I AM among the fortunate few who had a chance to spend my university life at Kolej Kediaman Zaaba, the seventh residential college at Universiti Malaya during the mid-1980s.
We were lucky to have a very outstanding (and I am not overstating here, many of us from the same era will vouch for this) college master in Prof Dr Omar Farouk who created an environment in which young Malaysians could grow, test out our leadership talent and potential, and be at our best. A place where we could transit into being good citizens.
At the university level we had the wonderful and very capable Deputy Vice-Chancellor the late Prof Madya Mohd Yunus Mohd Noor, and our very respectable and awesome Vice-Chancellor Royal Prof Ungku Abdul Aziz who not only were willing to defend our college master’s approach, but went all out to support him.
With solid support from the university, Dr Omar could provide us with an open environment where diversity and inclusion thrived. Respect for others was the norm. We were encouraged to always work our way to the top, do the best and be the best. Work hard, play hard! Excel in whatever we do!
We were able to run and manage not only national-level projects but also international level ones. We were perhaps the most active college not only in the country but likely the world. Our projects were recognised internationally and were even honoured in newspaper editorials.
Yet, we were labelled by one group of people as too Western, too “duniawi”. We were told that we were not Islamic enough. Prof Ungku Aziz, Prof Madya Yunus and Dr Omar’s names were ridiculed during Friday prayers. Big groups of people came to “tunjuk perasaan” (express their feelings) and “bantah” (object).
Why? Simply because we wanted to have our dinner and dance event at hotels. It was not relevant to them that the dinner and dance was to celebrate, reward and award those who have worked hard and did the college proud in projects, sports, social activities, etc.
To them, dancing was bad, hotels were “haram” (not allowed) and mixing people of different gender, religious backgrounds and race should be avoided. And, they saw it as their right to impose their thoughts on others, too.
How far were they willing to go?
Our master and college members were pelted with rotten eggs. They spoke rudely to a kind and well-mannered elder, Dr Omar, who was ever willing discuss and listen to their views and agree to disagree. When my team and I were managing a project on Kelantanese arts and culture, lives were threatened and we had to deal with bomb hoaxes – simply because they felt that Kelantanese culture was against their religious beliefs.
That was when we were in the 1980s. Have we got any better today? Unfortunately, not.
Today the problem has gone national. A video clip showing the Chief Justice and Attorney-General dancing to the tune of Let’s Twist Again with the law minister and members of the Bar is able to give a large segment of our society conniptions.
We need to stop, think, reflect and choose where we want this nation to head to. In fact, at certain levels, it is not an overstatement to say that we are becoming a society with a sick mentality, where a dance party is now seen and promoted as though it is a sex orgy!
We need to engage with these people, especially the leaders and influencers, and help them pay attention to what is crucial.
Let me use the Zaaba experience to unpack this.
The dance parties represented an extremely small amount of time, energy and focus for those who were at Kolej Zaaba. The rest of the time it was hard work, delivering performance, adding value and doing good. But if one pays attention to only those few hours of dancing instead of a whole year of work, that is being myopic, petty and senseless. Ditto the Opening of the Legal Year 2019 dinner.
Inability to pay attention to what is crucial and core is a huge social and human problem that leads to bad results. Militant Muslims, for example, pay attention to fighting while in reality, in the 23 years of His Prophethood, actual fighting was not more than three days.
That should give an indication about the Quran’s and the Prophet’s position on fighting. Yet, fighting defines the lives of the “jihadist”.
We need to choose what we are paying attention to.
If you still do not get it, among the products of Kolej Zaaba are the current KSN (Chief Secretary to the Government), KSU (secretary-general) of the Foreign Ministry, the Election Commission Chairman, top surgeons at Institut Jantung Negara and countless more.
So please do not focus on the dancing. Pay attention to the hard work and results.
To Royal Prof Ungku Aziz, Allahyarham Prof Madya Mohd Yunus and Prof Dr Omar Farouk, thank you for the opportunity. Thank you for paying attention to what is crucial and giving us the environment to become good Malaysian citizens.
May all of us guide ourselves with love, logic and wisdom. Love, because love makes us fair with our hearts; logic, because logic makes us fair with our minds; and wisdom, because wisdom leads us to combine our love and logic in the way of God and for the benefit of mankind.
We're sorry, this article is unavailable at the moment. If you wish to read this article, kindly contact our Customer Service team at 1-300-88-7827. Thank you for your patience - we're bringing you a new and improved experience soon!
What do you think of this article?