Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Leading the nation’s tertiary education

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018
Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj addressing a 2,000-strong crowd who turned up to witness University of Malaya’s convocation ceremony on Sep 21, 1957..

THE year 1957 was a historic moment for Malaysia’s higher education sector.

It was during this time that a branch campus of the University of Malaya (UM) was temporarily set up at the Kuala Lumpur Technical College in Lembah Pantai in the capital’s southwest.

The university came into being on Oct 8, 1949 with the merger of the King Edward VII College of Medicine (founded in 1905) and Raffles College (founded in 1928).

UM derives its name from the term “Malaya” as the country was then known. The Carr-Saunders Commission on University Education in Malaya, which recommended the setting up of the university, noted in its report in 1948: “The University of Malaya would provide for the first time a common centre where varieties of race, religion and economic interest could mingle in joint endeavour. University of Malaya must inevitably realise that it is a university for Malaya.”

The university saw rapid growth in the first decade of its establishment and this resulted in the setting up of two autonomous divisions on Jan 15, 1959, one in Singapore and the other in Kuala Lumpur.

In 1960, the governments of the two territories wanted to change the status of the divisions into that of a national university: the Singaporean one later becoming the National University of Singapore and the one in Kuala Lumpur being UM. Legislation was passed in 1961 and UM was established on Jan 1, 1962.

On June 16, 1962, UM celebrated the installation of its first chancellor, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, who was the first prime minister. The first vice-chancellor was Professor Alexander Oppenheim, a renowned mathematician.

UM is one of five local public universities with the research university status. The others are Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Universiti Putra Malaysia and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.


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History as first M’sian woman DPM leads the swearing-in

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Kuala Lumpur: Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail led a line-up of 13 Cabinet ministers in taking their oath of office, loyalty and secrecy before Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V at Istana Negara here today.

The swearing-in, which took place at the Singgahsana Kecil (Minor Throne Room) of the palace, was witnessed by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Also present was his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali.

The ceremony began at 5.45pm with the acceptance of the instrument of appointment by Dr Wan Azizah, who is also Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president, as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Women and Family Development.

She then took her oath and signed the official instrument of appointment, witnessed by Chief Justice Tun Raus Sharif and Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa.

Then, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin; DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) president Mohamad Sabu took their oath together as the Home Minister; Finance Minister and Defence Minister, respectively.

Simpang Renggam MP Dr Maszlee Malik; Titiwangsa MP Rina Harun and PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali took their oath together as the Education Minister; Rural Development Minister and Economic Affairs Minister, respectively.

Subsequently, PKR Wanita chief Zuraida Kamaruddin, DAP organising secretary Anthony Loke and DAP deputy chairman Gobind Singh Deo took their oath together as the Housing and Local Government Minister; Transport Minister and Communications and Multimedia Minister, respectively.

Then, Amanah deputy president Salahuddin Ayub, DAP vice-chairman M. Kulasegaran and Amanah strategic director Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad took their oath together as the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister; Human Resource Minister and Health Minister, respectively.

Dr Mahathir was sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh Prime Minister on May 10, a day after Pakatan Harapan won the country’s 14th General Election after defeating the Barisan Nasional which had been in power for 61 years.

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Unusual beginnings of Penang’s oldest mosque

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

The Masjid Kapitan Kling is situated on an 18 acre piece of land granted by the British East India Company in 1801.

THE ageing piece of newspaper cutting slips out from between the pages of a book I just acquired from the Penang flea market. Not daring to grab it in mid air out of fear of crumpling the fragile parchment, I patiently allow it to come to rest on the carpet in my Magazine Road hotel room before picking it up for a closer look.

My heart skips a beat when it turns out to be part of the Penang Shimbun, an English language daily published during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya. Dated Aug 27, 2603, it announced, among other things, the date for local Muslims to commence fasting during that particular year, which coincided with 1943 in the English calendar.

The declaration, made at the Penang Muslim Association by Syed Hashim Idrus who represented the state’s Board of Kathis, stated that Muslims in Penang and Province Wellesley would begin their fast on Sept 1 or a night earlier, depending on the sighting of the moon on the evening of Aug 31.

The paper went on to explain that Muslims the world over began their annual fasting on the first of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Muslim calendar. The fast, which lasts for a full month, begins each day before the sun rises and ends with its setting below the horizon.

A prominent community leader, A.M. Yusuf Izzudin, was quoted in the text asking Muslims in Penang and Province Wellesley to offer special prayers in mosques during the fasting period to seek divine intervention to help the Japanese Imperial Army win an immediate victory in the war.

Part of the newspaper cutting declaring Ramadan in 1943


This immediately brings to mind the oldest mosque in Penang, Masjid Kapitan Keling. This19th century place of worship, built by early Indian Muslim traders in George Town, must have surely been one of those places where these sanctioned prayers were held during World War II.

