I am among the fortunate few who spent their university life at Kolej Kediaman Zaaba, the 7th residential college at Universiti Malaya, during the mid-eighties.
We were lucky to have a very outstanding college master in Prof Omar Farouk, who created an environment for performance where young Malaysians could grow, test out our leadership talents and potentials and be at our best. A place where we could transit into good citizens.
At the university level, we had the wonderful and very capable deputy vice-chancellor Mohd Yunus Mohd Noor and our very respectable and awesome vice-chancellor Royal Prof Ungku Abdul Aziz who not only were willing to defend our college master’s approach but went all out to support him.
With this solid support from the university, Omar could provide us with an open environment where diversity and inclusion thrived. Respect for others is the norm. We were encouraged to always work our way to the top, do the best and be the best! Work hard, play hard! Excel in whatever we do!
We were able to run and manage not only national level projects but also international level ones. We were perhaps the most active college in the country. Our projects were recognised internationally and were even honoured in newspaper editorials.
Yet, we were labelled by the group of people who felt that we were too western, too worldly. We were told that we were not Islamic enough. Ungku Aziz, Yunus and Omar’s names were ridiculed during Friday prayers. Big groups of people came to demonstrate.
Why? Simply because we wanted to have our “dinner and dance” events at hotels. It was not relevant to them that the dinner and dance was to celebrate, reward and award those who had worked hard and did the college proud in projects, sports, social activities, etc.
To them, dancing is bad and mixing of the genders should be avoided. And, they see it as their right to impose their thoughts on others too.
How far are they willing to go?
Our master and college members were pelted with rotten eggs. They spoke rudely to a kind and well-mannered elder, Omar, who was ever willing to discuss and listen to their views and agree to disagree.
When my team and I were managing a project to promote Kelantanese arts and culture, lives were threatened and we had to deal with bomb hoaxes – simply because they felt that Kelantanese culture is against their religious beliefs.
That was when we were in the eighties. Have we gotten any better today?
Unfortunately not. Today the problem has gone national. A video clip showing the chief justice and attorney-general dancing to the tune of “Lets Twist Again” with the law minister and members of the Bar has sent some people into conniption.
We need to stop, think, reflect and choose where we want this nation to head to. In fact, at certain levels it is not an overstatement to say that we are becoming a society with a sick mentality: where a dance party is now seen and promoted as though it is an orgy!
We need to engage with these people especially the leaders and influencers and help them pay attention to what is crucial.
Let me use the Zaaba experience to unpack this.
The dance parties represented an extremely small amount of time, energy and focus to those who were at Kolej Zaaba. The rest of the time, it was hard work, delivering performance, adding value and doing good.
But if one pays attention to only that few hours of dancing instead of a whole year of work, that is being myopic, petty and senseless. Ditto the Opening of the Legal Year 2019 dinner.
Inability to pay attention to what is crucial and the core is a huge social and human problem that leads to bad results. The militant Muslims for example pay attention to fighting while in reality in his 23 years of his prophethood, the Prophet spend not more than three days in actual fighting.
That should give an indication about Islam’s position on fighting. Yet, fighting defines the lives of the “jihadist”.
We need to choose what we are paying attention to.
If you still do not get it, among the products of Kolej Zaaba are the current chief secretary to the government, the foreign ministry’s secretary-general, the Election Commission chairman, top surgeons at the National Heart Institute and countless more.
So please do not focus on the dancing. Pay attention to the hard work and results.
To Ungku Aziz, Omar Farouk and the late Yunus, thank you for the opportunity. Thank you for paying attention to what is crucial and giving us the environment to be good Malaysian citizens.
May all of us guide ourselves with love, logic and wisdom. Love, because love makes us fair with our hearts; logic, because logic makes us fair with our minds; and wisdom, because wisdom leads us to combine our love and logic in the way of God and for the benefit of mankind.
Anas Zubedy is a businessman.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.