Saturday, November 29, 2008

Is Kassim Ahmad Old at 75?

Ho, Ho, Ho! – Reaching Into The Heavens for a Bottle of Wine

Or, Kassim Ahmad And His Autobiography: Mencari Jalan Pulang – Daripada Sosialisme Kepada Islam

It is about reaching for an ending of a normal kind for an extraordinary life that former Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia (PSRM) president, Kassim Ahmad, has put into a book, Mencari Jalan Pulang, an autobiography that is 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, the 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.

Those ideas were often imported along with their masters, forcing Kassim having then to look to them to help him weather the storms he brewed, or explain to society the abstruse philosophies they brought.

After he left PSRM Kassim first launched Dr. Rashad Khalifah and his rejection in toto of the Hadis (Prophetic Traditions). It was meant to demolish a basic structure of Islam, the Hadis being a source of Islamic Law.

Rashad was later killed in his own mosque in Tucson, Arizona. Kassim, himself knowing less than he should about Islamic culture, was visibly shaken by the event. He later found Lyndon LaRouche and soon dragged his ideas into the country.

This was a useful move. LaRouche’s movement not only served Kassim with good ideas but LaRouche would later prove useful to Kassim as an American connection who did not appreciate Anwar Ibrahim.

LaRouche was leader of a Quaker political movement which later became a faction of the Democratic Party. His ideas were and are revolutionary; he threads the development of political, economic and scientific ideas carefully from their earlier Greek sources and extrapolating them to the future of humanity.

In the process of these flights to fulfill some emptiness in his life, Kassim lost his friends and lieutenants, something he has difficulty explaining in his book, and perhaps also to himself.

Kassim’s trouble was that he could not be a genuine member of UMNO however much he tried. He was primarily a socialist thinker and leader; he should have remained in PSRM where he felt at home.

For reasons of his own, Kassim left PSRM in 1984, explaining in his book that he had been meeting then UMNO President and Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who, though reluctant at first, was later to agree to consider PSRM joining the Barisan Nasional ruling coalition.

But did PSRM know of his meetings with Mahathir or had Kassim taken matters into his own hands and then expected his party to simply agree to abide by his edicts?

Some PSRM members said, “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 the party for 18 years, and his party members preferred him dead.

They regretted the years some of them spent in political detention as a consequence of their being party members. In one instance, a few of his party members 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 his followers supposed to do? Should they all hug, kiss and bid their past goodbye as Kassim had apparently done in his book? Were they all then merely to fall in line behind him and together aggress against the Hadis and then assiduously read LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Journal?


Even if Kassim had tried to explain that he had lost faith in socialism, he cannot erase the image he had built of himself as a socialist 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, who was incarcerated from 1976 to 1981. Many of his followers broke down in detention; now Kassim has changed his political color and his soul as well.


I was a witness to this distressing abyss in Kassim’s life. He had called me through Dr. Chandra Muzaffar to help with his (Kassim’s) Hadis that he had presented in a series of seminars at the Universiti Kebangsaan
Malaysia. Chandra was later to remark that Kassim never acknowledged the contributions he and I made to help Kassim with those papers that later became his book.

Now in his autobiography Kassim wrote that those meetings we had in Chandra’s house and at his office in 1985 were about Islamic Reformism. We discussed that for only one or two days. The rest of the time was devoted to his Hadis book, with us discussing what we deemed to be the proper concerns of the subject as we felt that 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. Kassim also failed to take into consideration the Islamic financial institutions and instruments that were developed mainly through the Hadis. These financial institutions and instruments are today offering the best alternatives to the world that is wrecked by a systematic financial breakdown.


LaRouche predicted this breakdown decades earlier, 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 that he had been meeting with Prime Minister Mahathir and that he (Mahathir) agreed with Kassim’s views. What views specifically?

What would Mahathir’s agreement do for Kassim and us? How would that help Kassim become a Muslim reformist in or outside Umno? When had Mahathir become a prophet of Islam?

Kassim’s friend and business partner Hamid Merican became so fed up with Kassim’s talk about his meetings with Mahathir that Hamid finally told Kassim to simply ask the premier for a fat contract or shut up.

