Loyal Followers

Friday, May 21, 2010

Integration with integrity*

One of my favourite examples of pure racial and religious integration is the one which existed during the Abbasid rule.

In an atmosphere as culturally and intellectually vibrant as Baghdad was during the Abbasid’s rule, inter-faiths and inter-religions relations were at their best. In Baghdad, Christians lived near a Jacobite monastery on the bank of the Tigris. Muslims would take part in Christian celebrations such as the Palm Sunday and likewise the Christians would honour the Eid-ul-Fitr together with the Muslims. The people were free to practise their respective religion, without fear and without any kind of compulsion. A medieval Egyptian historian noted that the mixing and matching of festivals “was a sign of mutual respect and brotherhood between the religions...moreover, some of the converts to Islam, as Muslims, continued their old practices even after accepting Islam.”

Now that account shows not only a pure unadulterated integration between various races of different faiths, but also assimilation of them into one single society.

Islamic history has shown that racial and religious integration would take place during a period of security, where the people went about living their daily lives without fear and prejudices.

Integration was and still is however a fragile commodity. Everything, from religious sensitivity to racial bigotry as well as political agenda could spark a backlash in no time at all.

Harun al Rasyid ‘s relationship with the Byzantine’s Empress Irene in Constantinople meant a peaceful co-existence between the two religious powerhouse. But when Irene’s finance minister, Nicephorus, overthrew her, the situation changed immediately. After a letter from Nicephorus saying that Harun should be giving the Byzantine his wealth and blaming the peaceful co-existence between Harun and Irene to “weakness of women and their foolishness”, Harun marched into central Anatolia and captured Heraclea.

It was at this time Christians were treated shabbily in Iraq as Abbasid nationalism ruled the day.

At about the same time, the peaceful co-existence also existed in Muslim Andalus, especially in its capital, Cordoba, which was ruled by the remnant of the Umayyad Caliphate who fled from the Abassid after the infamous “dinner of reconciliation” in Damascus.

Muslims, Christians and the Jews were living in harmony. The Court doctor was a Jew. The trading networking was monopolised by the Jews. Jewish translators were used to translate the works of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates. Christians were running the Caliphate. In fact, in the last bastion of Muslim Andalus, Granada, Samuel ibn Nagrela, better known as Nagid (a Hebrew term for “Governor”) was the Muslim army Chief, who fought for his country, alongside Muslim soldiers whom he commanded. He was also oversaw public works, building of a library, mosque, gardens. He even wrote extensively on Hebrew dialects.

Samuel was succeeded by Joseph, his son.

Again, just as it was fragile in Baghdad, it was also fragile in Muslim Andalus. It took a Muslim to destroy Samuel’s legacy and Joseph.

His biggest enemy was a Muslim, Abu Ishaq. Abu Ishaq was out of favour with the Berber Princes who rules Granada. Driven by envy, Abu Ishaq would berate the Granada prince for having “an infidel as his secretary”. He said,

“through him (Joseph), the Jews have become great and proud and arrogant...and how many a worthy Muslim humbly obeys the vilest ape among these miscreants. And this did not happen through their own efforts but through one of our own people who rose as their accomplice. Oh why did he not dea with them....Put them back where they belong and reduce them to the lowest of the low, roaming among us, with their little bags, with contempt, degradation and scorn as their lot, scrabbling in the dunghills for coloured rags to shroud their dead for burial.”

Joseph was dragged by a mob, beaten and crucified. Hundreds of Jews were subject to terror and death in 1066 Granada.

Bigotry also existed on the Christian side. Before the Granada episode, a Jewish monk, Isaac, had sought to start anti-Islam revolt simply because he was disappointed at the rate of conversion from Christianity to Islam. He started this by appearing before a leading Muslim judge and said that Muhammad wasn’t a true Prophet and that he would go to hell. After refusing to recant, he was sentenced to death, prompting a Christian revolt that lasted 8 years.

About 50 Christians including women, young and old, sought death sentence by denouncing Islam and were promptly sentenced to death by the Muslims. Some of them were canonised by the Church, including one Eulogius. The story of these Christian martyrs was later used to rouse anti-Islam sentiments until the Muslim kingdom fell to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

We could learn a thing or two about integration from that part of history.

i. Integration comes with a complete understanding and acceptance of different cultural background and faiths;

ii. Integration exists in periods of peace and security when everyone of different races does not have any kind of racial fear or complexes;

iii. Integration is fragile. It has to be constantly and consistently nurtured and practiced. We have to continuously be conscious of our neighbour’s sensitivities, needs and limitations;

iv. It’s fragility may see it destroyed in a few moments. Political or personal agenda (Abu Ishaq’s envy); religious agenda (Isaac’s scheme); unnecessary or unbridled nationalism (Harun al Rasyid’s war against the Byzantine); hatred and bigotry (Abu Ishaq’s declaration).

Notice what Abu Ishaq said. Is it not the same with the “pendatang” and “2nd class” pronouncements here? Notice Abu Ishaq’s rave that the Jews are rich and well off. Is it not the same with statements made by some of our leaders - past and present - and the likes of PERKASA?

