Thursday, November 13, 2008
IS KASSIM AHMAD OLD AT 75?
HO, HO, HO! - REACHING INTO THE HEAVENS FOR A BOTTLE OF WINE,
Kassim Ahmad And His Autobiography, Mencari Jalan Pulang – Daripada Sosialisme Kepada Islam
It’s about reaching for an ending of a normal kind for an extraordinary lifetime the former Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia (PSRM) president, Kassim Ahmad, has put into a book Mencari Jalan Pulang, an autobiography that’s a full-bodied jug of inebriating wine.
While it ought to answer the critical questions why he left the PSRM after 18 years at the helm and then joined Umno, the book answered little of those mysteries of Kassim; writer, scholar and mainly a gadfly with a voracious appetite for ideas and an equally powerful enthusiasm to let loose those ideas into a society that has been reluctant to accept them.
But the ideas were often imported along with their masters, forcing Kassim having then to look for a group of writers to help him weather the storms he brewed or to explain to society the abstruse philosophies they brought.
After he had left PSRM he first launched Dr. Rashad Khalifah and his rejection in toto of the Hadis (Prophetic Traditions). It meant to demolish a basic structure of Islam, the Hadis being a source of Islamic Law.
Rashad was soon to be killed in his own mosque in Tucson, Arizona.
Kassim, himself knowing less than he should about Islamic culture, was visibly shaken by the event and to stand clear he found Lyndon LaRouche. He soon dragged the ideas of the man into the country.
This was a useful move. LaRouche’s movement not only served Kassim with good ideas but would prove useful as an American connection that did not appreciate Anwar Ibrahim.
LaRouche was leader of a Quaker political movement which later became a faction of the Democrats. His ideas were and are revolutionary, threading the development of political, economic and scientific ideas carefully from sources in the Greek beginning to reach for a future humanity.
But Kassim, in the process of these flights to fulfill some emptiness in his life, lost his new friends and lieutenants, something he seemed to find difficult to explain in his book, and perhaps also to himself.
Kassim’s trouble was he could not be genuine in Umno however much he tried. He was primarily a socialist thinker and leader who should have remained in PSRM where he had been at home.
For reasons of his own he left the PSRM in 1984, explaining in his book he had been meeting Umno president and premier, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who, though reluctant at first, was later to agree to consider the possibility of PSRM joining the Barisan Nasional, the ruling coalition.
But did the socialist party know of his meetings with Dr. M or had Kassim taken matters into his own hands and then expected the party to simply agree to abide by his edicts?
Some PSRM members say “Kassim stole PSRM’s money and he had to flee”, a metaphorical description that stuck on Kassim like a leach that would not let go. He had leapt away like a frog after leading them for 18 years, and they preferred him dead.
They regretted the years some of them had spent in political detention.
In one case a few interrupted this writer’s speech to tell the forum four members of the audience had been in detention in Kamunting “because of being loyal to Kassim”.
Now that the leader had joined Umno, what were they supposed to do? Should they all hug, kiss and bid their past goodbye as Kassim had done?
Were they all merely to fall in line behind him and together aggress against the Hadis and then study Lyndon LaRouche and assiduously read the Executive Intelligence Journal of Lyn’s outfit?
Even if he tried to explain he had lost faith in Socialism, the image he had built of himself as a socialist he cannot erase for as long as the men and women he had led remained alive.
These workers and peasants haunted him. Some spent more time than Kassim in detention, him incarcerated from 1976 to 1981. Many of them believed he broke down in detention and so he changed his color and his soul as well.
I was to witness a little of this distressing abyss in Kassim’s life after he called me through Dr. Chandra Muzaffar to help put right his writings on the Hadis he presented in a series of seminars at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
Chandra was later to remark Kassim never acknowledged the contributions we made to help him with those papers that became his book on the Hadis.
Now, in his autobiography he wrote to say those meetings we had in Chandra’s house or at his office in 1985 were about Islamic Reformism.
We discussed that for only one or two days. The other times we met were about the Hadis and on what we deemed proper concerning the subject.
Kassim did not know enough about the subject. He had not known then about the Medinah Charter (Shahifah Medinah) and the treaties, letters and pledges the Prophet had made and which defined the bases and limits of Islamic diplomacy.
He had also failed to take into consideration the Islamic financial institutions and instruments that were determined mainly by the Hadis.
These institutions and instruments are today offering the best alternatives to the world that’s wracked by a systematic financial breakdown.
LaRouche predicted the breakdown from decades before but he had nothing to say about Islamic financial institutions, instruments and products, which are measures of civilized progress, no less.
Kassim kept telling a few of us he had been meeting the premier Dr. Mahathir and Dr. Mahathir agreed with his views. About what?
