SEPT 4 — Last weekend, I went back to my kampung in Batu Gajah for a family wedding. On the way, my family and I visited an uncle of mine in Gopeng. We decided to perform Friday prayers at a local mosque near my uncle’s house.
It was, of course National Day, and naturally the khatib i.e. the person who gives the sermon before the prayers, read a text which deals with the theme of independence and its underlying meaning and values. Imagine my surprise when the text implicitly endorsed a specific outcome for the upcoming election. Or maybe it was just me being paranoid.
There is of course nothing wrong with a khatib endorsing a specific political party, at least to my mind. We are repeatedly told that Islam is a way of life.
Politics and governance is just one of the many facets which the religion deals with in the Quran, Sunnah and intellectual tradition. The question though is to what extent does the khatib have a choice when it comes to reading the text given to him. It would be sad if it were a directive from the authorities. If such was the case then it would have been an ironic example of how on National Day, an example of the shackle that restricts our freedom was on display.
The meaning of Merdeka
Merdeka, to me, is about freedom and liberty that was fought for by our foremothers and forefathers (I deliberately included foremothers, they are typically sidelined), and the responsibility that comes with that privilege. For many of us, the definition of Merdeka is one-dimensional, only encompassing one half of the sentence.
The more radical among us would argue that Merdeka is about freedom and liberty. For these rugged individualists, they view the government and any authorities with a suspicion bordering on paranoia.
Any and all things that are wrong is the fault of the government. They thrive on conspiracy theories. This group worships at the altar of the religion of anti-government. To be sure, for most of these individuals thoughts about toppling the government do not cross their minds but they prize their freedom and liberty above all else, especially from the prying eyes and sneaky claws of the authorities.
At the other end of the spectrum sits those who view Merdeka with a strong element of responsibility. They are those whose views might be called, rather callously, pro-government. They view freedom and liberty as secondary to that of the responsibility to sustain our independence. To these individuals, they are ever ready to circumvent freedom and liberty supposedly to sustain our independence.
These are of course gross generalisations of human beings and their complex opinions. I doubt there are any of us, sensible Malaysians, who belong whole-heartedly to just one group or the other. More often than not, we oscillate from one end to the other in different circumstances, never quite reaching the extremes of either.
But indeed such is the relation between freedom and responsibility. Freedom without constraints is anarchy. Life would be “nasty, brutish and short” as Thomas Hobbes put it in “Leviathan”. Authority provides the control against anarchy through political governance. In an ideal world, mere responsibility would be sufficient to ensure a good life but sadly we live in the real world.
The idea then is to try and have a balance between a love for freedom and liberty and a strong sense of responsibility. It would have been ironic if the khatib was indeed obligated to read a text from the authorities which indeed deals with the idea of independence.
All sides must respect the freedom and liberty of others whilst at the same time have the responsibility to use whatever power that one has for the greater good. A particular political party must stop using the arm of the state to further its political ends; especially when the political party is the incumbent. What this does is that it pollutes patriotism, thus undermining the idea of independence.
Maybe there have been too many comments about Merdeka. It is a concept, too vague and abstract to get a firm grasp of. But so central is it to our identity as a nation, we have to try. As we move forward as a nation, we should continue this conversation. I am sure that many out there might find that my take on Merdeka is insufficient or just plain wrong. But, move forward, we must.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.