Located strategically at the corner of Lebuh Buckingham and another road that bears its name, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, this prominent Islamic centre originated from humble beginnings. Back in the 1800s, it became the first permanent Muslim institution to be established within a neighbourhood that was home to the Chulias, a significant sized Indian Muslim community which wielded considerable influence on the island.

At that time, George Town was growing at an exponential pace and there was a great need for residential homes, shops and godowns. In order to meet the demand for builders, Captain Francis Light requested for a large number of work force from the British East India Company (BEIC) in Calcutta. This request, and subsequent arrivals after 1787, led to the growth of the Chulia settlement.

On Jan 25, 1794, Light wrote that the Chulias who hailed from the ports along the Coromandel coast as well as from nearby Kedah were second only to the Chinese in terms of numbers. While most of them were shopkeepers, other members of this community earned their keep by working as traders, boatmen and labourers.

One prominent Chulia even became part of Penang’s six member civil administration. Long Fakir Kandu, who hailed from Kedah, held the prestigious position of writer and earned an annual salary of 360 Spanish Dollars.

Growth in Penang was spurred further when the colony received additional funding after becoming the fourth Presidency of India in 1805. A census ordered by the acting governor, Colonel Macalister five year later showed a total population of 24,422 with the Chulias numbering more than 5,600.

This relatively large number of Indian Muslims already had their own places of worship since the earliest years of the colony. A 1791 town map indicated the presence of two mosques south of, what was then known as, Chulier Street. One was on the present site of Masjid Kapitan Keling, while the other was located at the end of Queen Street.

The former catered primarily to the BEIC troops while the latter, known simply as Chuliar Mosque, was a prayer house erected by the Chulias who relocated from Kedah. At that time, both probably consisted of temporary wooden structures with attap roofs.

As the congregation size grew in tandem with the colony’s expansion, it became necessary to erect a more permanent place of worship. In 1801, the Lieutenant Governor of Penang, Sir George Leith, appointed Cauder Mohudeen as Captain of the South Indian Keling community or Kapitan Keling in short.

Mohudeen was a ship’s foreman who hailed from Porto Novo, about 50 kilometres south of Pondicherry in India. On Nov 21, 1801 Leith executed Land Grant No. 367 which granted an a 7.2ha piece of land for Mohudeen to build a mosque on the south side of Malabar Street (today Lebuh Chulia). The grant clearly stated that the land could not be sold or transferred and ownership would immediately revert back to the BEIC once it ceased to be used for the religious purpose intended.

Over a period of two years, Mohudeen demonstrated leadership by bringing in builders, stones and bricks from South India to build the mosque. He turned to Tamil Nadu when seeking architectural inspirations for what was to become the original version of the present Masjid Kapitan Keling. Mohudeen had the artisans embellish the building with intricate details like miniature stepped minarets, oil lamp niches, heavy stucco mouldings, lattices and fine dentilation.

In 1803, a squarish building complete with a circular well on the southern section and main entrance along Lebuh Chulia was ready to receive its first congregation. Also, at around this time, the other mosque near Queen Street fell into disuse and its followers were believed to have moved to join the congregation at Masjid Kapitan Keling.

The Lebuh Campbell Market in George Town was built on former Muslim cemetery land.


This period of prosperity in Penang also saw the arrival of a significant number of Acehnese traders, who brought with them much sought after commodities like pepper and betel nut which the Chulia merchants exported to India in large quantities.

Like the Chulias, the Acehnese also saw the need to set up a place of worship of their own. By 1808, Masjid Melayu was established in Lebuh Acheen by Tengku Syed Hussain Al-Idid, a Hadhrami Arab merchant prince hailing from Aceh.

Masjid Melayu, a mere 300 metres from Masjid Kapitan Keling, was frequented by the Acehnese, Arabs, Malays, Bugis and other people of the Muslim faith from the Dutch East Indies (today Indonesia).

The fate of both these places of worship became intertwined thanks to a dispute between the Masjid Melayu and Masjid Kapitan Keling followers during the early part of the 19th century. This disagreement eventually led to the birth of a unique Penang custom called masjid bergilir (alternating mosques) where the combined congregation had to alternate between the two places of worship each Friday.

Historical records are unclear as to when this incident took place exactly.

It’s only known that towards the end of the fasting month on one particular year, Sheikh Omar Basheer from Masjid Melayu announced the date of Hari Raya Puasa but his calculations were disputed by the congregation at Masjid Kapitan Keling. As a result, Basheer brought the Masjid Melayu cannon to Masjid Kapitan Keling and promptly fired it to declare the end of Ramadan. His provocative act didn’t go unnoticed by the mosque goers.

