Note: The Malay version of this book was already out in 2008.
Like all of us, who’s taken the road less travelled, those who got caught in a “traffic jam” (philosophically) on crowded highways and byways, who had veered right or left, according to the winds, whims or fancies, will someday return to the chosen path on a straight road home. Usually that happens at the end of our lives.
So it is with Malaysia’s foremost thinker and philosopher Kassim Ahmad, a smart Malaysian son born in 1933 and now lives in Kulim.
Kassim is probably best known for his controversial religious analysis in his book “Hadith, A Re-Examination”.
However, in his 196-page book, The Road Home, Kassim explains his search for the way home in his poem (page 134): I am a wonderer/ On my journey home/ Like the sun, the mountains, the seas, the trees/ and the stars/ choosing the straight path/among the deviant parts/ to return home.
This clearly reflects his academic, political and spiritual journey from socialism to the ‘true’ Islam he found, not one that is “inherited” as it is with most Muslims.
Kassim is a brilliant personality, but I will always remember him best as my employer whom I worked briefly for in the 1990s, doing translation work for his company, Syarikat Terjemahan Nusantara, in one of the old offices in Beach Street.
More about his colorful life can be found in his blog here. We must be grateful that he has documented his thoughts here, for we so lack critical thinking in this land.
I’ve started reading today his autobiography which he begun writing in 1997 as I am intrigued with Kassim who is always bold and courageous in speaking his mind. This boldness earned him almost 5 years in ISA detention in the 70s!
He was released by former premier Mahathir Mohammad, who told Kassim that it was unlikely that he was a Communist! Kassim joined Umno several years later, but is somewhat disappointed with the party as well, as he is with the opposition. (Read page 119).
It’s strange for Mahathir to say this – about Communism – when in 1987, he threw 106 people in ISA detention, during Ops Lallang. Umno, which he ruled with an iron fist, was weak at that point in time. The country was in a havoc state as it is now.
Interestingly, Mahathir wrote the introduction to his book. He quotes George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. But isn’t Mahathir guilty of the same? I remember that he had suffered from “selective memory” many times!
A more current thinker/writer/film-maker Hishamuddin Rais had a different view of the book, when he read its Malay version. Hisham says, rather disappointed, in the Edge June 2008 and reproduced in Kassim’s blog which he rebutted :
“The engaging Malay intellectual I once thought I knew does not sum up his life experience by making coherent the events that mattered to him. This is the writer who reedited the Hikayat Hang Tuah and brilliantly introduced Jebat as the icon for a progressive Malay society, but he does not reevaluate and to furnish us with the participant’s details of what really happened while he was the main player in the Malaysian political landscape”.
Nevertheless, Kassim’s book comes to me at the height of turbulence in our current academia. Dr Aziz Bari from the International Islamic University has just been suspended, pending sacking from his employer for speaking his mind and sharing his expertise in constitutional law!
This is a weird country we live in! It seems there is little space, if at all, for smart people, let alone, smart Malays! Yet, every cloud has a silver lining. Aziz’s predicament kind of injected some spirit into the student and academia movement with many sectors – activists, students, and politicians – throwing their support behind him, at great risk of their personal freedoms and careers.
But I am comforted by the beautiful and meaningful words from the Quran which I found in Kassim’s book as he journeys through his philosophical, political and religious life.
I wish many of our political leaders would ponder on these words and take stock of what they are doing:
“Show us the straight path, the path of those whom You bless; not of those who have deserved wrath, nor of the strayers”.
“This is the truth, and the truth is all that I utter” (Quran, 38:84).
“On that Day God will pay back all their just dues, and they will realise that God is the very Truth that makes all things manifest” (Quran, 24:25).
With such lovely and inspiring words, any wanderer, even those who have lost their ways, would be able to return home.