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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Book Review: Malaysia and the Club of Doom

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Image hosting by PhotobucketMalaysia And The Club of Doom (The Collapse of The Islamic Countries)
Author/Publisher: Syed Akbar Ali
ISBN: 9834261918
Paperback, 270 pages

If there is one word that could describe Syed Akbar Ali, it would be unconventional. And this is admitted to by the author himself. True to his unconventional self, therefore, "Malaysia And The Club of Doom (The Collapse of The Islamic Countries)" does not play to the gallery. The unrelenting honesty contained within makes this book a refreshing change from numerous other Islam-related books produced by Malaysian writers.

One year after his first book, "To Digress A Little", Syed Akbar explores further one of the numerous subjects he introduced in his debut. It is, without a doubt, an issue that most will find disturbing. In particular, if you're Muslim, and you abide by the mainstream "Islam" that is practiced in Malaysia.

And to most "mainstreamers", this book will most likely be offensive.

"Malaysia and The Club of Doom" essentially looks at how the fastest growing religion on planet Earth, "Islam", has been the key factor in the failure of the Muslim ummah and "Islam"-ic countries.

There is a reason why "Islam" has been put within quotes here. This book is not anti-Islam. Not by a long shot. Rather, it is an honest, no-holds-barred commentary on the religion that is being prostelyzed as Islam today.

The moniker Club of Doom itself refers to the failed Islamic countries, and those that are on the verge of failure.

Syed Akbar introduces, in the first chapter, the concept of the Failed State. He offers two different sets of criteria that characterize a failed state (p. 7 and p. 9), and throughout the book, numerous examples are given to support the premise that most of the Islamic countries around the world can be classified as such - failed states.

And here's the scary part - Malaysia, too, already has some of these characteristics exhibited by the failed states. The proverbial writing, as they say, is already clearly written on the wall. Written, in fact, with bright luminous paint - if only we bothered to look.

What exactly constitutes a failed state? Using one of the two sets of criteria (p. 7), Syed Akbar characterizes a failed state as one which exhibits the following attributes:

1. Restrictions on the free flow of information
2. The subjugation of women
3. Inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure
4. The extended family or clan as the basic unit of social organization
5. Domination by a restrictive religion
6. A low valuation of education
7. Low prestige assigned to work

Even a cursory look at the list tells us that several of these characteristics can already be observed in Malaysia. The possiblity of Malaysia becoming a failed state is all too real, and further explored in Chapter 3, Chapter 8, and in numerous other places throughout the rest of the book.

And it is with this realization that Syed Akbar explores how the Islamic countries the world over fit nicely into the unflattering category of failed state. While doing so, however, the author is quick to come back to Malaysia, pointing out areas where there are early (or even advanced) signs paralleling those found in Islamic countries such as Pakistan, the Arab states, and Somalia - which the author classifies as the ultimate "basket case" example of the failed state (pp. 206 - 207, and elsewhere).
(more of the book review, and Walski's thoughts, in the full post)

Image hosting by PhotobucketThis book is not intended by the author to be an academic treatise. Rather, they are "a collection of [my] observations" (Introduction, p. vii). Having said that, Syed Akbar never fails to support his arguments with facts and examples - usually in the form of newspaper cuttings, or from the works of other, more academic, authors.

One such author referenced several times throughout the book, is Dr. Abdul Hamid A. Abu Sulayman, former Rector of the International Islamic University in Malaysia, whose book "Crisis in the Muslim Mind", provides a good historical background pertaining to the decline of the Muslim ummah, and is a recommended read by Syed Akbar.

So, what has led to the failure of Islamic countries, and making them members of The Club of Doom? There are quite a number, but this review will look at a couple.

Just about all the Islamic states mentioned in the book, at some point or another, were colonies of Western countries. Syed Akbar states that what was initially left behind by the colonialists were working civil systems and infrastructure, which over the years have been progressively dismantled, in favor of more “Islamic” systems.