I am supposed to touch on "integrity" in my speech.

Integrity – let’s not look at the dictionary for its meaning. It simply means practising what one preaches. It means not only staying to our true self but to what we say we are.

1 Malaysia would and could have been a  good start. But not when the right hand is doing what the left hand says should not be done. Or when the left hand is not doing what the right hand says should be done. That lacks integrity.

Not when there are people from within the ruling elites - the very promoters of the concept 1 Malaysia - and some other parties with the obvious acquiescence of the promoters of the concept sewing seeds of hatred, counting marbles which ought to belong to one race instead of the other.

Not when some of our leaders hallucinate and begin seeing imaginary monsters - which do not exist as a fact - and begin unsheathing his or her keris, waving it about while shouting nationalistic slogans.

That lacks integrity.

At the end of the day, we cannot rely on others, and that includes the government, when it comes to racial integration. This affects our daily lives.

And so we have to take it upon ourselves - the man in the mirror, so to speak - to take steps - no matter how small they may be - towards integration.

And if we have not done so yet, I would say today would be a good day to start.

* A speech delivered at the 5th National Congress On Integrity at the Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies on 13th May 2010 (with some variations for publication).


All historical anecdotes are quoted from "People of the Book"; Zachary Karabell ; John Murray (Publishers) 2007.


Jeremiah said...

Integrity is defined by the online Webster dictionary as:

1 firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values - incorruptibility
2 an unimpaired condition - soundness
3 the quality or state of being complete or undivided - completeness.

The problem with Malaysian society today is the same with the every developing democratic society:

How do people of "different" mindsets/values live together in peace?

To the ultra-nationalist, he sees himself to be the epitome of integrity and is usually blind to his own bigotry. Same thing with the facist, the religious extremist, etc. They are locked within their own world views and think that those who don't share their views are the ones who ought to deserve less in life.

For Malaysia to move forward to have a civil and useful dialogue among people of different faiths + values, we need four things to happen:

1. Good and honest leaders to serve the best interest of the people, not by appealing to their worst fears/weaknesses.

2. A sound, independent media that provides a platform for discussion and intellectual debate.

3. An indepedent and effective judiciary that ensures the government and its branches are doing their job honestly and efficiently.

4. A thriving market for art & culture free from religious/political sanctions so that artists can express their thoughts and visions of the individual and his role in world. A healthy and world class art culture paves the way for freedom of intellectual discourse.

Are we asking too much of Malaysia with a population of 28 mil people?

I think not. Either we aspire to greatness or remain on the slippery slope of mediocrity, sliding eventually to become the victim to corrupt leaders, dictators, madmen and the mob. (e.g. Thailand, Greece & Burma today)

Anonymous said...

Integrity as defined in UMNO and Perkasa's dictionaries (co-authored by TDM, Jibby, Moohideousdin and Ipariahim Ali):

??????????? (oops, sorry this word does not exist in neither UMNO nor Perkasa's dictionaries)

Mohd Taufik said...

You, sir is one of the reasons I still have faith in Malaysians to make Malaysia a better place in my lifetime.

Jeremiah said...

If you don't mind, I have linked your post to my blog where i elaborated a bit more on Malaysia's scorecard w.r.t. those 4criteria:


Anonymous said...

Sime Darby Bosses are said to be Men of Integrity!


Lanang Sejagat said...


All historical anecdotes are quoted from "People of the Book"; Zachary Karabell ; John Murray (Publishers) 2007.

No wonder the article sound fake

Anonymous said...

Hold a minute. Since when is the goal of the likes of Perkasa and Mahathir who sets the tone Integration? They want Assimilation - assimilation to their way - the insistence of a false right and Ketuanan, Islamization, One school and one medium system, ISA and state tools and agencies being abused and unaccountable etc. Its THEIR DREAM to be the BORG!

We HAD integration and would do it again on our own if the state just stayed out of it. Just go look at old Mallacca and how in the old days there was never a problem.

We know what do do. WE are that good. It is OUR nature. There are just jealous and evil people that won't let us do it.

Talisman said...

As long as women, when married to men, follow the culture and religion of men,peace shall prevail


syed putra ahmad said...

i agree with lanang sejagat. surely one cannot make such a sweeping claim and conclusion about such an era, time, personalities and issue based on just one book.

and surely art harun too is not fast becoming a politician himself. is he?

Anonymous said...

"It is known that in Islam, we are allowed to marry the ahlil-kitab (people of the book)...... required to remove her crucifix before we sleep with her every night? How would she pray in our house in that event?"

I wonder which "book" was u referring to when u wrote that?

art harun said...

Dear Anonymous of 21st March @ 10:10;

I read the book which contains this:

"This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time,- when ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues if any one rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good)." : Al Maidah

Do you?

Anonymous said...

So those who carry crucifix you consider as "people of the book"?

Ok then!

art harun said...


Does it really matter what they carry if they are believers of the Book?