Corruption and Hypocrisy in Malay Muslim Politics: The Urgency of Moral-Ethical Transformation is authored by Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dr M Kamal Hassan as a contribution towards the campaign against corruption that is driven by the public interest group Rasuah Busters beginning in 2021. The author chose to inscribe on the opening pages of the book the words of the Egyptian poet, Ahmad Shauqi Bey, the following quote:
“Nations will endure as long as the morals are intact; but when the morals decay, they too will become decadent.”
There is a parallel in the words of Ahmad Shuqi with the verses of Surah Al-Anfal (Chapter 8, verse 53), which states that:
“… verily Allah will indeed not change His favour that has been bestowed upon a people unless the same community change themselves …”
(Surah Al-Anfal 8:53)
Also with verse 11 of Surah Ar-Rad (chapter 13), which states that:
“…verily Allah will not change the condition of a people unless they change what is in themselves …”
The book’s foreword contains notes which reflect the sense of revulsion, anger and abhorrence with two current phenomena in the Muslim community in Malaysia:
Firstly: Political corruption and hypocrisy of the Malay political parties and politicians.
Secondly: The political disunity and fragmentation within the Muslim community that has brought the country to a most shameful situation with immoral and unethical politics, alongside a severe split within the Muslim community.
As the author wrote:
“The political culture, political system and Malay political behaviour which has become corrupt, coupled with internal divisions that are worsening, require transformative measures which are comprehensive, fundamental and urgent.”
“… those transformative steps must take place at the most fundamental level — that is at the level of spiritual, moral and ethical consciousness (which springs from the heart) of the leaders, followers, cadres and political supporters …”
“… A new transformative leadership paradigm needs to come into being because the system and old paradigm, in my opinion (author), has proven to be a failure with very negative impact on the Islamic ummah and Malaysia …”
The author chose two key words — corruption and hypocrisy — courageously linking these two strong words with Malay politics as part of the book’s title. The Malays, for a long time, have been known for the culture of metaphors, figurative rhetoric, parallelisms and poetic flourish.
In desiring to protect feelings and sentiments, Malays are typically extremely cautious in expressing reproach (reprimands) and even are said, metaphorically, to be prepared to punish their own flesh and blood (offspring) even though the source of the anger (therefore, the actual target of the anger) is actually external, such as the in-laws. This indirectness reflects this typically cautious approach.
Indeed, the author’s approach represents a new one that is out of the norm — out of the community’s cultural “box”. The author faces the risk of incurring the indignation of some within the Malay community, especially those who “feel the heat”, so to speak.
Nonetheless, the author is prepared to face those risks because of his desire for the community to be jolted, so as to be awakened from its stupor, slumber and complacency, in the hope of urgently realising that race and nation are encountering a “virus” that is very inimical and in many ways much more dangerous than the Covid-19 outbreak.
I choose to focus on the exposition regarding corruption. Corruption can be defined as the misuse of power for the sake of self-enrichment or to give an advantage to an individual, family members and close associates whilst being entrusted with the mandate and responsibility to administer and manage public resources.
Emeritus Professor Dr Petrus van Duyne, a renowned researcher in criminal economics, money laundering and bribery at the University of Tilburg, provides a scientific denotation of corruption:
Corruption is an improbity or decay in the decision-making process in which a decision-maker consents to deviate or demands deviation from the criterion which should rule his or her decision-making, in exchange for a reward or for the promise or expectation of a reward, while these motives influencing his or her decision-making cannot be part of the justification of the decision.
The following underlines Transparency International’s mission to combat corruption: Corruption undermines good government, fundamentally distorts public policy, leads to the misallocation of resources, and particularly hurts the poor. Controlling it is only possible with the cooperation of a wide range of stakeholders in the integrity system, including, most importantly, the state, civil society and the private sector.
In September 2007, former Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon stated that: Corruption undermines democracy and the rule of law. It leads to violations of human rights. It erodes public trust in government. It can kill.
Corruption is identified as one of the main causes in economic stagnation, the loss of foreign investor interest and confidence, increase in administrative and business costs, denying services delivery access to the people, as well as contributing to political instability.
Corruption results in unsustainable development, environmental pollution, wealth distribution that is unequal and inequitable, and leakages of a nation’s resources. Many countries are blessed by divine blessing with various sources of wealth, but because of corruption, some are trapped and locked into backwardness, under-development and poverty.
The wealth and riches of a nation are abused — the result is loss of revenue. Consequently, backwardness continues to afflict that nation and poverty increases. When there is no determination to combat the scourge of corruption, corrupt acts will be entrenched and further spread, grow stronger and come to be accepted as a norm and internalised to be an accepted part of the culture, and finally leading to the destruction of the nation.