The next day, the community living around Masjid Melayu celebrated Hari Raya while those at Masjid Kapitan Keling continued their fast. One thing led to another and eventually a fight broke out between the two communities. During the ensuing melee, a youth from Armenian Street was badly beaten up and left to die in a nearby ditch.

The British authorities acted swiftly to prevent the chaos from escalating further. Three suspects were eventually arrested while another managed to escape by stowing away on a ship destined for Jeddah.

In order to mend ties, the two rival groups were ordered to alternate between the two mosques for Friday prayers. So, on each Friday, worshippers would all go to the appointed mosque and leave the other empty. This practice came to an end by the early 20th century when congregation size had grown considerably and both mosques had to be used at the same time.

The onset of the Indonesian Confrontation in the 1960s, however, saw a revival of this tradition. The armed insurgency by the Indonesian Army had put the Sumatran community living around Masjid Melayu in a bad light and their numbers began to dwindle. The lack of quorum to sustain the Friday prayers at Masjid Melayu led the authorities to reinstate the alternating mosque practice.

The wealthy Indian Muslims were a group of very influential people.


As I continue reading the rest of the newspaper cutting, it becomes clear that the Japanese Army only started having a clear policy towards Islam just a year before the parchment in my hand was printed. It reported that Friday prayers only resumed at Masjid Kapitan Keling during the onset of Ramadan which fell on Sept 4, 1942.

That period also saw the establishment of the Penang Islamic Advisory Council headed by Abdul Manan Nordin. Masjid Kapitan Keling was represented in this council by its head imam, Mohamed Abdullah while R. Kutaluddin and H. Sadar Ali stood in for the Indian Muslim community.

Apart from attending to the needs of the Muslim community and helping to strengthen ties with the Japanese Imperial Army, this newly-formed council was handed the responsibility of determining the accurate dates for subsequent Ramadan and Hari Raya Puasa celebrations.

The article continues with a rather vivid description of the previous year’s Hari Raya Puasa celebrations which fell on Oct 12, 1942. It said that about 5,000 Muslims assembled at the Chinese Recreation Club field at around 9.30 am to perform their traditional Aidil Fitri prayers. The ceremony started in earnest half an hour later with the arrival of General S. Katayama, the Lieutenant Governor of Penang.

I rub my eyes in disbelief when I reach the final part of the text. Once the prayers and sermon were over, the entire congregation got on their feet and changed their position from the Masjid al-Haram, the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and began facing the direction of the Tenno Heika or Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

After the people had finished paying their respects to the Japanese Emperor, the ceremony ended with representatives from the various Muslim communities swearing allegiance and loyalty to the Imperial Japanese Army. They promised to uphold the peace and obey the laws in Penang.

The mosques promoted Quran reading among the people.


The people were so taken aback by the bizarre compulsory salutations in the direction of the Land of the Rising Sun that they began referring to Hari Raya Puasa celebrations during the Japanese Occupation as Raya Banzai.

The last Hari Raya celebrations held in Japanese-occupied Penang was on Sept 19, 1944. A grand affair was planned at Masjid Kapitan Keling but, by then, the long suffering people had become cynical of the Japanese and their increasingly obvious attempts to capitalise on religious occasions to gain political mileage.

Their anger were further stoked when the important Takbir Raya had to be interrupted half way due to the arrival of the Japanese Governor. They were forced to stand up and face east to pay respects to the Japanese Emperor. Their ire must have been quite visible for the imam had to appeal to everyone to remain calm during the close of his sermon.

By Alan Teh Leam Seng.

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Tunku Abdul Rahman, the principled statesman

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

NEXT week, on Feb 8, will be the 115th birthday of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj.

Tunku was the seventh son of Kedah’s Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah. Tunku’s mother is Che Menjalara, the daughter of Luang Naraborirak from Thailand.

He was educated in Alor Setar, Bangkok and Penang, before graduating from Cambridge University in 1925. He then completed his legal training in 1949.

He successfully led the series of negotiations that resulted in our independence from Britain. For that, he will forever be known as our Bapa Kemerdekaan (Father of Independence).

On Aug 31, 1957, Tunku read out the Proclamation of Independence. The proclamation was the basis and the principles behind the founding of our nation.

In the proclamation, Tunku said our nation shall “be for ever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations”.

Liberty and justice – these are the principles that must guide our actions and policies.

In 1963, Tunku brought four entities – Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya – into one, to form Malaysia. Rightfully, that made him our Bapa Malaysia too.

On the day that Malaysia was formed, rather than reading out a different statement, he opted for the same proclamation, turning what was once called the Proclamation of Independence into the Proclamation of Malaysia.

Of course, as Prime Minister, he made his fair share of mistakes. There were actions of his that many of us today would consider as far short of the ideal. But on balance, many Malaysians today are longing for the environment fostered by Tunku’s administration.

