Reforming Malaysia with Wisdom
YAB Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim has reintroduced the concept of ‘islah‘ to refer to ‘reform’ in the administrative vocabulary of the government and this deserves further exposition.
In the understanding of learned Muslim scholars and leaders of the past, islah is not limited to reforms or improvements in terms of procedures, work processes, and rules alone. But more precisely, islah refers to an effort to restore a state of affairs which have become corrupted, deviated, perverted, or fragmented.
In the Qur’an, it is mentioned about the muslihun group (those who bring islah) and their opposites, the mufsidun—that is, those who bring destruction or corruption on earth consciously and unconsciously: “And when it is said to them, “Do not make corruption (fasad) on earth!” They replied, “Indeed, we are the ones who performed islah.”” (Surah al-Baqarah, 11)
Raghib al-Isfahani (d. 1109) has said in his book Mufradat al-Qur’an that fasad refers to something that goes beyond moderation or balance. Al-Baidawi (d. 1319) in his work Anwar al-Tanzil wa-Asrar al-Ta’wil understands fasad as all practices that are not beneficial. While Fakhr al-Din Al-Razi (d. 1210) in his celebrated work, Mafatih al-Ghaib explains fasad as a deviant behaviour.
Thus, fasad also applies to the spiritual nature of human beings, namely fasad al-qalb (or a corrupted spiritual heart) as the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said in the following hadith: “Remember that in the body there is a lump of flesh. If it is good, then the whole body is good. And if it is bad or damaged (fasad), then the whole body is damaged. Know, and it is al-qalb.” (Sahih Bukhari)
Therefore, a genuine and lasting reform requires a systematic effort to enhance the level and quality of thought and soul of those in power and government officials by exposing them to the great wisdoms of Islam and the world. This is because there are deep-rooted reasons for the occurrence of fasad and one of the main reasons is the quality of thought and the loss of praiseworthy qualities in human beings.
The minds and souls of the administrators need to be exposed to the wisdom of Muslim luminaries as well as the wisdom of various moral traditions in the world to inculcate praiseworthy qualities in mind and character such as courage, sagacity, temperance, and justice, which at the same time will prevent fasad in one’s heart.
The agenda of refining the thoughts, character, and culture of society needs to be done systematically by benefitting from the wisdom of the best thinkers, scholars, and intellectuals in the country. Therefore any attempt to ‘reform’, ‘transform’, or ‘advance’ Malaysia needs to involve returning trust to its rightful keepers (as commanded by Allah in the Quran) in all matters and fields, even more so with regard to elevating the quality of nation’s thoughts, character, and culture.
This command (amr) of God has also long been taken into account by Muslim luminaries as can be seen in their great works. This is why Muslim luminaries in the past emphasised the need to produce wise leadership (or a rule of wisdom), as opposed to the rule of ignorance (jahl), or rule of transgressors (fasiq).
It is important to remember that according to Tan Sri Professor Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas in his book, On Justice and the Nature of Man, wisdom is a kind of knowledge bestowed by God to some who deserve according to His desire. Prof. al-Attas believes that ‘wisdom’ can be acquired through learning by genuine seekers of knowledge from those who have it.
By implication, reforming Malaysia should also include evolving the existing government structure to truly reflect the reality of human nature and justice towards wisdom. This is because the original concept of ‘government’ in human history is meant to reflect the nature of human beings, and this is the reason for the emergence of the ‘body politic’ theory in the West which was also discussed earlier in the writings of practical wisdom or Tadbir al-Madinah (state governance) among Muslim luminaries of the past.
According to leading Muslim luminaries of the past, the government and its administrators need to see themselves as one person. For instance, the Prime Minister’s Office, think tanks and advisory councils should be seen as a person’s intellect; religious affairs and the Ministry of National Unity as a person’s heart; the Ministry of Education, and of Culture as a person’s soul, and the Ministries of Finance, Economy, Trade, Rural Areas and so on are seen as the physical reality of the self. From this government’s perspective, the goal is to ensure that ‘health’ is maintained by ensuring that all aspects of the ‘self’ are maintained in a balanced way.
A governance or rule of wisdom must organically include thinkers and scholars in overcoming fasad and in charting the future of the people. This matter was also suggested by the early Muslims for example, Sayyidina Ali Abi Talib in his letter to Malik Ashtar (Governor of Egypt): “Frequent as much as you can the gathering of people of knowledge and wisdom and involve them in your consideration of matters, for that is conducive to the maintenance of well-being for the country and continuance of sound policy that may have been adopted before you.”
If this fundamental issue is taken into account, it is likely that Malaysia will be able to rise as a country that offers a new model for solving various universal problems and thus embody a circle of justice, and subsequently reach the status of an advanced-civilised nation. Allah knows best.