A disease can be treated only if the patient acknowledges that his/her body is infected with a disease, ready to allow the body to be diagnosed, examined and evaluated, open to advice, warning, prescription and, more importantly, be prepared to receive treatment even if compelled to swallow a bitter pill, so to speak.
Corruption is a disease within society, a cancerous outbreak, a disease that spreads little by little, enervating an organisational organ one by one, until the organisation is paralysed and becoming fatal if allowed to further spread without immediate chemotherapy treatment.
Out of the 180 countries that have been evaluated by Transparency International, Malaysia fell from the 57th position, earning a score of 52 in 2020, to 62nd place, earning a score of 48 in 2021. Now, Malaysia has been grouped with two-thirds of the countries that have earned a score below 50.
Therefore, we cannot take it lightly, be complacent and choose to be in denial, conceiving all kinds of justification — performing mental acrobatics in order to deny the existence of the corruption “elephant” that is vividly clear happening in front of our eyes.
An honest assessment of corruption should be mandatory — sincere and objective — based on facts, as proof that we are truly serious in fighting and combating even to the point of totally eliminating corruption. We are obligated to be bold in acknowledging the ongoing reality of corruption that has reached critical and dangerous levels, based on the repeated warnings contained in the Auditor-General’s Report and various findings of the Public Accounts Committee.
In addition, the number of complaints and grievances reported to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), together with the agencies and departments, the exposures contained in the surat layang (anonymous letters penned by insiders or “whistler-blowers”), news reported in the media, and issues publicised on social media should be thought of as a reflection or a mirror and regarded as an indicator of the rampant culture of corruption that is happening.
In fact, even the potholes on the roads, clogged drains, collapsed buildings, leaking roofs, environmental degradation, illegal encroachment, poorly managed parks — all of which have their own distinctive languages — communicate the message concerning the standard and state of governance today.
The attitude and response towards these issues will determine whether or not corruption is to be addressed with real determination or merely empty rhetoric that is devoid of, or not accompanied by meaningful action. A responsive attitude that urgently acts to correct and rectify will not only address the abuse of power and poor governance but also heighten confidence and trust by the rakyat in the government.
Corruption is not a new phenomenon. The oldest recorded document that touches on the subject of corruption is contained in the Arthasastra, a BC Kautilya writing in India, in 300 BC.
Kautilya identified 40 methods of financial wrongdoing by public officials for personal interests.
The following were found in the Kautilya:
Just as it is impossible not to taste honey or the poison that finds itself at the tip of the tongue, so it is impossible for a government servant not to eat up, at least, a bit of the king’s revenue. Just as a fish underwater cannot possibly be found out either as drinking or not drinking the water, so government work cannot be found out (while) taking money (for themselves).
In China, the Qing dynasty in 220 BC identified the concept of corruption and imposed heavy penalties on the perpetrators. The reality that should be reflected and understood is that deceptions due to temptations to be corrupted had befallen the first creation of humanity.
The original trial that was encountered by the first human being created by Allah had the element of corruption.
Corruption is successfully established and firmly entrenched when trust is sidelined. The first abandonment of trust was narrated as a reminder and lesson in verse 115 of Surah Taha (Chapter 20), which states that:
“And verily We have commanded to Adam in the past, but then he forgot, and We did not find any strong determination in him.”
(Surah Taha 20:115)
The commandment alluded to is contained in verse 35 Surah al-Baqarah (Chapter 2), which states that:
“We cautioned, ‘O Adam! Live with your wife in Paradise and eat as freely as you please, but do not approach this tree, or else you will be wrongdoers.’”
(Surah al-Baqarah 2:35)
When Allah Who is to be praised and exalted became angry with Prophet Adam (blessing be upon him) for succumbing to Satan’s temptation, he was in a state of heavenly bliss, showered with blessing that is guaranteed by God as stated in verses 118 and 119 Surah Taha:
“Verily, you will never be hungry therein nor would you be exposed naked. And verily nor will you ever suffer from thirst or the sun’s heat.”
(Surah Taha 20:118-119)
Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) was deceived by the temptation of the Devil while Allah The Most Glorified, The Most High has forewarned him in verse 117 Chapter 20 (Taha) that “the Devil is the enemy”.
Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) was deceived by the Devil’s false promise of everlasting power, as contained in verse 120 of the related surah which means,
“Then the Devil whispered evil thoughts to him, saying: O Adam! Shall I show you the Khuldi Tree (Tree of Eternity; a forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden in Paradise) and the kingdom that will not perish?”