It is now clear from Kassim’s autobiography that Mahathir’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 where Islamic law had only the Hadis to rely upon. We insisted that Kassim change his views of the hadis. He finally did, but he would revert to his iconoclasm time and again, at which point we called it a day as far as our relationship with him. He had committed himself too widely off the accepted path for him to retract. He had cast the dye.


My friend Kassim had not provided any additional insights in his autobiography on what caused him reject the major role of hadis; he is in effect blowing apart a basic and accepted structure of Islam.

Kassim may have liberated himself intellectually and spiritually, thinking that he may have elevated them to new levels of maturity, but this has little relevance to the advancement of Malays and Malaysians. Kassim is merely playing a game with his own shadows for the purpose of showing to his friends that he is still the same Kassim they knew but in a different guise. Kassim wishes to remove the opiate from his system.


I disagree with and have argued against Kassim’s blind distaste for Islamic traditionalism. I did this at a time when we Muslims were putting together an Islamic financial institution, an endeavor with which I was a little involved. As mentioned, we derive our guidance and regulations defining these financial institutions and instruments mainly from hadis.

Kassim kept insisting that theological states are unique only to Islam and refused to think of such “theological states” 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 these disagreements. He mentions me in his book. On page 207, he alleges that 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. This is not true. Uthman’s group was contemplating building a community which he hoped would develop into something akin to the Darul Arqam of Ustaz Asha’ari Muhammad, but his project never materialized. The leader, one Abdullah Sharif, did not measure to the height of Darul Arqam’s 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 (a chartered accountant) to set up a business base and a school. Wahab soon became terminally ill, and we shelved our project. We had however, become a strong enough force to threaten PAS under Asri Muda’s leadership. It reached a point where he demanded that we leave Kelantan in 24 hours.

Asri could not lift a spoonful of rice to his mouth to feed himself after more than 75 percent of his party followers had left him from the first quarter of 1974. We could easily have taken half of Kelantan in the next general elections.

You could do without Islam in Malaysia at that time. You cannot do without Islam in the world now, especially considering that the current global geopolitical structures and designs will have to change with the financial and economic crises.

Kassim’s cannonball attack in 1984-85 against our formal Islamic structure came as a bolt from the blue. Many who knew my friend Kassim wondered whether or not he was having a difficulty to live with himself after leaving PSRM and thus this attack on Islam was merely his tossing a tantrum.

In Mencari Jalan Pulang Kassim admitted that he lost his friends because of the pressures of the ensuing controversies. I suspect that Kassim rather enjoyed those controversies. I doubt however if that had been the only reason he lost his friends. Rather, he was losing his friends because they saw him laboring to cover a deep gash in his life rather than seeking to form a group of ideological juggernauts in or outside UMNO to combat Islamic conservatism or extremism.

Quitting PSRM after having served as its leader for 18 years must have left him with a scar visible to party members, especially those who had suffered through detentions. Some claimed that their families were ruined “because of Kassim.”

Many felt that my friend Kassim seemed unable to see beyond himself. For many, pursuing the path that Kassim had taken would reduce them to flopping on the floor, blabbering insanely in order to convince themselves that they had done the right thing.

How does anyone abandon an 18-year leadership of a party on the pretext of philosophical immaturity as Kassim seemed to claim in his autobiography? Other than being a writer, can he claim to be useful an agent of other movements after that? Kassim quit UMNO in 1996, believing it was time to let the past rest and relax in the present 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 ultimately come to rest in a pleasant country home. It is very interesting reading, and this Mencari Jalan Pulang, Dari Sosialisme Kepada Islam.


A. Ghani Ismail

November 13, 2008

Ps. The food advertisement with the picture of Kassim on the cover of his book is appropriate as it shows him fit. Keep writing; he is only 75!


Kassim Ahmad Responds:


A Short Rejoinder to A. Ghani Ismail

By: Kassim Ahmad

28 November, 2008

I am pleasantly surprised to find my old friend re-surface after more than five years of absence from my circle of regular contacts. It does not matter greatly, for my priorities and importance is different. I thank him for saying that at 75 years I am not old, and that I should be writing! As a matter of fact, I am, in spite of my not very good health launched my autobiography two months earlier, which he reviewed in his blog.