What would the premier’s agreement do for him and for us? How would that help him become a Muslim reformist in or outside Umno? When had Dr. M become a prophet of Islam, someone asked him.
His friend and business partner, Hamid Merican, became so fed up with Kassim’s talk about his meetings with Dr. M he finally told Kassim to simply ask the premier for a fat contract or shut up.
It is now clear from his book that Dr. M’s position was the same as that of the rest of us. He accepted authentic hadis and therefore had no intention of damning the structure of the Shariah (Islamic Law).
In the meetings with Chandra Muzafar and this writer, Kassim was confronted with instances when the law had only the Hadis to stand upon and we insisted he change his views.
He finally did but would revert to his iconoclasm time and again, whence we called it a day. He had committed himself too widely to retract. He had cast the dye on himself.
My friend Kassim had nothing to put in the spaces he was causing to rupture by rejecting the Hadis and blowing apart a basic structure of Islam.
The liberation he was after was possibly more meaningful to his own intellectual and spiritual maturity rather than relevant in the game-play of forces to shift Malays and Malaysians into a new deal, or in the world at large.
He was merely playing a game of his own shadows meaning to show to his friends he is still the same Kassim they knew but in a different guise and wishing to remove the opiate from inside the anatomical system.
I argued against Kassim’s blind distaste for Islamic traditionalism, the time being the period when Muslims were putting together the Islamic financial institutions with which I was a little involved.
Regulations defining these financial institutions and instruments are mainly sourced from the Hadis.
Kassim kept insisting Islam was merely available as theocracies and refused to think as I did in terms of “theological states”, such as Japan and Israel, or of India under the BJP. In any case, how many theocracies are there in Islam today for Kassim to make his general assumption?
It would seem like Kassim has not been able to forget me because of the disagreements. He now mentions me in this book too.
In page 207 he alleged I had been a member of Uthman el-Muhammady’s group at Tar Tujuh (sic) in Pasir Mas in 1974-75 and we (Uthman and I) were waiting for the world to end.
The facts in the book are not true. No such thing happened.
Uthman’s group was probably wishing to build a community which would develop into something akin to the Darul Arqam of Ustaz Asha’ari Muhammad, but it failed. The leader, one Abdullah Sharif, did not measure to the height of Asha’ari.
I was never a member of Uthman’s outfit. I went to Pasir Mas to join Abdul Wahab (an economist, since deceased) and Sharifuddin (an Accountant) to begin a business base and a school.
Wahab was soon to fall terminally ill and we shelved our project.
But we had become a strong enough force to threaten the Pas under Asri Muda and it reached the point when he demanded I leave Kelantan in 24 hours.
Asri couldn’t lift a spoonful of rice to his mouth to feed himself after more than 75 percent of his party had left him from the first quarter of 1974. We could have taken half of Kelantan in the next general elections, hands down.
You cannot do without Islam in Malaysia at that time. You cannot do without Islam in the world now, especially not when the geopolitical structures and designs will have to change with the financial and economic crises.
Kassim’s cannonball against Islamic structure in 1984-5 came as a bolt from the blue and many who knew my friend, Kassim, wondered whether or not he was having a difficulty to live with himself after leaving PSRM and hence, he was tossing a tantrum.
In Mencari Jalan Pulang Kassim admitted he kept losing his friends. He said the reason was the pressure from the controversies he enjoyed.
I doubt if that had been at all a reason. Rather, he was losing his friends because they were seeing him as laboring to cover a deep gash in his life and he was not genuine in seeking to form a group of ideological juggernauts in or outside Umno to combat Islamic conservatism or extremism.
Deciding to quit PSRM after 18 years at its helm must be an injury that would leave behind a showy scar. That scarification will show on the members of the party as well, and especially those who had lived through detentions. Their families were ruined “because of Kassim”, some said.
Many thought my friend, Kassim, seemed unable to see beyond himself. But a flight of the sort that he had done would cause many to simply flop on the floor, blabbering insanely to be convinced they had done the right thing.
How does anyone dump 18 years of party leadership on the pretext of philosophical immaturity? Can the person become useful other than as a writer and an agent of other movements after that?
Kassim quit Umno in 1996, believing it’s time to let the past rest and the present come to relax in the shadow of his doubts.
This autobiography of Kassim, published in his 75th year, is his own description of the means a prodigal son had chosen for his return journey from the wilds of philosophical search and ideological conflicts to come to rest in a pleasant country home.
It is very interesting reading. Read the book, Mencari Jalan Pulang, Dari Sosialisme Kepada Islam. ----a. ghani ismail, 13 Nov. 2008
Ps. The food supplements with his book in the picture above is to tell Kassim to stay fit and to keep writing. He’s only 75!