The fortress of faith is vanquished through the temptation of power. The lust for absolute power overcomes sanity. The strengthening of faith is a defence that must be built to increase people’s resistance against falling for the temptation of material things, luxury, as well as the attraction of rank and position. People must be reminded of God’s commandment in verse 35 of Surah Al-Anbiyaa (Chapter 20) and verses 12-14 of Surah al-Qiaamah (Chapter 75) which means;
“Every soul shall taste death. We will test you with the bad and the good as a real test. And only to Us that you shall be returned.” (Surah al-Anbiya 21:35)
“On that Day (The Day of Judgement), it is up to God alone to decide all matters (all will end up before your Lord). On that day, man will be told what he has done, and what he has left behind. In fact, people will testify against their own souls (they will be their own witness).” (Surah al-Qiaamah 75:12-14)
People should internalise and reach a deep level of understanding and awareness through the Words of Allah, The Most Glorified, The Most High in the Quran as an important lesson in life. The Devil chooses to lead people astray through the instruments of deception in the form of material rewards and worldly power. Today, more and more people have been (and continue to be) led astray by such deception. Humans unknowingly, shamelessly, without worrying about the possibility of slipping into shirik (the sin of idolatry or polytheism, i.e. associating or sharing God’s divine attributes with any partner[s]) because they are willing to devote themselves as slaves to money, power, rank and position. Humans begin to deify other humans and are ready to enslave themselves, pawn their principles and sell their dignity and self-respect to other humans for money, power, rank and position. Narrated from Abu Hurairah:
“I once heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) say which means: There will come a time when mankind will no longer care about the sustenance it receives, whether from halal (permissible) or haram (non-permissible) sources.”
There have been people who are willing to conspire, collude and commit evil and engage in lies and deception, because they forget that the source of sustenance, power, rank and position comes from Allah, The Most Glorified, The Most High. Wealth, power, rank and position are actually a gift and also a test from God. Be aware! Sources of power obtained through corruption (e.g. bribery) are not guaranteed to be accompanied by loyalty.
The true nature of a person will be revealed when a person gets (i.e. tested with) a position and power, where what is necessary to be said may be withheld, the right tone may be quickly (and conveniently) changed with a different angle and rhythm to suit their self-serving endeavours, even to go as far as saying what is clear black as white and white as black. A person’s true character will be revealed when he has wealth and possessions, whereby the culture of modesty and humility disappears, taken over by arrogance and haughty behaviour.
Humans are increasingly forgetting that Allah (The One and Only God) is the Sovereign Lord of all universes (all of creation) who is Almighty, having a kingdom above all kingdoms. People are increasingly forgetting that the source of sustenance and their livelihood is determined by Allah, The Most Glorified, The Most High, hence, it is the duty of Muslims to appreciate the meaning contained in verse 162, Surah al-An’am (chapter 6):
“Indeed, my prayer, my worship, my life and my death are only for Allah, Lord of the Universe.”
(Surah al-An’am 6:162)
Make work (i.e. your job or any career) a form of worship, conducted and completed in the name and for the sake of Allah, The Most Glorified, The Most High. The Devil has succeeded in derailing people’s beliefs and religious creed through worldly or material instruments of deception in the form of power and luxury (wealth), so human defences must be principally based on Divine Guidance and built under the umbrella of God’s protection. Belief in God is the first principle of Rukun Negara (National Principles). People who firmly believe in God and follow God’s commandments are aware of everything — be it their intentions or actions, whether they are done openly or secretly — all of them are in the knowledge of God. Allah in verse 11, Surah ar-Rad (Chapter 13) also reminds the following;
“For each one (person) there are successive angels before and behind, as a guardian to them by Allah’s command …” (Surah Ar-Rad 13:11)
Emeritus Professor Kamal Hassan named the “Theocentric Leadership Paradigm” as a new paradigm based on the leadership model of the Prophet Muhammad (May Allah’s Blessings and Peace be upon him), which contains the following characteristics:
First: Hold firmly to the monotheistic worldview based on the Oneness of God, which is the belief and conviction that God Almighty, the One true God, controls, organises, manages, cares, rules all of creation, and determines that humans are His servants and must completely surrender and submit fully to His Will.
Second: Seeking to obtain His Pleasure and, as a consequence, achieve eternal well-being in the hereafter in the paradise of Allah, The Most Glorified, The Most High.
Third: Constant piety and awareness (consciousness, cognisance, mindfulness) of direct accountability to Allah, The Most Glorified, The Most High.
In the effort to fight for the truth and in the struggle to do what is right, be sure and believe in the greatness of God’s power and His Divine Promise. Face the challenge with a persistent spirit and face the test with an unwavering heart.
Raise awareness and build strength. Concentrate efforts on the youths, whose minds have not yet been severely corrupted.
The activists who are involved in anti-corruption movements must have a strong spirit, emulating the spirit of the Ashabul Kahfi youths (a group of pious youths known as “People of the Cave” or “The Seven Sleepers” which demonstrates the qualities of patience, knowledge, faith and gratitude; a story that reminds us that Allah is always true to His Words and a reminder on the certainty of the Hereafter), which, due to their tenacious nature of defending their faith despite facing a tyrannical government, Allah, The Most Glorified, The Most High has given them protection; they were put to sleep for over 300 years in a cave, as described in verses 18 to 21 of Surah al-Kahfi (Chapter 18).
