Love your enemy, help Utusan

This is one of those articles I never thought I would write.

It is about Utusan Malaysia, which mercilessly destroyed the person of Anwar Ibrahim during the painful days of 1998.

It also fanned racial and religious tensions during the reformasi years.

At one time, we heard comments like how Utusan Malaysia is not fit to even wrap pisang goreng.

Now, we hear about Utusan staff in a dire situation as their salaries are delayed.

Reading about Utusan’s troubles, I had to stop and think both about the news and its implication on the rebuilding of this nation.

Can Malaysians who are all too familiar with Utusan’s “unforgivable sins” consider helping the staff?

For me, there are three reasons to consider: Utusan’s early history, my personal relationship with the newspaper and the Islamic lesson on forgiveness.

It is a historical fact that Utusan Melayu played an important role in uniting the Malays to liberate the country from the colonial powers.

It was a medium for visionary Malays with strong ideas, ideals and convictions to rally around, to build a nation with a political understanding with other races.

Rightly or wrongly, the early journalists wanted to help the Malays in a new battleground, the politics of nation-building.

Unfortunately, certain non-visionary elements of Umno began to steer the newspaper towards the path of mindless propaganda, as a medium to sow racial and religious discontent. When one journalist did not agree, he was sacked and ridiculed by his co-workers.

But the truth is that Utusan is part of the country’s heritage.

It messed up, but then, who among us have not? It was the bad elements of Umno which are to blame.

Long ago, I wrote for Utusan Malaysia. I did not have my PhD yet, but the paper published my thoughts about the mosque architecture.

I explained that the dome, the minarets and the arches are not real or true elements of Islam and that their presence was absolutely unnecessary.

Three decades later, I am writing to other media about an Islam that should forego the formalism of Malay Islam, to embrace the universal values that the Prophet taught.

My first newspaper column was also with Utusan. It was called “Akitek Menulis”.

Utusan made my first path to the world of the mainstream and off mainstream media.

A scholar must disseminate his knowledge to help change society. But my view about the role of the scholar is not shared by my colleagues.

Prophet Muhammad taught Muslims how to treat their enemies, even those who hurt them badly.

In one incident, he was attacked with rocks and stones, causing him to bleed and finally faint in exhaustion. When the Prophet gained consciousness, an angel appeared to him and asked if he would like to destroy the city.

The Prophet reeled back and exclaimed that he would want no such thing because those who attacked him were ignorant youths.

Perhaps the narrators of the incident were being melodramatic and what happened was merely the Prophet entertaining an evil thought of fierce vengeance.

History recorded that when the Prophet had triumphed, the city of Taif where he was attacked was spared.

So too were the Meccan politicians and leaders who waged a physical, economic and psychological war against the Prophet.

The rules of spirituality transcend the rules of worldly politics. Thus, if we are to rebuild this nation, we have two paths to choose from.

We are “justified” to take the path of worldly vengeance and let Utusan die a painful death along with its workers.

Or, we can take the path of spirituality by forgiving and extending a helping hand.

Now, many will disagree and ask, why should we help a weakened enemy in order for it to rise again and destroy this nation with its ever-present racial and religious rhetoric?

I have no way of knowing whether Utusan will come back as the enemy once it is strong, but as I said, the rule of spirituality is a strange one and it is only with the deepest of faith and the purest of hearts that we can find the will to fight evil with goodness.

In this holy month of Ramadan, Malaysians of all backgrounds, whether Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Sikh, should urge the government to extend a helping hand to the Utusan workers.

Perhaps the finance ministry could extend a soft loan to help the workers, and establish a task force to ensure that Utusan survives and blossoms again as it once did.

Once upon a time, Utusan led the charge in inspiring the Malays to open up their minds.

Perhaps a new Utusan will emerge, with the help of Malaysians, to once again open up the Malay mind to rise above the simplistic and narrow narrative of racial and religious hatred.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.