He turned the principles of liberty and justice into actual policies, all aimed at ensuring the welfare and happiness of the people. He was determined to ensure every single citizen of the country enjoys liberty and justice equally, regardless of race and religion.

One thing for sure, his vision of how to unite the country was the correct one. He did not put one group above the other because he knew very well that a happy country can only exist if its citizens were equals.

Sadly, this vision of equal treatment disappeared soon after Tunku’s departure from office. Until today, we are still affected by the consequences from divisive ethnic-based social engineering.

When Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin Tuanku Muhriz, Wan Mohd Firdaus Wan Mohd Fuaad, and I decided to start the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), we made a conscious decision to dedicate our work to injecting Tunku’s ideals into all facets of public policy.

We launched Ideas on Feb 8, 2010, at an event that was also designed to celebrate Tunku’s birthday. Therefore, next week will also be Ideas’ eighth anniversary.

The last eight years has been challenging but fulfilling. The nature of an independent think tank is not widely understood in Malaysia, where labels of either being pro-government or pro-opposition are thrown around too easily.

When we say that we believe in principles rather than partisanship, many people become confused because we do not fall within their traditional labels.

The culture of “only bad news can become news” does not help either. Our criticisms get picked up by the media more frequently than our praises.

I have now become used to politicians and policymakers from both sides saying that we only criticise them and that we never give them credit. This wrong perception can only be expected because when we give credit when it is due, it is hardly covered.

As far as challenges go, last year was by far the most challenging one. We were very close to shutting down in August because of a major cashflow crisis after two large funders suddenly pulled out.

I had to go cap in hand to various people begging for money to keep us alive. Thanks to two donors, one from Britain and another from Johor Baru, we got through the crisis.

Moving forward, our quest to translate Tunku’s vision into policy proposals will continue. In an increasingly divided Malaysia, we will stay true to his unifying vision.

There are far too many people who, in private, complain like mad but refuse to speak up publicly even though they know they can change the country’s course towards the better. I promised my team at Ideas that we will never become like that. Hopefully history will show that I keep my word.

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan
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Looking back at 2017

Monday, January 8th, 2018

2017 is behind us. As we move forward in 2018, it is useful to look back at the events and issues of 2017 which has impacted the legal landscape of the country.

Compared to previous years, when Parliament enacted the Prevention of Terrorism Act, amended the Sedition Act and enacted the National Security Council Act, no controversial law was tabled in 2017. The long talked about legislation to control online news portal did not see the light of day in 2017. Similarly, we also did not see the follow up to the proposal to amend the Legal Profession Act which was first raised in 2016, after objections from the legal fraternity.

The Private Member’s Bill to amend Act 355, brought by PAS and which received tacit approval from Umno also was not passed or even debated in 2017. The last time the motion was raised was in April 2017, when it was tabled but was postponed to another sitting before it could be debated. It is unlikely that the motion will be raised in the Dewan Rakyat before the next general election, which is due to happen this year.

The biggest legal controversy of the year must surely be the service extension of the Chief Justice, Tun Md Raus Sharif and the President of the Court of Appeal, Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin beyond the mandatory retirement period stipulated in the Federal Constitution. According to the Government, the both of them were appointed as additional Federal Court judges under Article 122(1A) of the Federal Constitution.

Pursuant to the resolution, the Bar Council had filed legal proceedings to challenge the extension and it was reported recently that the matter has now been referred to the Federal Court for determination. We will likely find out how the Federal Court will interpret the relevant provision in 2018.

2017 also saw the conclusion of the judicial reviews filed against the re-delineation process and proposals by the Election Commission (EC) in 2016.

The legal challenges were filed by many parties, the biggest and most important one is the judicial review filed by the Selangor government. At one point, Selangor even managed to obtain an injunction to prevent the re-delineation process until the conclusion of the Court process.

Unfortunately, a series of decisions by the Court of Appeal effectively ended the judicial reviews by deciding that the re-delineation process cannot be challenged in Court. As it stands, the EC has resumed the process and it will likely be completed before the next general election.

Lastly, 2017 also saw the Federal Court deliver a landmark judgment on judicial power in the case of Semenyih Jaya Sdn Bhd vs Pentadbir Tanah Daerah Hulu Langat.

The Federal Court decided that judicial power of the Federation is still vested in the Courts, despite the amendment made to Article 121(1) of the Federal Constitution in 1988. What this means is that Parliament cannot limit or oust the jurisdiction of the Courts by way of Federal law.

by Syahredzan Johan
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A need for sober minds

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017
Tunku Abdul Rahman (left) and Tun Jugah Barieng at the signing of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 in London on July 9, 1963. (FILE PIC)

SARAWAK Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Abdul Rahman Zohari Abang Openg is probably right when he contends that he is not being emotional in pushing for the state’s rights, some of which he claims are in hidden official documents related to the formation of Malaysia recently uncovered.