‘Grant us good leaders who are trustworthy, honest and sincere’
In the noble movement of pursuing to do what is good and resisting what is bad (al amr bil-ma’ruf wa nahi anil-munkar in Arabic; which is one of Islam’s fundamental teachings; enjoining what is right and forbidding what is evil or wrong are Divinely imposed duties upon men), one must not give up at all in asking for guidance and strength from God.
Keep up the effort and keep praying for victory from Allah, The Most Glorified, The Most High. Making dua’ (supplications) is part of worship prescribed by Islam. God loves His servants that pray to and supplicate Him, and those that rely on Him and hope from Him.
The person who always prays to and supplicates God is demonstrating actions indicating that the person is aware of his own weakness. Fighters who want to uphold the truth based on God’s commandments should always make it a habit to pray to and supplicate God that his or her struggles would achieve success.
Based on the belief that prayers and supplications have a special role in human life, I have ordered, in the state of Perak, to complete the sermon at every Friday prayers with the following two supplications;
First: Ya Dzal Jalali Wal Ikram! (O Allah, The Possessor of Glory and Honour, The Lord of Majesty and Generosity!) Make us among your servants who uphold the Trust. Strengthen our faith so that we may avoid treacherous acts such as the misuse of properties that do not belong to us, giving or accepting bribes, abusing power for personal gains, and keep us away from being among the people that ignore the responsibilities that come with what has been entrusted upon them.
Second: Ya Malikul Mulk! (O Allah, The Owner of Absolute Sovereignty, The Owner of Dominion) Save our nation from destruction due to corruption; entrust the responsibility of leadership and management of our country to Your servants who are trustworthy and sincere, as well as firm and courageous in upholding the truth and implementing justice based on what You have decreed.
When faced with the harm that has hit the country due to corruption, we need more murabbi (wholesome teacher/educator/guide/mentor, defined by Islamic theology expert Dr Ahmad Nabil Amir as “one who is not only knowledgeable and wise, but also pious, kind and considerate”, and that which denotes “a person who combines a life of learning with a life of virtue, and hence a perfect and ideal person to learn from) to come forward, boldly echoing the message of fighting corruption.
These special teachers play a very important role in educating and nurturing spiritual and moral awareness.
The murabbi need to emphasise the importance of the ummah (the whole community of Muslims bound together by ties of religion) having sincere qualities because the ummah who is sincere will not be able to be swayed, deceived or influenced by the Devil, as written in verses 39 and 40 of Surah al-Hijr (Chapter 15), which means:
Iblis (the Devil) said, “O my Lord, because You have decided that I am astray, then I will surely make [disobedience] attractive to them on earth, and I will mislead them all”
“Except Your sincere servants (and purified from shirk) among them, endowed with sincerity in faith and Your worship” (Surah al-Hijr 15:39-40)
Through the book, Emeritus Professor Kamal Hassan called for the importance of building inner strength, i.e. spiritual fortitude to resist and fight corruption. The book Corruption and Hypocrisy in Malay Muslim Politics: The Urgency of Moral-Ethical Transformation will not achieve its true noble purpose if it is simply written, published, launched, bought and distributed.
This book needs to be disseminated with serious, continuous and large-scale efforts, conveying the message of the danger of corruption and the importance of eliminating corruption, as well as spreading the message of the importance of entrusting responsibilities to people who are free from corruption. It is highly necessary that the content and message of this book is spread to every city, sub-district and village, in a language that is easily understood by ordinary people who may not be highly educated.
I express sincere appreciation to Emeritus Professor Tan Sri M Kamal Hassan, who has fulfilled a fardu kifayah (defined by Oxford Reference as a legal obligation that must be discharged by the Muslim community as a whole) demand, producing the book titled Corruption and Hypocrisy in Malay Muslim Politics: The Urgency of Moral-Ethical Transformation; appreciation is also expressed to the publisher, Emir Research and to Dato’ Hussamuddin Hj Yaacub, the Rasuah Busters group and its coalition partners.
Oh God! Ya Rabbulalamin! (O Allah, Lord of the Universe(s)/Lord of All Creation!) Protect this country that you have blessed us with from destruction due to corruption, and based on the hadith (narration) of the Messenger of God (May Allah’s Blessings and Peace be upon him) narrated by Abu Daud, which means, “If God wants a nation to be prosperous, then God will bestow upon that nation a good leader”; we ask you, O God, to grant us good leaders, leaders who are trustworthy, honest and sincere.
This is an excerpt of the royal address by Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah of Perak at the launch of the book Corruption and Hypocrisy in Malay Muslim Politics on Sept 22 at Kumpulan Karangkraf, Shah Alam