Monday, January 26, 2009

The Arqam days

When I was in New Zealand, yes, I had involved with some of Al Arqam activities. A number of our students were members of this group and growing by the time I left New Zealand.

Al Arqam as an international group was big then and even the Abuya came over and stayed with us. Its ustazs and ustazahs flew all over the world to promote brand Al Arqam.

There was an incidence in Auckland involving Al Arqam members that became a police case. I was there and that episode somehow tarnished Al Arqam image amongst the students.

My articles on Al Arqam stories in New Zealand were published prominently in Berita Harian and New Straits Times during the height of government's actions againts the group.

I always admire the Al Arqam business model. It was successful in promoting entrepreneurship among the Malays. I would not agree on certain things but it had big notable achievements that we could not deny.

I wrote a cerpen based on certain true stories, Bin Mat Lela...Gila which was published in Dewan Sastera July 2002. Read HERE.

Spiritual zeal, business spirit
By Amir Muhammad

AL-ARQAM Di Sebalik Tabir by Ann Wan Seng (Penerbit Universiti Malaya, 2005, 178 pages)

The chili sauce did come to mind, I admit. Back when I was a university student in the UK, robed, turbaned and bearded Malay gentlemen would peddle it to us, together with a few other halal provisions.
We were many miles from home, but these Al-Arqam goods were just as potent in bringing back the memories, alongside the Sheila Majid CDs that we had – but that, these robed guys probably didn’t play in their vans.
This book, unfortunately, doesn’t have the recipe for that sauce. But it does give a broad overview of one of the most remarkable social phenomena that Malaysia saw in the last three decades; and who is to say that its time is really up?
Al-Arqam started in 1968 as a religious study group in Datuk Keramat. By the early 1990s, there were 10,000 full-time members who could be instantly recognised by their attire. Their women were always in severe black purdah, leaving only a slit for the eyes, and their sudden emergence helped create the modern ghost known as hantu kumkum.
This spooky creature is also absent from this book, but its mere existence showed that Al-Arqam did manage to penetrate our consciousness to a great degree. Judging from the popularity of their publications in particular, there was obvious curiosity and interest in the group.
You didn’t have to fill out a membership form to join, but there was a vetting process.
Its many thriving settlements or communes, including the biggest in Sungai Penchala, received all kinds of visitors.
Although most wanted to brush up on religious knowledge, apparently there were some who just wanted to get inspired by the Arqam business model.
Ann Wan Seng, a Muslim convert who is also the author of bestsellers such as Rahsia Bisnes Orang Cina, admires both the spiritual zeal and entrepreneurial spirit of Al-Arqam.
He brilliantly posits that Islamic revivalism among the Malays had much to do with economic insecurity in the face of ethnic Chinese success.
As explanations go, it’s more persuasive than simply dredging up Khomeini. It also proves, as if any proof were needed, that Islam has always been a discourse that is socially and temporally contingent.
The rise of Al-Arqam chronologically parallels the new bumiputera class as aided by MARA and ITM (now UiTM). What made it even more interesting was that it didn’t need subsidies or bailouts.
Its self-sustaining methods were deemed less corrupt and wasteful.
Despite their ‘retro’ (ahem) dress-sense, its members were progressive and often professional. They probably had more female doctors per capita than the rest of Malay society – although you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart, unless you were very adept at differentiating eyes.
Unlike punier movements like the ‘tea-pot kingdom’ of the recent past, Al-Arqam existed very much in the public realm.
Rather than become a confrontational force, this book shows that Al-Arqam craftily made attempts to cosy up to government leaders to ensure survival. But this was not enough: the movement was banned in 1994 and there came a spate of ISA arrests against its leaders.
In retrospect, the writing was on the wall for some time.
The excessive veneration accorded its leader Ashaari Muhammad (his followers took him as an ‘assistant’ to the coming Messiah, who was able to have ‘holy’ conversations) also made it easier to dismiss it as a loony cult with probably all kinds of crazy ideas to take over the country.
And if you want to be a conspiracist: Al-Arqam’s model simply pointed to the relative failure of the prevalent bloated religious bureaucracy. And that is why ‘action’ needed to be taken.
Although a bit on the slim side, this Universiti Malaya Publication, much to its credit, is a non-judgmental documentation of a group of people inhabiting alternative spaces – although the leaders’ polygamous habits would not have endeared them to liberals.
Despite the ban, alarm bells are periodically rung in the media about an imminent ‘revival’, especially through the channel of Ashaari’s business empire Rufaqa.
There’s actually a Rufaqa mini-market near my apartment!
I used to shop there but I am sad to report the service is slow and the carrots limp. Perhaps the new breed isn’t as gung-ho?
Millennial, messianic movements ain’t what they used to be.