Two cases are presented to support this assertion. One concerns India and Pakistan. Both nations were one country up until 1947 (chapter 2 and elsewhere). Another case concerns Malaysia and Singapore. In both cases, one country has Islam prominently in the public sphere, while the other has chosen a more secular path.

What the working systems get replaced with are usually more “Islamic” in flavor – but more detrimental is that the more “Islamic”-flavored systems are usually not well thought out, or inherently don’t work in the first place. We’ve seen this happening in Malaysia over the years as well. Pakistan has, in fact, already failed (Chapter 3). And when the systems don't work, society starts to break down in tandem.

Related to this is the desire to reinvent things in a more “Islamic” way, giving rise to things like Islamic economics, Islamic social sciences, Islamic political systems, etc. Syed Akbar calls this trying “to reinvent the wheel and call it the Islamic wheel” (p. 116). But in the process, these modified systems (that were functional originally) become more cumbersome, and in fact, instead of making life easier, complicates life even more. All done in the name of “Islam”.

Another failure factor stated is the role of the “scholars of Islam”. Syed Akbar states that what we have today is not the Islam as revealed in the Quran, but what he calls the “Religion of Ijma” (p. 189).

Ijma or consensus is a very big word among the scholars. In fact the entire corpus of beliefs upheld by the religious scholars is a result of ijma or consensus

And for the most part, Muslims are told that the ijma is “written in stone” and cannot be challenged. But the truth is that even within the community of scholars there is, and has been, great disagreement over which ijma are to be upheld, who is authorized to make ijma, etc. (p. 190).

The end result is the disarray of the overall Muslim ummah, and the numerous flavors of “Islam” we see in the world today.

Which brings us to what Syed Akbar postulates is the primary reason, or root cause, of the Muslims' failure. Muslims have pretty much abandoned the Quran as their true source of guidance, and have instead embraced the numerous flavors of dogmatic beliefs passed on from one generation to the next.

Without giving too much away, in a nutshell, the book makes the case that the majority of Muslims, in abandoning the Quran, have, in fact, abandoned the true teachings of Islam.

The basis of this argument rests, besides numerous examples and observations in the book, on two verses from the Quran:

Surah 48 (Al-Fath - Victory) Verse 28: He it is Who sent His Apostle with the guidance and the true way of life (deen) that He may make it prevail over all other ways; and Allah is enough for a witness.
Surah 25 (Al-Furqan - The Criterion) Verse 30: The Messenger will say "My Lord, surely my people have taken the Quran for a joke'

Walski's note: The translation used above have been taken directly from Syed Akbar's book, and not the standard English translation myAsylum usually utilizes (the Yusuf Ali translation). The gist of the translation, however, remains the same.

Syed Akbar notes that

What they follow today are the opinions of the so called scholars, religious leaders and others - many of whom have led them astray. That is why we find the Muslims bungling from one decade to another decade, one century to another century. (p. 80)

And perhaps it is this indictment which will most likely offend most Islam "mainstreamers". But Syed Akbar's intention is not to offend. Rather, it is an attempt to make Muslims open their eyes to the reality of their existence, and why they are in such a sorry state today. He also admits that this will not be an easy task.

The indictments made in the book are not without merit, however, and the assertion that what most Muslims consider as "Islam" has deviated from the Quranic Islam, is not new. But most "mainstreamers" will immediately label such assertions as heretical, upholding instead interpretations of scripture from over a millenium ago, through the opinions of the countless scholars of old and present, as "Islam".

As an example of the abandonment of the Quran by the Muslims, Syed Akbar devotes Chapter 11 to pointing out that many of the so-called Islamic Laws upheld by today's Muslims, are actually not found anywhere in the Quran, but have instead been imported into the faith from external sources. What will likely be a surprise to readers of this book is that many of these are actually from the Christian Bible, primarily the Old Testament. For example (p. 217):

The Quran does tell women to cover their bosoms and to pull their outer garments over them but there is no clear mention in the Quran that women must cover their hair or their head.

