By Prof Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi
Recently, the present finance minister of Malaysia has canceled any funding allocation to independent Chinese schools and several colleges. This has drawn angry response from Chinese education and community leaders with views of comparison with Islamic education funding.
I am hoping that in the new year, all Malaysians should practise forgiveness and understanding when faced with such seemingly 'unjust' behavior.
By calling out a comparison with Islamic education school funding, a tension has been sustained and even strained with another community, thus perpetuating our division of racial and religious conflict.
I would like to send an important message in this article concerning the seeming 'injustice' of the Chinese independent school funding. The message is that we must practise special 'forgiveness' to leaders or elected repersentatives who may seem to act unjustly to all Malaysians and seemingly favoring his or her own race and religious adherents using tax money that comes mainly from non-Muslim or non-Malay pockets.
Tak apa-lah. I will explain why we must 'forgive' such leaders.
Many will ask incredulously why we should 'forgive' the finance minister of his seemingly unjust deed? I will give four reasons why.
The first reason why we should 'forgive' the finance minister is because he is just a senator and not a Wakil Rakyat. Thus, he wakil or represents only the PM who appoints him. He does not wakil the rakyat. He has no experience walking the different street alleys and longkangs looking after the affairs of the rakyat and probably never set foot in a 'Chinese area' to have teh tarik.
Thus, we Malaysians must 'forgive' him for what he is not, a Wakil Rakyat who depends on people of multiracial background to vote him to office. The 'boss' of a Wakil Rakyat is the people. The 'boss' of the senator is not the people but 'other' people. So forgive-lah.
Secondly, I read from Wikipedia that the finance minister was a corporate banker in his previous career. Thus, as a high-powered highly paid corporate banker who is used to looking at numbers and zeroes in spreadsheets, the finance minister may not have the touch and concern of history and heritage. This may be also because of his two degrees in business and finance that has very little time and tolerance for 'useless' and 'sentimental' subjects such as the heritage of education in Malaysia that saw the Islamic, colonial and vernacular education setting the first foundation of an intelligent citizenry that makes up the workforce and economic backbone of the country.
I have asked many first class graduates of public and private universities who are from the business schools about the importance of culture, history and arts, and these 3.99 CGPA graduates have absolutely no idea how to answer my question.
So we must learn to 'forgive' the finance minister on a curriculum, syllabus as well as career that does not include the appreciation of arts, culture and heritage.
Thirdly, we must 'forgive' the finance minister for being callous over the importance of Chinese independent schools simply because he perhaps has no colleagues or friends who hail from those educational institutions. He, therefore, has no way of valuing the work ethics and morals of the graduates of the school.
I have many friends from Chinese independent schools. In my present place of employment, my Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Technology and Built Environment and Head of School of Architecture are both independent Chinese school graduates. I have watched intently the work ethics and professionalism of these individuals at the leadership role at the university. They are both hard workers, can exercise independent thinking, open to new ideas and have complete tolerance of other cultures, religions and races.
The faculty has 70% Muslim academics of the 140 strong. It is my personal opinion that these Chinese independent schools produce graduates of the best kinds that would serve the building of a modern and tolerant Malaysia.
So we must 'forgive' the finance minister because he probably has no colleagues or friends to evaluate the product of the Chinese schools.
Finally, Malaysians must also learn to 'forgive' many Malay-Muslims who are surprisingly ignorant of their own religion and teachings of Islam.
In many so-called Islamic issues in Malaysia that have sparked religious unrest, I find that most Malays seem to subscribe to the narrative that Islam must help only Malays and Muslims dulu, kini dan selamanya.
I am a Malay and also a Muslim but I subscribe to the narrative of Islam that ensures justice to all people regardless of race, faiths and culture dulu, kini dan selamanya.
Most Malays, like the finance minister, learn Islam from ustazs and teachers who are Malays. They do not read and contemplate thousands of hadiths of the Prophet and only seek the easy way out of letting clerics think for them. They do not read nor contemplate how Umar Al Khatab, a close Companion or Sahabah of the Prophet, once discovered a shield that belonged to him but in the possession of a Jew.
Umar accused the Jew of stealing his shield but the Jew said that he found it and it belonged to him. Umar took the case to a Muslim Qadi or judge for justice but the judge asked that Umar prove that the shield was his. Umar was unable to satisfactorily prove his case and the Qadi awarded the shield to the Jew.
At that time, Umar was the Amer-al-Mukminun or Chief Commander of the Faithful, the Caliph of Islam. The Qadi was under the administration of Umar himself but the Qadi feared Allah more than Umar in dispensing justice to a non-Muslim.
Non-Muslims in Malaysia must learn to be patient and to forgive Malays like the finance minister for their ignorance and lack of understanding concerning their own religious values. In the Hereafter, all non-Muslims who have been unjustifiably treated by Muslim leaders will be allowed to testify and bear evidence against these Muslims in the Court of Allah. Malays usually think it is OK to treat non-Muslims unfairly but that is not the teaching of Islam from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
Thus, in this New Year, Malaysians must contemplate a different approach to dealing with unjust issues with Muslim Malays.
The old ways of speaking with freedom but without wisdom adds more fuel to the fire. Let us start by 'forgiving' the finance minister of his decision of zero funding to an important cultural, educational and historical heritage of Chinese independent schools in Malaysia.
Perhaps in time, the finance minister will acquire wisdom, compassion and acceptance as a Muslim and as a Malaysian in dealing with such issue of multicultural significance.
(Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor at a local university.)