Amir Muhammad is a writer, publisher and occasional movie-maker who is currently at the Rotterdam International Film Festival where his film ‘Susuk’ is being screened. He is also in charge of the ‘Malaysian Ghost Room’ exhibit at the festival’s ‘Haunted House’ museum. (

Muslims must learn from the past, but live for the future

What do parachutes, combination locks, anaesthetics, alcohol and fountain pens have in common? This is not a trick question, and I bet no one can guess the answer. They all had their origins with Muslim scientists and scholars, hundreds of years ago.

There are many among us today who claim that Muslims or Arabs introduced science to the world. Many who make that claim also bask in its reflected glory. Before the Muslim empire, however, many civilisations contributed to science. These include the Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, Romans, Indians and Mayans.

The Egyptians were master architects; they amassed knowledge in great libraries and calculated the Earth’s diameter with reasonable accuracy thousands of years ago. Many Roman structures and monuments are still standing. Ancient civilisations gave us that indispensable number, zero. Indeed, it is hypothesised that cavemen and even Neanderthals, who hunted the woolly mammoth and fished with their hands, administered medicinal herbs and plants. The West, ever since the Industrial Revolution, has embarked on an unprecedented quest to improve and to use science at an accelerated rate. Today, it is the clear leader.
For those who live in the past, I have a few plain messages: First, we in modern day life don’t have a claim on that historic glory; the pride in those accomplishments belongs to the brilliant heroes, the achievers of a lost era, and not to us. Second, if people hundreds of years ago, who lived with no calculators or internet, managed these discoveries, we can too – especially with today’s powerful and easily available access to knowledge.
There is considerable evidence of a civilisation “comeback”: witness the growth and advances in all fields by the Chinese and the Indians. Both countries can and will soon rival the West. It is said that the Indian and the Chinese civilisations led the world for hundreds of years, and the past few hundred years are merely a brief dip in their history. Let me also borrow a definition of civilisation as a social system that allows us to increase our cultural production. Embedded in cultural production are social, political and ethical standards, and a healthy dose of the pursuit of science and art.
It is sad that students of science are simply not made welcome in our society. Many parents discourage their children from studying physics, “because we don’t have advanced laboratories, so what’s the point?”.

Mathematics or chemistry will only make you a teacher (what’s wrong with that anyway?); a mechanical engineer is deemed fit only to fix our air conditioning and our cars; and a marine biologist or a metallurgist… who is that? The only ones who seem to receive respect are medical doctors, for our obvious health needs, and geologists to find oil. These are only the basic levels of scientific fields, and the gap between what little knowledge we have and that of an advanced nation is approaching a light year (to use a scientific term).
There are two more cultural phenomena that I find disturbing and detrimental. First, huge numbers of students, at least in the Gulf, seem to be studying business-related subjects. I am not sure if it’s a case of overzealous marketing by commercial colleges or demand for easier studies by ill-prepared students. Latching on to this trend, and as a measure to appease worried parents, some high schools have introduced these topics instead of focussing on the natural sciences or the arts. And there still exists a tendency to limit half of our society to studying anything they like as long as it’s nursing or teaching. That alone is sufficient to stunt cultural productivity.
I have a final message for the history devotees. It is OK to be proud of your history, but it is essential that you learn from it. It is also essential to learn from others’ history. A powerful lesson is to move towards industrialisation, which is proven to force and exploit scientific advance. Furthermore, to learn from history, you have to first capture it. The most common representation of history we have nowadays is in some TV series, which range from the comical because of the mauled dialect of second-grade actors, to the overly theatrical and bloody, depending on the director. We read our history from grade school to high school, but we read it to memorise, not to learn.
How did I learn about the origin of parachutes and combination locks anyway? Did I find it compiled by an Arabic or Muslim scholar or historian or even in a book fair within a 2000km radius? A schoolbook or a local university project, perhaps? You can guess the answer this time: a shameful No. On a summer holiday, I spotted those seemingly unrelated words typed on informative boards along the steps of the Museum of Science and Industry, leading to one of its major exhibitions entitled 1001 Islamic Inventions.
The museum is in Manchester, England.

By Anees Sultan, a writer and businessman based in Oman

Akhbar UMNO Kata Belia Melayu Puja Syaitan

Membaca minda pengarang Berita Harian mengenai isu isu belia Melayu Islam puja syaitan memang menakutkan. Terutama buat saya yang mempunyai anak-anak remaja.

Saifullah mahu pulang membuat A-level di Malaysia. Ada juga kebimbangan kerana sejak 10 tahun lalu dia berada di Dubai. Anak-anak bebas kerana tidak banyak isu dan masalah remaja. Memang ada masalah seperti menghisap rokok dan dadah tetapi masih terkawal.