That being said, there is no denying that there is much noise in the public domain in Sarawak related to the whole subject of state rights and the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63). The subject matter is, perhaps, intrinsically emotive. It is, therefore, incumbent on all responsible Malaysians, and especially those holding public office, to treat the matter with utmost care, lest it becomes too emotionally charged.

To his credit, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had given his assurance that the government under his leadership would not stop any public discussion on the matter. That necessarily puts the onus on everyone, and in particular, politicians, to be as matter-of-fact as is possible when raising issues related to the subject.

Najib had also made a blanket commitment that if it was found that state rights had inadvertently been taken away by Putrajaya, they would be returned where they rightly belong. The emphasis is rightly on the qualifier “inadvertently”, since suggesting otherwise may give rise to public suspicions (easily fanned by some quarters, one must add) that those rights have been surreptitiously or even deliberately taken away.

The very public commitment given by the prime minister is crucial and may suggest that for the contentious issues related to the subject matter to be resolved to the satisfaction of all involved, sober minds must prevail at all levels and that both the state government and its federal counterpart must always be on the same page over the matter.

It will be needlessly incendiary to pit both the state government and Putrajaya in such a way that it may be interpreted as being in any sort of adversarial positions vis-à-vis the matter at hand. Such interpretations will, in any case, be false and wildly misleading.

The Federal Government, right from the very first day of Malaysia, is composed of strong representations from both Sarawak and Sabah, and the composition of Parliament has been deliberately skewed by the MA63 to afford both states a disproportionate share of members of parliament relative to their respective share of the total national population.

Sarawak’s past leaders, such as Tun Jugah Barieng, Tun Abdul Rahman Ya’akub, Tan Sri Ong Kee Hui and Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, served meaningful and illustrious stints in the federal cabinet and were instrumental in the formulation of national policies, some of which still have direct and far-reaching impact on the state even today.

If anything, the bonds binding Sarawak and the Federal Government today are even stronger. The fact that both have all these years been administered by Barisan Nasional meant that issues and disagreements can be honestly deliberated and resolved with the minimum of fuss or heated public arguments.

It is of utmost importance that we all not lose sight of the reality that we are all in this together. Sarawak’s recent leaders, including the late Tan Sri Adenan Satem, and Abdul Rahman Zohari have, after all, time and again stressed that there was never ever any question of Sarawak being anything but an integral part of Malaysia.

There are signal lessons that can be drawn by everyone in Malaysia from such “black swan” political developments as Britain voting to exit the European Union and Catalonia voting illegally to secede from Spain.

Both developments did not happen in isolation or out of the blue. They were the culminations of long-standing disputes and public debates that had simmered for decades and even centuries (in Spain’s case). In both cases, politicians of the day — perhaps, in the heat of the moment — decided to take on public positions, which painted them into tight corners from which it became almost impossible to retreat without suffering humiliating accusations of a climb-down or a sell-out.

By John Teo.

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The sisters’ education crusade in Malaysia

Sunday, November 12th, 2017
Old times: Mother St. Tarcisius (seated, centre) with her choir or teaching sisters in Convent Light Street.

Old times: Mother St. Tarcisius (seated, centre) with her choir or teaching sisters in Convent Light Street.

No one would treasure the legacy of the Christian sisters more than the sisters themselves, so the controversy over the three convent schools in Penang is most unfortunate.

THE soul of the Infant Jesus Sisters institute (IJS) lies in the very foundation that was established by the pioneer sisters who risked their lives to reach Penang and struggled against all odds to raise it off the ground in the second half of the 19th century.

Convent Light Street was where the heartbeat of the institute once reverberated. It is not only dearest to the sisters here in Malaysia but also significant to the IJS global community.

Administered from their Mother House at historic Rue St Maur in Paris for over three-and-a-half centuries, the institute now serves in four continents.

In Malaya transitioning into Malaysia, the IJS institute held the record of establishing and operating the most number of convent schools in Malaysia and IJS worldwide at the height of their popularity in the 20th century. There were more than 30 serving in Peninsular Malaysia alone. These have produced millions of young women with sufficient knowledge and, in the words of the sisters – good characters ready to face the challenges of adult life for over a century.

The sisters were there when the nation at its infancy needed them most – socially and economically. Through education – academics, home science and character building, it enabled women to bring up good families (in the words of the sisters) and participate in the workforce.

M. St. Mathilde

Mother St Mathilde (1814-1911). — Photos courtesy of IJS Convent Cheras.

The controversies that currently engulf the notification of intent issued by IJS for the return of their landed properties in Penang are unfortunate. They would not have risen if matters were handled in a less careless manner by relevant quarters. There should have been meaningful dialogue with the sisters. A plan should be put in place with regards to the purported closure of the schools concerned, if such had been intended.

