concentrating on one race and one religion. If there are 10 religions or belief systems, then we must have a basic understanding of as well as plain respect for all of them.

It is important to understand how historical events have shaped the values and way of life of each of our ethnic groups.

The shared history must also cover the successes and failures of events deemed turning points in our history. Remember that our history is the history of Malaysia, not of Tanah Melayu per se.

We must teach the perspective that all our historical events have indeed happened and that we accept each and every one of them. Apportioning of blame and ideas of what-ifs in revising history should be avoided at all cost.

Until we as a nation understand that we are the product, the by-product and the cause of our history, together as a people entwined with ourselves in different communities, we will never share the precious aspects of history in our lives.

Our arts, culture, traditional food and architecture present the imprints of cultural, technological and aesthetic integration of peoples of various races and religions or beliefs. These are the facts and pages of our nation’s upbringing, a shared heritage of things, events and lives.

Second, if we are to progress as a strong nation, we must have the attitude and perspective of a shared economy.

I am not an economist and I would not try to position myself as a self-made expert. What is mostly presented as economic measures are what I term as macro issues that involve the movement of large amounts of materials, capital and resources. My approach to a shared economy is more spiritual, not mathematical or scientific.

When the nation was poor, the resources and policies were geared towards education in order to prepare the young with the skills and knowledge to sustain themselves and in this, we have significantly succeeded.

Malaysia now has many middle-class households. What is the responsibility of this group of citizens? Overseas holidays and expensive houses and condos are simplistic constructs of wealth and success that give no lasting meaning.

My approach to a shared economy is to ask the middle class to consider adopting and taking care of families from the B40 group. Instead of relying on just the policy makers to help the needy, we too must play an important role. All religious faiths teach about helping others as a significant path to higher spirituality.

For some of us, RM400 is what we spend on lunch over 20 days. For the B40, RM400 a month helps to feed and buy books for the four or five children per family.

There are many other ways in which a shared economy can work, for instance, through corporations helping the poor. Thus, the economy is not just about a RM200mil investment in flying cars but also about individuals and businesses investing in the community in the way a nation does in its people.

The third element that the nation badly needs is a shared spirituality.

It saddens and worries me greatly when religion becomes divisive because some people focus on forms and history. Some religions have an empire-building history and as a result, many adherents look at others as enemies or with mistrust. Also, the sanctity and rituals of some religions may lead to an unfair judgement of others.

A shared spirituality is simply about sharing the hardships and uncertainties of life such as health and financial problems. All faiths teach the goodness and high spiritual value of helping others. God does not care about the skin colour, faith or disposition of the people we help.

If we can reorient faith as a weapon of mass help-intervention, then religion becomes a strong force of nation-building. Even minuscule assistance, given with dignity, kindness and sincerity to those in need, can mean as much as a billion-ringgit house of worship.

How can we impart these important ideas of shared history, shared economy and shared spirituality? Our universities can teach these as modules of subjects. Our church, mosques and temples can teach these via diligently prepared sermons.

I dream of heading a centre with many good and kind teachers who educate every single university student on these three modules before he embarks on his life and career.

In this way, we can change the nation as our university graduates will have a shared history with all communities, a shared compassion to help a single family or individuals in need, and a shared spiritual construct of humility in giving dignity and help to all of different faiths.

We do not have to depend on politicians, political parties and a declaration of who leads the country. We are all responsible for every one of us as a nation, as a family and as a cause for a true and meaningful existence.

Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at UCSI University. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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