Beberapa anak kenalan yang pulang untuk membuat A-level dan masuk universiti menghadapi kejutan budaya apabila berdepan dengan realiti sosial remaja di Malaysia. Ada yang mahu pulang ke Dubai.

Kisah klasik ialah seorang budak perempuan keturunan Cina yang memeluk Islam pulang untuk membuat A-level di sebuah kolej swasta, dia tidak dapat menerima hakikat apabila melihat budak-budak perempuan Melayu Islam begitu bebas dalam pergaulan sosial termasuk seks, alkohol dan kelab malam.

Manakala, budak-budak Cina tidak dapat menerima dia sebagai seorang muslimah bertudung!
Apakah Islam Hadhari yang menyebabkan ada kalangan belia Melayu puja syaitan? Tidakkah semua ini berlaku di bawah kecemerlangan United Malays National Organisation dan kempimpinan Pak Lah? Apakah ini salah pembangkang juga?

Imam Besar Hadhari di suatu majlis di Dubai. Cerita dia tidur di Dubai di SINI
Minda Pengarang : Semua pihak perlu cari mekanisme tangani isu belia Melayu Islam puja syaitan

KAJIAN akademik yang dilakukan sekumpulan pensyarah Universiti Malaya (UM) yang mendapati ramai belia Melayu Islam di negara ini memuja syaitan melalui muzik, filem dan bahan bacaan wajar diberi perhatian serius pihak berwajib dan ibu bapa. Pendedahan berkenaan turut membuktikan masyarakat Melayu gagal mengatasi kemelut budaya asing sehingga menjadi anutan segelintir remaja boleh menyimpangkan mereka daripada ajaran Islam. Sebenarnya isu pemujaan syaitan terutama melalui muzik dikesan merebak di kalangan remaja sejak sekian lama, serentak dengan kemunculan muzik rock yang bertukar ke aliran Metal sehingga berlarutan ke Black Metal yang dikaitkan dengan pemujaan syaitan.

Selama ini, media hanya menyiarkan laporan mengenai gelagat remaja terbabit, termasuk usaha pihak berkuasa mengekang pengaruh berkenaan. Contohnya, pada 2006, pihak berkuasa merampas cakera padat Black Metal bertajuk Abnegation, Unsolemn, Metal Fury, Black Hole, Band serta Everscatedd di Pejabat Pos Alor Setar yang diharamkan diedarkan ke negara ini. Akhbar juga pernah menyiarkan laporan mengenai kumpulan Black Metal yang mewajibkan pengikutnya meninggalkan Rukun Islam dan menganggap menyembah Allah itu adalah karut marut. Namun, selepas beberapa pendedahan membabitkan kumpulan Black Metal, akhirnya satu kajian terperinci selama hampir setahun di Lembah Klang, berakhir tahun lalu diusahakan sekumpulan pensyarah Akademik Pengajian Islam Universiti Malaya yang merangkumi hasil kajian dan saranan kepada pihak berwajib untuk tindakan susulan.

Menurut kajian, selain pengaruh Black Metal, golongan berkenaan turut dipengaruhi cerita seram, komik animasi, permainan video, malah buku Church Of Satan, yang membawa kepada pendewaan syaitan. Kita dapati kajian membabitkan hampir 700 responden belia berumur 13 sehingga 30 tahun itu, memperlihatkan masalah sosial yang dihadapi belia Melayu Islam semakin serius. Mereka menganggap konsep pemujaan syaitan melalui muzik, majalah dan filem sekadar suka-suka, selain menyifatkan syaitan sebagai wira, amat kuat dan harus digeruni yang tanpa menyedari ia boleh menyesatkan dan syirik kepada Islam. Belia dan remaja Melayu Islam kini berdepan dengan pelbagai masalah daripada penyalahgunaan dadah sehinggalah pemujaan syaitan, sesuatu yang perlu diberi perhatian segera oleh semua pihak. Kita tidak mahu hasil kajian ini seperti kajian lain hanya memenuhi perpustakaan universiti atau bilik pensyarah. Pihak berkuasa terutama Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia, Majlis Agama Islam Negeri perlu segera mencari mekanisme baru bagi menangani isu ini supaya tidak berpanjangan.

Rata-rata penggemar aliran songsang ini adalah mereka yang terbiar baik dari segi didikan agama atau perhatian ibu bapa yang sibuk dengan kehidupan sendiri.

Akhirnya mereka memberontak kepada sistem yang ada dan bertindak mengikut selera kehidupan sendiri melalui pengaruh keseronokan budaya barat. Sudah sampai masanya kita menjadikan kajian ini sebagai titik tolak untuk mengambil tindakan sewajarnya bagi mengatasi masalah yang boleh memberi kesan besar kepada Islam pada masa depan sekiranya kita terus tidak mempedulikannya.

Pak Lah Tidur Dalam Majlis di Dubai?

Nampak macam tidur....

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