A giant among intellectuals
By JOHAN JAAFFAR
Thursday, 23 Feb 2023 9:52 PM MYT
Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Mohd Kamal Hassan was an intellectual with impeccable credentials. He was known for his academic excellence and leadership. A giant among men. His demise on Thursday morning due to complications related to recent surgical procedures was a big loss to the nation. But his legacy will live on.
I have read almost all of his books. However, The Malay Concept of Sejahtera from an Islamic Perspective has had a profound effect on me. I found it interesting for a scholar to “appropriate” what seemed to be a simple Malay concept of sejahtera (literally wellbeing, prosperity) from an Islamic perspective.
In Islam, the idea of inner tranquillity or wellbeing, of joy and happiness, of success or triumph, all of which should be of enduring positive impact on their lives, is from his reading, in consonance with the concept of sejahtera in the Malay language.
The concept according to him applies to various dimensions of life: physical, ecological, psychological, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, economic, political, governance, educational, social, cultural and religious.
He was nearing 80 when he wrote Corruption and Hypocrisy in Malay Muslim Politics: The Urgency of Moral-Ethical Transformation.
Reading the book I found one particular part that affected me immensely. He wrote, “As an old man who is appalled and disgusted with the corrupt politics of his ethnic group, this book is my intellectual wasiat (testament) to the younger generation of the educated elites of the Muslim community in Malaysia – the future leaders of the ummah.”
The book will define his true scholarship and intellectual audacity. He set the agenda very early in the book, that he was dismayed and shamed by two major crises facing the nation: the deplorable moral decay in the area of politics and governance of the nation and the widening internal rift within the Malay-Muslim community since the last five years.
It is a no holds barred book. He wrote frankly and freely. He was like a man obsessed to put forth his argument and to help chart a path for corrections. He spoke about “the advanced state of moral-ethical decadence” and the urgent transformation needed to address that.
He knew he had nothing to lose. He was a scholar and he had to appease no one. He believed it was his moral obligation to talk about corruption which he termed a “phenomenon.”
He opined that the state of corruption and hypocrisy in Malay-Muslim behaviour and culture is symptomatic of the inner crisis of the leaders and followers of political parties.
He wrote about the moral decay as a consequence of among other things, the impact of materialistic modernisation, the pragmatism of political parties, and the materialistic and egoistic character of key political leaders.
He also listed the lack of proper and moral-ethical education in political parties and the impact of the secularised democratic political system as the reasons.
One critical element that most reviewers missed was the bit about the fear of non-Muslim political dominance. Little wonder he was concerned about “the agenda of national integrity” being trampled upon under “the boots of ugly ethno-religious polarisation”.
According to him, racially-motivated political strategies and ethnic-based prejudices are real threats to this country.
He expected Malay-Muslim politicians to follow the tenets of Islam. Islam is against corruption and abuse of power. “Muslims are not supposed to lie,” he said in the interview with me for Sinar Harian in February last year. “Yet it looks like it is stupid of them not to,” he added.
He reiterated the need for this country to be run by “selfless, sincere, competent, tolerant and humble leaders of high integrity, with god-fearing character”.
Is that too tall an order?
Johan Jaaffar is a journalist, editor and for some years chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. The views expressed here are entirely his own.