The notification to retrieve its properties by IJS was done in good faith. The conduct of affairs thereafter is the responsibility of the Education Ministry.

As speculation goes, it may possibly entail cessation of new intakes at subject premises and relocation of existing students. The so-called leakage of the ministry’s letter with “alarming” content – which is “IJS’ request under consideration” brought forth disastrous reactions from the public. It was later withdrawn.

The lack of measured response from a public official to media enquiries on rumours that the sisters are selling their properties to developers for re-development was even more damaging. It did not give any consideration to the idea that the “talk of sisters’ selling out and eliminating their own heritage and legacy” was a vicious one. It added fuel to state of emotions in worried parents and opinionated public.

It is upsetting to parents whose children are now studying in the convent schools at Light Street, Pulau Tikus and Green Lane respectively. It is particularly saddening to the alumni communities of these schools. And in general, many ex-convent girls are affected.

It is difficult to accept what seems to be illogical. Will the convent schools suffer eventual demise in the hands of the sisters?

How horrible, not because it is going to happen that way but because the sensible and rational-thinking sisters have to suffer great distress on such persecuting allegations for a good plan that was being executed. They are re-activating their mission of providingwholesome education and preserving their landmark properties in the tradition of their founding sisters and institute objectives.

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Revisiting history without bias

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Using proper methodology, sound and valid arguments, any debate could spark a real interest in history itself.

A FEW years ago, there was an interesting debate on whether historical figures mentioned in a number of historical documents were real or myths.

The debate on Hang Tuah and his brethren, as well as Hang Li Po, was indeed attention-grabbing, and sparked interest in “historical revisionism” – revisiting and reinterpreting historical records, usually (but not necessarily) based on newly found historical evidence, which leads to challenging current and popular interpretations of historical facts.

More often than not, historical revisionism is met with much controversy. Those who are comfortable with the status quo would find new interpretations of historical facts unnerving and troubling.

This is in contrast to the many branches of science where theories and ideas are regularly revised, refined and reinterpreted when new knowledge comes to light.

As an example, Arab-Muslim polymath Ibn al-Haytham revised and corrected the theories of vision propagated by his Greek predecessors such as Euclid, Ptolemy and Aristotle, based on experimentation which was empirical and objective.

Ibn al-Haytham’s theory of vision still stands true to this very day, until and unless someone revises it based on new evidence. The beauty of scientific knowledge is that it can be tested and retested, and subjected to peer reviews. This exhaustive process results in science being regarded as “trusted” knowledge.

But there are also instances when certain quarters exhibit “scientific denialism” – the irrational rejection of empirically verifiable realities. Examples include those who subscribe to the flat Earth theory, those who reject vaccination as a conspiracy, and those who view climate change as a myth.

The challenge with interpreting history is even greater, compared to interpreting scientific data. There are those who deny empirical evidence even with science, so imagine the challenge with historical interpretation. There have been many cases in history where events have been interpreted in a biased manner, even denying that events actually took place.

We have just celebrated the 60th anniversary of Merdeka and in a few days, we will celebrate the 54th anniversary of the formation of our beloved country, Malaysia. Having a sense of history is critically important for today’s Malaysians who are mostly born after 1957.

Without any objective reflection of history, we may not truly understand the struggles of the past. The less appreciation we have for history, the greater the risk of creating a generation of Malaysians who do not appreciate the value of independence.

One important reminder is found in Muqaddimah, by the 14th century Arab-Muslim historiographer Ibn Khaldun. He theorised how long a civilisation would survive, based on observations of the Arabs and Berbers. Ibn Khaldun astutely noted that civilisations generally lasted around 120 years, or three generations.

He wrote that the first generation was a generation of fighters, who endured hardship and fought for freedom for their children and grandchildren. They were strong-willed, had a strong sense of brotherhood, possessed strong patriotism, and were willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their country.

The second generation benefited greatly from the sacrifices of the previous generation. However, because of the relative comfort that they experienced, the characteristics possessed by the first generation began to wane with the second generation. None-theless, since there was still direct contact with the first generation, the second generation still exhibited an appreciation of the importance of patriotism.

With the third generation, all the traits possessed by the first generation was almost non-existent. They lived in a comfort zone and no longer appreciated or understood the importance of the sacrifice of their forefathers. It was during the third generation that civilisations began to crumble, according to Ibn Khaldun.

We could indeed see this in our own history. The Empire of Malacca stood for about 111 years (a mere nine years short of Ibn Khaldun’s theory) before it fell to the Portuguese in 1511. We have read how treachery, egotism and materialism crept into the empire that led to the downfall of Melaka.

This shows how important it is for us to learn from history. What is more pertinent is that the history that is learnt is history that is objective.