He would certainly be a candidate from whom I would ask a favor to read some of my draft chapters, if not all. By the way, I am currently writing my latest book which I am provisionally titling, “Islam – the Religion of Divine Unity”. I am certain that my publisher would try to give a more catchy title, like “Islam – How It Has Been Corrupted by Its Ulama!”

Talking about giving credit where it is due, Ghani Ismail’s story about my failing to give due credit to him as well as another good friend Dr. Chandra Muzaffar for my Hadith book is his take, no more, no less. He has been a journalist for many decades, and a very good one at that. Hence he is good at making stories! Like me, he has been a writer too. I wished his version was true, so that at least he would have to share the burden of the “anti-Hadith” label with me since 1986. However, I would not be so mean as to want that to happen to him! I mean I really and truly yearn to say, “Thank you” to him, and to others, instead of to God alone!

It is obvious that I could not have asked him to read the drafts. The five articles that were the basis of my hadis book were originally meant as my answers to my critic, whose name I have forgotten, in the then weekly magazine Watan where I had a column, “Berani kerana benar” (“Courage because of the truth”). I gave myself two months to prepare those five articles but because the editor of the magazine would not let me answer my critic through his publication, I resorted to a university seminar to voice my views. This too was also subsequently successfully thwarted by the religious establishment. My last resort thus was to have the five articles published as a book. I had no time, nor did I ask anybody to read the manuscript, with the exception of Dr. Mahathir, who was the then Prime Minister. He congratulated me for having written it. He was a careful reader as he pointed to certain errors on my part in the numbering of the verses of the Quran.

There are other similar “stories” or factual inaccuracies in Ghani Ismail’s review. I would not want to dwell into them. I have learned that it is one of those things that very often happened in life; I take them in stride. Remember, at 75 I am not young, but thank God, I am still writing, and I want to spend my time finishing my book, rather that cross swords with my old friend, whom I rather remember with fondness.


15 comments:

-{sufi rocks}- said...

salam pak kassim,
semoga sihat hendaknya. saya mengucapkan terima kasih dan berasa lapang dengan penbincangan kita tempoh hari tentang al quran dan hadis. saya dan abg ali (kami) berasa banyak ilmu yang kami perolehi dan byk membuka minda. saya berasa perjuangan mengajak manusia agar kembali mengkaji dan mengamalkan ajaran al quran akan diteruskan.
"hidup biar berlandaskan al quran. mengikut biarlah beraqal, bercakap biarlah berfikir"

amran ismail.
7:06pm
sg dua,pulau pinang.

Kassim Ahmad said...

Sdr2 Amran & Ali

Salam.
Segala puji bagi Allah seru, sekalian alam.

Wassalam.

Kassim Ahmad said...

Sdr2 Amran & Ali

Salam.
Segala puji bagi Allah seru, sekalian alam.

Wassalam.

Kassim Ahmad said...

Sdr2 Pelawat Blog yang budiman,

1. Saya ingin mnta fikiran. Patutkah saya jawab tiap-tiap perkara yang ditimbulkan oleh A. Ghani Ismail dalam reviewnya terhadap buku saya "Mencari Jalan Pulang"?
3. Saya telah tidak menjawab panjang, kerana jawapan-jawapannya sudah ada dalam buku itu. Selain itu, banyak ceritanya karut!
Wassalam.

Bard Enterprise said...

Saya rasa tak perlu kerana "kebenaran akan menang". Kritikan dan persoalan A.Ghani Ismail tidak menunjukkan kebaikan buku ini. Mungkin mesej buku ini tidak sampai kepada beliau.

Melayu said...

Dr. Kassim Ahmad Yth.,
Saya berpandangan, sesiapa sahaja yang telah mengenali Dr. Kassim melalui buku-buku dan tulisan-tulisan ringkas Dr., dapat membezakan antara permata dan kaca dalam tulisan A. Ghani Ismail.

Namun jika Dr. Kassim menjawab juga dengan panjang lebar, akan perkara-perkara yang dibangkitkan oleh A. Ghani, ia seharusnya bertujuan untuk memberi penjelasan kepada mereka yang tidak pernah, atau terlalu sedikit membaca tulisan-tulisan Dr. Kassim. Tetapi adakah mereka yang sedikit membaca ini akan mengambil peduli dengan jawapan-jawapan tersebut?.. Mungkin.