Syed Akbar proceeds to point out

But in the Bible there is a clear statement that women should cover their hair and their heads, especially during prayer. Here is the reference:

1 Corinthians
11:5 - 6 "And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head - it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head."

Chapter 11 (entitled: Falsely Accusing The Quran: A Clash of Fools) is presented in the context that the West needs to realize many of the supposed demands of Islam are actually not found in the Quran. Therefore, the labelling of what we are seeing today as a "Clash of Civilizations" is totally misplaced. The fault, Syed Akbar asserts, lies instead with the religion Muslims regard as Islam (p. 215).

But what is being practiced today by the various sects and shades of religion is actually a hodge podge of theologies and different interpretations by people who think they are 'scholars of Islam'. Often these are the real trouble causers in the world.

Many other examples are presented in this chapter. These include the punishment of adulterers by stoning (found in Deutronomy 22:20 -24), and adopting an Islamic dress code, i.e. beards, turbans, and robes - not mentioned anywhere in the Quran as a dress code, but can be found in the Bible as "the accountrements or dress code of the priests" ( p. 222).

How these have crept into what is labelled as "Islam" today is not discussed at length, as it is not within the intended scope of the book, although the author does give some hints.

Syed Akbar maintains that there is a solution to the problems plaguing the Muslims today - return to the true teachings of the Quran. He does not elaborate much, except to give some clues. And his reason for not presenting the solution(s) more explicitly is because "there is no real freedom of speech in Malaysia, especially about Islam" (p. 120). If the environment were more conducive, he would be more than willing to step forward to suggest some real solutions. (He has, in the past, run afoul with the religious authorities over what he's had to say, and does not want a repeat)

Walski must admit that this review provides only a small glimpse into the pitfalls facing the Muslims and Islamic countries. The complexities of the real problems facing Muslims today are compounded by the fact that what we have today is the result of several hundred years of progressive failure. And the real solution is not to throw more religion into the mix, contrary to what certain parties aim to do.

If you have not yet read Syed Akbar's first book, his writing style may be a bit of a turn-off at times. And the book could have benefited from tighter editing.

Nevertheless, Walski's verdict is that "Malaysia And The Club of Doom (The Collapse of The Islamic Countries)" is a must-read for all Malaysians, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. And if you only manage to read one book this entire year (Malaysians having such a poor penchant for reading), it probably should be this book.

The reason?

Herein lies what Walski feels is the gist of Syed Akbar's book - in pointng how and why Muslims are in the sad state they are in today, this book is actually a warning to Malaysians, particularly the Muslims. There are clear signs that Malaysia, too, is on the path towards failure, albeit not as advanced as some of the other countries mentioned in the book. The one aspect of Malaysia that has helped make it an exemplary nation among the Islamic countries is its diversity of cultures and faiths - which today is clearly at risk.

It is through the contributions of all Malaysians that we are where we are today - in fact, as Syed Akbar points out, more so, perhaps, due to the contributions of the non-Muslims/Malays.

But Malaysia's continued prosperity is at risk, not because there is not enough religion, but because there is too much of it in the public sphere. Already, we are seeing religion being the basis of communal hatred and animosity, which fortunately, is not yet widespread. And the real danger is that apparently the majority of Muslims in this country misguidedly want more religion in the public sphere. More, they want an "Islam"-ic state.

Perhaps it's appropriate that Walski closes this review with the following quote, attributed to Albert Einstein:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The failure of the Islamic states the world over can be clearly seen. The reasons, too, are clear, as pointed out by Syed Akbar in his book. If the Muslims in this country can get over their deep seated denial (chapter 5), and accept that the root cause of their failure is their religion (not Islam), perhaps there is some hope yet.

Otherwise, we will surely succumb to the insanity of knowingly repeating the mistakes of others, and Malaysia, too, may one day become a full-fledged member of the dubious Club of Doom.