There is nothing wrong with re-evaluating historical events and players. Historical revisionism can be an enlightening and beneficial academic exercise which can contribute towards enriching knowledge.

However, we must ensure proper methodology is used, and that arguments presented are sound and valid, as there is a very fine line between “historical revisionism” and “historical negationism”. If revisionism is done to present a new narrative that negates or denies people or events, then the exercise would not be objective.

by Dr Shaikh Mohd Saifuddeen Shaikh Mohd Salleh
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UK-Malaysia Ties: Then,now and the future

Monday, August 28th, 2017
Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaiming independence for Malaya on Aug 31, 1957, at the Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur. (FILE PIC)

THE month of August bears witness to the commemoration of two diametrically contrasting independence movements, culminating in freedom from British colonial rule.

As the hour of midnight struck on Aug 14, 1947, the partition of British from India became reality when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, leader of the Congress Party declared India an independent nation free from British colonial rule. A few hours previously, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League had claimed the birth of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan as a homeland of the majority of India’s Muslim population.

A sordid and hasty retreat from the British Empire saw a forced two-way migration of populations — Muslims and Hindus — one of the largest in history, culminating in unspeakable acts of brutality and violence on both sides and resulting in over a million deaths.

If it had happened today, the British government would have been hauled in front of the International Court of Justice, charged with genocide and crimes against humanity.

Contrast this with a decade later on the Aug 31, 1957, when at the stroke of midnight, a proud Tunku Abdul Rahman uttered the words “Merdeka” (Independence) seven times at the packed Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, thus proclaiming Malaya (later to become Malaysia) independent from Britain.

The difference to the chaotic partition of India could not be more stark — a peaceful transition of power following relatively amiable talks between Malayan leaders and their erstwhile colonial masters.

“Today, a new page is turned,” declared Tunku in his historic address. “And Malaya steps forward to take her rightful place as a free and independent partner in the great comity of nations — a new nation is born and though we fully realise that difficulties and problems lie ahead, we are confident that, with the blessing of God, these difficulties will be overcome and that today’s events, down the avenues of history, will be our inspiration and our guide.”

Talking about Midnight’s Children, it just happens that my wife, Leila, is a “Merdeka baby”, not born on the stroke of midnight but a couple of weeks before independence at the main hospital in Singapore, then part of the Federation of Malaya, but who had grown up in Petaling Jaya and schooled at Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur, where her English-born mother was a teacher.

Her father, Shaykh Sir Dr Mohamed Zaki Badawi KBE, OBE, was a prominent Egyptian Azaharite scholar, who was despatched to Malaya with fellow Azharite Shaykh Abdul Rauf, to establish a Muslim College that later became Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

In 1956, he moved to Universiti Malaya, then in Singapore, transferring to the Kuala Lumpur campus in Peninsular Malaya, teaching Arabic and Islamic Studies.

His students included scions of Malaya, who later went on to achieve high office in politics, the civil service, academia and business. They include the young Tun Musa Hitam, who went on to become deputy prime minister of Malaysia in the government of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

My wife’s earliest post-Merdeka recollection, I am afraid, was more mundane albeit befitting a toddler of 28 months — her close affinity to her Aya, who was effectively her surrogate mother who taught her the Malay language, and her usurper newborn sibling Faris, who had suddenly dominated the attention of her parents and visitors alike.

Dr Badawi was endeared to Malaya/Malaysia and contributed inter alia with others to the development of Islamic studies and Islamic finance in the decade after independence.

He, for instance, had cooperated with Royal Professor Ungku Aziz, the prominent Malaysian economist, founder of Angkasa cooperative movement and father of Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz, when she was governor of Bank Negara Malaysia, to establish Lembaga Tabung Haji in 1963.

Ungku Aziz wrote the concept paper for Tabung Haji, while Dr Badawi gave the fatwa (legal opinion) endorsing the establishment of the institution. Dr Badawi also cooperated with the Islamic Affairs Department at the Prime Minister’s Office, Islamic Development Department and had a close relationship with several Malaysian prime ministers advising them on Muslim affairs especially abroad, and also served on the Syariah Advisory Boards of Bank Negara and Labuan Offshore Financial Services Authority.

Years later, he gave a landmark fatwa to Malaysian Islamic bankers endorsing their use of Bay Al-Dayn (sale of debt) in transactions. He defended the differences in syariah opinions relating to Islamic financial law, stressing that if Muslims can tolerate variations in the rules governing their relationship to God, then surely they can accept variations in the rules governing financial contracts.

Indeed, one of the countries that Malaysia has been forging close relations in Islamic finance over the last 35 years is Britain. The two countries have shared a common bond and relationship that first started in the 17th century. But this year’s 60th anniversary of Merdeka also marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Putrajaya and London.

These relations have had their ups and downs. But, there have been more about spats between friends rather than adversaries.

