SINCE Dr. Maszlee Malik was appointed the Minister of Education, I have received scores of calls, WhatsApp and enquiries about him. I have hesitated to provide any comments as I have inadequate knowledge and minimal interaction with him. I also am worried about my own biases and may not do justice to both he and the enquirers. Perhaps I should share with you my biases first and propose some ideas to rectify the concerns.
Firstly, I might be biased because I was totally elated when Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad first announced that he personally will take the position. Changing it was a downer, and I am still brooding over losing Tun as the Minister of Education.
While the other ministries are important, I see the Ministry of Education as the most crucial. In leading and managing change, we need to balance between managing today and managing tomorrow. In other words, we need to manage two-time dimensions – the short term and long term. Where values of the citizens are concerned, the Ministry of Education is the portion that is most central and decisive in managing tomorrow — that is preparing Malaysia and Malaysians for the future. The real dawn of the new era. That is why I was totally ecstatic when Tun was to lead the Ministry.
Secondly, I see myself as an Islamist. In fact, I see Tun as an Islamist too but I would not want to lump all Islamists into one box. I will not make my decisions based on if someone is an Islamist or not. I also do not like labelling someone narrowly as it will not give a fair assessment about the individual. I would want to check their character and past performances.
There are good Islamists and there are bad ones too. In fact, I would choose a good Christian, or Hindu or Buddhist over a corrupt Muslim as my leader.
But allow me to unpack a little about what I mean by a good Islamist within the context of why some segments within Malaysia are disagreeing with Dr. Maszlee’s appointment.
A good Islamist to me is someone who does not try to monopolise God and the Heavens. A good Islamist has an undivided conviction that God’s mercy encompasses all — Muslims, non-Muslims and atheists too. He or she accepts and embraces pluralism in the way of life. By pluralism I do not mean equating each religion or way of life as the same. That would be an obvious error. No two religions are the same. In fact, even within a religion one can find differences.
Pluralism represents the acceptance of a diversity of views or stands rather than a single approach or method toward life. It is the idea that we can agree to disagree, to you your religion, to me mine (Quran chapter 109). There is no compulsion in religion and way of life (Quran 2:256).
It is the ability to see reality, that is, the universe and the earth that we live in is by design a diverse one. To go further, the availability of many religions and path is by design God’s creation (Quran 10:99, 5:48, 64:2) and as such we need to learn to live with it. We do not ignore the differences of various religions (and cultures). We try to understand the different ‘other’. Ultimately, we are willing to defend them should they are wrongly condemned or attacked (Quran 22:40).
To go further, a good Islamist practices pluralism within his own religion. In other words, he or she practices diversity and inclusion within the Muslim world. They prevent takfir (declarations of apostasy) between Muslims. This is perhaps one of the most critical concerns and worries about Dr. Maszlee’s appointment amongst some Muslims, rightly or wrongly. Is he open to diversity and inclusion within the Muslim world?
Thirdly, my limited interaction with Dr. Maszlee.
My few interactions with him were pleasant. He was humble and in his talks and presentations he was open to differences and practiced moderation. He seemed willing to listen to the other side. His manner was not arrogant and he did not look like someone who would impose his position on others. Within the spectrum of the religious scholars, he was on the moderate side. At least that’s how I feel.
My little concern is my experience in a WhatsApp group I once joined, of which Dr. Maszlee and many other Muslim scholars were members, including a popular mufti. As I always kept my discussions and evidence from the Quran and was critical to certain approaches on the collection of the hadith, Dr. Maszlee was quick to label me as anti-hadith. I dislike being narrowly labeled and prefer healthy deliberations. Labelling someone is an easy way out. (By the way, Tun was also labeled as anti-hadith when he took a critical position on the collection of the hadith.)
So what next?
I find it sad and unfair that Dr. Maszlee is made to justify his appointment. I will not like it if I am in his shoes. However, like it or not Dr. Maszlee will need to nip this in the bud. He must remove the uncertainties. To lead successfully, a leader must be totally determined to remove uncertainties, as failing which Dr. Maszlee loses power and influence and in the long run will fail and fall. We cannot afford to let the Ministry of Education fail.
In other words, either Dr. Maszlee clarifies the uncertainties and confusions experienced by his detractors and come out on top, or he can submit to the uncertainties and end up the victim. There is nothing more crucial in legitimate leadership and power as the ability to remove uncertainties.
May I humbly suggest Dr. Maszlee to make a clear stand to support and do the following:
1. That he unequivocally supports the ambitions of the Rukun Negara especially items 2 and 4 that aim to maintain a democratic way of life and ensure a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions. Some feel that there is a reluctance among certain groups of people in taking a strong stand towards the Rukun Negara because of their wish to change the character of the country towards a more theocratic state and curb the liberal character of the nation. By standing firm with the Rukun Negara, Dr. Maszlee will disassociate himself from these groups.
2. That he explicitly stands by the Amman Message. The Amman Message is a statement calling for tolerance and unity in the Muslim world that was issued on November 9, 2004, by King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan at an international Islamic conference of 200 of the world’s leading Islamic scholars and leaders from 50 countries. They unanimously agreed on three fundamental issues (which became known as the Three Points of the Amman Message):
a. They specifically recognised the validity of all 8 mazhabs (legal schools) of Sunni, Shi’a and Ibadhi Islam; of traditional Islamic theology (Ash’arism); of Islamic mysticism (Sufism), and of true Salafi thought, and came to a precise definition of who is a Muslim.
b. Based upon this definition, they forbade takfir (declarations of apostasy) between Muslims.
c. Based upon the Mathahib, they set forth the subjective and objective preconditions for the issuing of the fatwa (edict), thereby exposing ignorant and illegitimate edicts in the name of Islam.
Among the Malaysians who signed the statements were former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Khairy Jamaluddin and Professor Hashim Kamali. Should Dr. Maszlee take this stand he would remove any certainties among those who feel that he will not practice diversity and inclusion with the Muslim community. For further info go to http://ammanmessage.com/
3. Call for a dialogue with the detractors. Deal with their concerns. Ask for feedback and seek their opinions. I have seen Dr. Maszlee in his presentations. I am sure he will be able to manage the detractors and find a justly balanced understanding and compromise.
Should Dr. Maszlee make the above stand and act on them, I have strong convictions that he will be able to remove the uncertainties surrounding his appointment. I for one will support him. I wish him the best and god willing he will consider my suggestions
To my dear Malaysians, let’s also practice this mantra:
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 Malaysia and mankind.
(Editor’s note: The author is an advocate of unity who wrote this at Facebook. Any editing to the text was only related to language.)