Jika Dr. Kassim tetap dengan keputusan untuk tidak menjawab panjang, jawapan-jawapan tersebut sudah pun tersirat dalam karangan-karangan Dr. yang sedia ada.

Dr. Kassim masih 'muda' pada usia 75 tahun. Tetapi yang muda tidak semestinya kekal lama. Hakikat ini harus sentiasa dipertimbangkan, terutama bila Dr. berhasrat untuk menulis buku Islam – the Religion of Divine Unity, dan pada masa yang sama menghabiskan masa menjawab A. Ghani, seorang kawan lama.

Wassalam.

asrilamirul said...

Salam Dr. Kassim

Pada saya tidak perlulah menjawab perkara-perkara yang ditimbulkan. Setiap orang lain pendapatnya.

To me, your book ‘Mencari Jalan Pulang’ is inspirational. Seldom one can undertake such a momentous journey as yours. It’s good to see that no matter which path we took in our life, in the end Islam is the answer.

Keep on writing Pak Kassim…

Kassim Ahmad said...

Kawaan-kawan yang budiman,

Berbanyak terima kasih, kerana nasihat-nasihat itu.
Saya akan menumpu kepada penulisan buku saya yang baru, dan menyelesaikannya seberapa segera, insya Allah.
Wassalam.

Mr Belimbing said...

Pak Kassim xde facebook ka?

Kassim Ahmad said...

Ya, ada.

yazid said...

Salam Pak Kassim,

Jika saya tidak silap Pak Kassim ada atau pernah mengatakan bahawa Pak Kassim mahu menyiapkan terjemahan Al-Quran. Dan terjemahan ini bebas daripada tafsiran.

Apa yang berlaku terhadap niat dan usaha itu?

Kassim Ahmad said...

Sdr Yazid Yth.,

1. Memang betul. Permulaan telah saya lakukan kira-kira 10 tahun dulu. Sekarang tinggal kira-kira separuh lagi.
2. Tetapi, oleh kerana salah satu tujuan yang besar dalam terjemahan ini ialah mengkaji metafora dan kiasan dalam Quran, saya telah masukkan kajian ini dalam buku saya yang baru yang sedang saya tulis. Judul buku ini (saya tulis dalam bahasa Inggeris) "Islam -- the Religion of Divine Unity". Tujuan asal membuat terjemahan telah saya batalkan,kerana banyak terjemahan ke dalam bahasa Melayu/Indonesia sudah ada. Lagipun, kesihatan saya tidak begitu baik sejak sejak tahun 1999.
3. Keputusan in telah saya buat lima bulan lalu, kerana pada masa itu saya jangka saya tida ada banyak masa lagi.
4. Buku saya yang baru ini saya jangka akan siap Mei/Jun 2009 insya Allah.
Wassala.

Intan Asyiqin said...

Bapak,

Saya bersetuju dengan asriamirul. Sekurang-kurangnya dapatlah dilihat perbezaan yang ketara antara a socialist and a Muslim :)buat kami yang masih di dalam perjalanan. Semoga Allah memberi Bapak masa yang secukupnya untuk menyiapkan buku bapak.

moloyue said...

Kpd Sdra Yazid,

Setahu saya semua terjemahan Quran adalah juga merupakan tafsiran. Sebab Quran bukanlah spt buku2 lain dan bahasanya adalah bahasa puisi. Spt puisi2 lain ia sebenarnya tidak blh diterjemah dan sebarang terjemahan adalah merupakan tafsiran. Lebih2 lagi bagi Quran yg merupakan kalam Allah yg penuh dng berbagai2 mesej untuk seluruh umat manusia dan jin.
Sekian.

meloya said...

(1)Terjemahan Quran bukan tafsiran.
(2)Siapa pulak kata puisi tak boleh diterjemah?
(3)Quran perlu diterjemah dalam pelbagai bahasa, kerana ia penuh dengan berbagai-bagai mesej untuk seluruh umat manusia dan jin dengan bahasa yang berbeza-beza.