Farewell Thoughts

I am counting down the number of days before my term as ABIM vice president ends on 1 August 2009. Reflecting upon the many years in this organization, right now I do not think I am capable of recognizing how much I have learned or grown in the past several years or how much of that is owed to ABIM. It may be some time before I do, but what has particularly struck me is the dedication of a few big-hearted individuals I have met in the ABIM network. I found much invaluable experience from my encounters with them.

I recall starting this journey with an intention to contribute a little something to the local community. I knew nothing about Islamic activism, the issues, or all of the positive things that it accomplishes. Today, I find myself still trying to contribute in some small way, still discovering about the many things I can learn from pursuing such a noble work. I continue to be amazed at the passion of some individuals who work in such organizations and how they care and contribute so much, sometimes for so little.

I wish to reiterate what I have said before about my hopes and aspirations for ABIM. ABIM’s role has evolved a great deal since it originated. Focused on political impact, incorporation of Islamic values within the Muslim community, and our basic concepts of fairness within the national government, it was – and arguably remains – the leading voice of Islamic conscience among the country’s NGOs. Since 1999 that role has waxed and waned with changes in the political system and BN’s focus through 2008.

The 8 March elections changed our political landscape. We now have two distinct political coalitions, which reflect different views of Islamic thinking and the role of varying ethnicities within our culture. ABIM’s role now, in these conflicted times, appears to be growing into one of clear Islamic reason in an ever more secular and race-based political environment. It is important to note that in Islam while the question of race has its own significance; it ultimately makes no man better than another, because superiority among men and women is only in taqwa, that is, piety and devotion. It is this role as rational broker of Islamic values in a society growing ever more conflicted that again engages ABIM’s core mission.

Collaterally, how will ABIM impact our society within the national and international media? It is more than noteworthy that the work of the organization in the areas of education, advocacy, interfaith initiatives, international networking, and position statements has received some attention in both arenas. Nationally, ABIM must overcome the prejudices and party alignments of the mainstream media, and make its role, its policies and its activities more accessible to the general Malaysian Public. And this requires a great deal of spade work. If we let our status be reduced and narrowed to that of a mere “youth” organization, then the capability to fulfill many of our prime missions is either diminished or removed. We will also miss the chance of expanding ABIM’s capability as an Islamic NGO into a wider spectrum of the changing landscape of the Malaysian civil society movement; the role it has effectively resumed lately through its leadership in various Islamic NGO coalitions and engagements in strategic networking enterprises nationally and regionally.

It is also important to note that the time has come for ABIM to prepare itself as an organization of various ages, holding a common charter of protection and advocacy for the values of Islam. It is this omni-racial aspect which elevates the group to more than an exclusivist Islamic NGO. It speaks for universal values from an Islamic world view.

I believe that we are in the midst of some tough and challenging times. I also believe that challenge brings opportunities. We have the opportunity to be at the forefront of conversations about religion, human rights and other issues of great importance to the nation and its citizens. We can be the leaders of these movements, a resource for all interested parties. But to earn the leadership role, there is more than just a change of people; ABIM has to change the way it positions itself as an Islamic organization from within and in its outreaching initiatives.

We can learn so much from Aaidh ibn Abdullah al-Qarni’s excellent book “Don’t be sad”. His advice speaks of the realities we are facing in these contemporary times. According to Al-Qarni, inside a certain class of people there rages an internal war, one that doesn’t take place on the battlefield, but in one’s bedroom, one’s office, one’s own home. It is a war that results in ulcers or an increase in blood pressure. Everything frustrates these people: they become angry at issues, furious because the people came late for meetings and exasperated when the values of their organizations are not adhered to. They are forever worried and irritated, no matter what the reason.

Al-Qarni advises those who shoulder heavy responsibilities. We are reminded that we should not carry the weight of the globe on our shoulders. Let the ground carry the burden of those things that happen. Some people have a heart that is like a sponge, absorbing all kinds of fallacies and misconceptions. It is troubled by the most insignificant of matters; it is the kind of heart that is sure to destroy its possessor. I seek Allah’s guidance that I will not fall into this trap.

Al-Qarni also reminds us that those who are principled and are upon the true path are not shaken by hardship; instead, hardship helps to strengthen their resolve and faith. But the reverse is true for the weak-hearted: when they face adversity or trouble, it is only their level of fear that increases. At a time of calamity, there is nothing more beneficial than having a brave heart. The one who has such a heart is self-possessed; he has firm faith and cool nerves. On the other hand, during the course of any given day, the coward slaughters himself many times with apprehensions and presentiments of impending doom. Al Qarni has taught us that if we desire for ourselves a stable life, we have to face all situations with bravery and perseverance. This relates very much to the things I have learnt throughout my tenure in ABIM.

I am not surprised by the cynics among us. Indeed, the cynic (as Oscar Wilde had so eloquently put it) is the one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. This characteristic of ingratitude is widespread among human beings. Those people never see a good quality in a man, and never fail to see a bad one. I am not so dismayed when there exist among us those who disregard our small kind acts and allege that we have not performed in discharging our duty as leaders.

What underperformance when we have already done our utmost in the defense of Islam within the constitutional and legal framework; when we had to sacrifice the time with our family, our energy and ideas were all channeled into the wee hours of the morning to prepare cases where Islam’s position is being challenged by the liberal human rights groups? What underperformance when we at the Islamic Outreach ABIM had to struggle every inch with very limited resources in reaching out to the non-Muslim community to defuse general stereotypes and misunderstanding of Islam? What underperformance when our work has been recognized by many as one of the best in disseminating Islamic knowledge among reverts and Malaysians in general? Are they so ignorant to be accusing us of underperforming when we have struggled and strategically positioned ABIM at the forefront of various Islamic coalitions, providing leadership and advocacy on many wide-ranging issues at the national and international level?

I feel at peace, though requited with cynical remarks for the good I have done; and I rejoice upon learning that the only reward can come from the One Who has unlimited treasures at His disposal. Allah swt says: And they could not find any cause to bear a grudge, except that Allah and His Messenger had enriched them of His Bounty. (At-Tawbah 9:74).

One final thought. The late 1990’s brought to Malaysia a monsoon of financial, social and political change. The rainstorms that continue into this century are similar, carrying with them changing attitudes which challenge the Islamic principles and Malaysia’s cultural traditions. These two forces have taught the value of patience, the need for giving value to the greater community good, the ideal of gaining knowledge by learning from each other, being constructive rather than merely critical, and the avoidance of manipulating the process of reaching consensus in establishing goals. Today, we live in a world of Machiavellian goal realization: the end always justifies the means; we as individuals, groups and a culture now seek instantaneous gratification without consideration of short, medium or long term goals or visions; and without giving proper recognition and due respect to the mandated leadership.

These diseases are infecting this organization. Personal gain and power in many is a higher goal than the greater good, and in order to attain it facts and the level of difficulty in achieving a goal is not a part of decision making. Expectations thus become unreasonable and without foundation. For ABIM to achieve its vision and reassume its role in Malaysian society, understanding, compassion, and social responsibility within the dual forces of Islamic tenets and Malaysian culture must return. Otherwise, we ourselves will cause our own monsoon, but this time the destructive force may be irreversible. Only those willing to take a voyage through these troubling waters should be in leadership; those that are not and who seek personal gain should not. I wish you well.

Azril Mohd Amin

24July 2009 │1 Syaaban 1430

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