If I had once allowed religion and race to colour my judgment of others, today education and the lessons learned in life no longer allow me to cling to those prejudices.
I have great admiration for boxers such as Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson but there must be other more civilised and less painful ways to earn a living.
Some years ago while on a trip to Penang I met a civil servant who trains athletes, including boxers. I asked him what he looked for in someone who wanted to be a boxer.
He said the person must have courage. “Everything else can be learnt but courage is innate to an individual. It is all in the mind,” he added.
We all have courage and I have tested mine a few times. I have the courage to marry my wife when I was 21 without permission from my parents nor any money to even buy a pair of trousers, what more a job.
Then when I was working in Penang in the 1970’s earning $600 a month, I had the courage to resign and start selling beef burgers at a stall in Padang Brown because that was what I wanted to do – work for myself.
I relish the thought of starting from scratch in any situation and in any country. I have done this enough times to tell myself that at 66, there are no more challenges for me to overcome.
But I do not have the courage to commit myself to a nine-to-five job. I do not have the courage to make friends.
I prefer my own company because sooner or later any friend or acquaintance will either disappoint me or I disappoint them in one way or another. I do not have the courage to live a normal life as many others do.
So for me it must take courage for others to commit themselves to a life that involves making sacrifices and making yourself a part of society.
Ask yourself what sort of courage you have and if you are prepared to test your resolve to extend yourself should the occasion arises.
Let me now test my own courage and be bold on the question of religion – Islam. As a Malay I am deemed to be a Muslim. Am I one? Honestly I do not know.
At 66, I am comfortable with who I am. Being Malay or a Muslim is irrelevant to the life that I now lead. It is true that in the past I have had on one occasion turned to a higher being to ask that the life of my seriously-ill mother be spared.
I may have wanted to ask the same of my father but only knew of his death from cancer a week later. Everything else that I might have asked of God pales into insignificance. So perish the thought that I might turn to Him again.
Dishonest politicians and gullible voters
So put yourself where you can face your worse fears in as far as religion is concerned and ask if you should allow religion to get in the way of living your life with others.
I remember a time when I followed my mother to a wet market where pork, meat, fish and vegetables were all sold under one roof. I recoiled at the sight of pork being sold so openly! How dare the Chinese sell pork under the same roof as the meat we Muslim eat!
Today, I buy meat from the supermarkets without even a glance at the pork being sold at the next counter.
Once, I reviled the Chinese as a pig-eating, idol-worshipping sub-human race that God will surely consign to Neraka (hell). Today, I know there are Muslims who deserve worse for the things they have done far outweighs the evil of eating pork and idol-worshipping.
If I had once allowed religion and race to colour my judgment of others, today education and the lessons learnt in life no longer allow me to cling on to those prejudices.
What I thought was wrong then I now understand it to be the diversity that exists in life. Accept and embrace this diversity.
You do not have to be a part of it but certainly will be better of because others will accept you for what you are.
Am I Malay or a Malaysian? Am I a Muslim or not a Muslim? These are personal issues that do not need any public airing, much less discussions.
By all means speak and discuss to your heart’s content with others who care to do so with you but do not seek to impose your views, what more your beliefs on others.
Right now the debate on race and religion is driven by the political agenda of politicians. I marvel at the ability, agility and dishonesty of our politicians to trivialise what is important to our people and yet be dismissive of issues that significantly impacts upon their life.
And most astonishing of all, the gullibility of our people to swallow what these politicians throw at them hook, line and sinker! Truly a match made in heaven! Dishonest politicians and gullible voters. Are there really that many vulnerable, gullible and malleable Malaysians voters around?
Money making enterprise
What separates humans from apes is a very thin blurry line. We humans have the ability to think but thinking without being able to communicate almost defeats the purpose of thinking.
That is why we see chimpanzees jumping up and down when they are frustrated with something. They know what they are thinking but are unable to communicate to others – be it their own kind or others.
You can all think. Some better than others and some more often than others. We need to think courageously if we are to stop this madness of politicians who will insist on using race and religion to take our attention on what really matters in our country – the proliferation of corruption among those in high public office.
As Winston Churchill said: “Courage is rightly esteemed as the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”
Do not take your eye away from the issues that matter most – corruption and arrogance among those whom we have tasked with governing us.
Yes, leadership cannot be quantified but we want our leaders to lead with a sense of dignity and honesty.
I cringe at the utter lack of either from those who should know better – Dr Mahathir, Najib and his cabinet and also from leaders within the Opposition.
Is it not time that Malaysians everywhere “get it?” We must seize the moment! The wind is blowing in our direction.
In Malaysia, government at state and federal level is more often than not, a money-making enterprise for politicians. Do not allow them to use race or religion to cloud that fact.
CT Ali is a reformist who believes in Pakatan Rakyat’s ideologies. He is a FMT columnist.