Malaysia is the United Kingdom’s second largest trading partner within Asean, while the UK is Malaysia’s fourth largest trading partner within the European Union. UK-Malaysia trade totalled to £2.76 billion (RM15.2 billion) in 2015.

By Mushtak Parker.

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Boys who saw their hopes come true

Saturday, August 12th, 2017
Foch Avenue in Kuala Lumpur in the 1960s. FILE PIC

IT was only a few more days before Merdeka was declared in 1957. I had just turned 11 and was lounging with some boys at the corner of a quarters’ block in the Police Depot (now Pulapol), off Gurney Road in Kuala Lumpur.

We were barefooted and wearing shabby shirts and shorts, but were in an exuberant and expectant mood. Then, we got into lambasting the orang putih, who had to balik negeri soon.

None of them escaped our naive contempt and ridicule. High commissioners, government officials, traders, soldiers — we fired away unabashedly with our snide remarks.

“Now they will return home without a job. Maybe they will have to drive taxis and buses, or even beg for a living. Let them!”

The fervour and disdain was as intense as any young boy during those days could muster. We were also wishful and full of hope.

“We should be senang (well off) after this because we shall govern the country and have control of our kekayaan (wealth). We will not be poor anymore as we will get to own this wealth. We can defend the country and our soldiers will fight and defeat the pengganas komunis (communist terrorists or CTs) by ourselves.”

All these we gleefully said in between laughter and giggles.

There was only one lone cautious voice, a slightly older boy, who sounded out his apprehension as to whether things could happen that easily since the country was still undeveloped and not rich.

His concern was quickly dismissed by another boy as we continued to talk about the bliss that was to come. I had written about this before but will re-live it anyway as it is quite incredulous. It is an insignificant happening, yet a memorable one deeply etched in memory.

The conversations were reflective of the feelings at that time with the coming of Merdeka. They were also innocent expressions of our hopes and fears as boys. Boys who went on to become men, and be with the country on its journey forward and, eventually, to witness the present.

The feelings should not be too difficult to comprehend. We were of the generation born just after the war and survived the difficult post-war period. Then, we grew up during the period of the first Emergency, which was declared in 1948 and saw the consequences of the communist revolt on the Malay peninsula.

The conflict was a civil war, and we felt the threats, dangers and fears from perennial dusk-to-dawn curfews, the security checkpoints, the identification checks of people, the barbed wire entanglements and seeing soldiers and policemen of all shades, size and colour always around us.

In the air, ex-Battle of Britain pilots flew their fighters and bombers, at times dropping leaflets instead of bombs, which thrilled us as much as it reminded that the communist threat was real. At the same time, Radio Malaya and the Information Department broadcast frequently anti-communist messages and news of the Special Forces’ contacts with CTs, and their numbers killed or captured.

All of these were seen and felt while being conscious of our subservience to the orang putih, who remained unchallenged as the lord and tuan.

We were, therefore, in some disbelief that we would be gaining independence.

An uncertainty that was put to rest when the Union Jack was finally lowered and the flag of the Federation of Malaya raised in its place at the Selangor Club padang (now Dataran Merdeka).

The next morning, on Aug 31, Tunku Abdul Rahman formally declared the country’s independence and led all at Stadium Merdeka to shouts of Merdeka!

But, as the days went by, we realised that it took more than shouting “Merdeka” to build a country and a nation. It required vision, leadership, time and a lot of hard work and sacrifices. Thus, other than the immediate change of government and leadership, things moved rather slowly and gradually forward during the first few years of independence.

The Emergency was declared over in 1960 although the communist threat continued to loom. Hundreds of CTs remained active at the Malaya-Thailand border, operating from their sanctuary in southern Thailand. The government sought to contain this threat while focusing on the unity and uplifting of the standard of living of the population.

On the personal side, life continued to be hard for all of us at the Police Depot. In school, we had to survive only on my father’s low policeman’s pay.

The hopeful imaginings of bliss did not materialise as quickly as we had thought, and soon, they were temporarily forgotten. The older boy was right. We had first to study and work hard in order to attain progress and security.

The kampung stay during school holidays were the best times for us. It provided pure happy moments — gathering mangosteens, rambutans and durians when they were in season, and then pampered by my maternal grandmother when the better-off cousins were not around.

My mother and father became noticeably resigned to the drudgery of a hard life, constant work and the small rewards. Thankfully, they persevered without ever showing any sign of despair or of wanting to give up. This grit is their greatest example for me to follow in my own adult life.

A significant happening occurred in the late 1960s, when my father became the personal bodyguard of the Raja of Perlis, the third Yang Dipertuan Agong.

We were initially excited when we had to move into Istana Negara, but were quite dismayed by the small and windowless workers’ quarters. My parents, however, remained unperturbed and laboured constantly to make the quarters more habitable.


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