15 June 2007

Mystical Rituals & The Melayu Exclusiveness of Silat

Galohajang, a regular blogvisitor and SMC forumer posted a very interesting question recently on the forum.

He said, "To me, elements of mysticism that surrounds silat eg. stories of invinciblity, the claim of dim-mak@death touch like strike, the Saint-like feats of the founders have created/will only create illusions to the present students and public alike".


"...some Silat system still restrict non-Muslims by imposing the 'must-be-Muslims' or right to the 'must be Malays' conditions."

He asked two questions related to the above, "perhaps Silat would be better off without it?" and "Is it possible to promote Silat devoid of these rituals and conditions?"

The first question was answered adequately by the other forum members, but the second question can be answered with both a 'yes' and a 'no' provided certain conditions are met. My answer for the second question sought to clarify the issue rather than give a close ended answer.

The Mystical Rituals
Taekwondo has been lauded as the most successfull international martial art because of its seemingly non-partisan, non-religious, non-ritual outlook in teaching. It is no longer a Korean art. It has gained immeasurable popularity and there are millions of people studying it.

However, the new millenium has seen the West lose its scientific mind, bit by bit, as world events no longer make sense from a logical point of view. The West has become more spiritual and anything 'New Age' is now popular. Yoga, meditation, Hinduism, Budhhism, magic, etc tries to fill in the spiritual gaps.

Thus mystical rituals (meaning rituals of which you don't endevaour to understand the meaning of, but just want to feel) become the flavour of the month. Believe it or not, the Seni Gayong hot oil bath videos make a very big impression on Westerners as they search for something exclusive to learn.

Malaysians, on the other hand, generally shun away from such mysticism because of two things. Non-Melayu view them as Islamic religious rituals that will eventually convert them to Islam. Melayu view them as unIslamic rituals which do not contribute to martial prowess. Isn't that funny?

Malaysia is catching the last wave of the 'power without God' idea that martial artists in the West have held on to since Bruce Lee came onto the scene and said that there's nothing mystical about Kung Fu. It's all science.

The opposite is happening in the West. Some Western martial artists are now purposefully seeking these mystical experiences because they perceive that arts stripped of their cultural background and rituals are inferior.

So my point is, this being Malaysia's 50th year in Independence, maybe it would be better if we promote all of our mystical rituals as tourist attractions! (Since promoting Mat Rempit to tourists was such a 'good' idea, I don't see any problems with my suggestion).

As our politicians are fond of saying, this is a sensitive subject. There are two reasons I think exist for excluding non-Muslims or non-Melayu from silat.

Reason 1:
The first being that not many people around the world understand how closely the Melayu relate themselves to Islam, or how inseparable the Islam is from the Melayu. For many people, religion and race are two different things. This is not as simple for us. Separating Islam from Melayu will give no meaning to being Melayu.

Thus, when someone wants to embrace and master a particular aspect of Melayu culture, we deem it insulting that that someone will not convert to Islam (just being blatantly honest) because in our view, that's what shaped a large part of our culture, including Silat.

Reason 2:
The second reason directly relates to Silat. Melayu are generally well-meaning people and should be very giving, based on a definition that we often hear. We can share our language, our baju Melayu, even our Ketupat. But when it comes to our skills, we are often shadowed by our real and imagined histories of loss of power and influence.

We hear of Greek medicine being developed to a higher science by our Muslim doctors, of Muslim scientists making great strides in progress when the rest of Europe were living in filth, of Melaka, the world greatest port of call, of the Melayu's incomparable sailing prowess, and more, and more...

The Renaissance and Christian Reformation changed all that. Europe became a scientific and industrial hotbed while the Muslims degressed. We heard of our sciences being 'stolen' and Islamic history being 'erased'. That's when the golden age of Islam became our dark age of fear and insecurity.

With the advent of Portuguese, Dutch, British, American, Spanish and Japanese influence and occupation, the Melayu have become a distrusting, introverted race. (Am I apologising for us? Maybe. But can you really blame us?)

Now that Malaysia has a mix of races and racial politics scare us into thinking that the Chinese will overrun us at any moment, the Melayu hang on to anything and everything they can keep, just to ensure that they don't lose whatever power or influence they still have left.

Thus, if you're not Melayu, or not Muslim, we find it very hard to believe that you won't run off with our Silat and claim it for your own self.Until this opinion can be changed, we are going to find it very difficult for masters to open up to teach non-Melayu or non-Muslims. We need to create an environment of safety and surety for them. There are already efforts by the government and some local silat federations to do this.

But until then, silat in Malaysia is still going to be a closed issue for many.

Original Article by Mohd Nadzrin Wahab



Assalaamu'alaikum Dear Brother Nadzrin

This is going to be a little bit offtopic.

Reading these comments of yours triggers one thought in my mind...the way of thinking or rather : Perspective

As you have adequately put, we have heard of the splendid achievements of 'ancient'/past Muslims Scholars in the diverse- fields of science, technology, maths, medicine etc. - you name it.

We have lauded and talked proudly of these exemplary figures even holding debates and conferences based on their thinking.

Our aspiration is so high that we should relive all these 'technologies' of the past so that we will return to the Islamic Renaissance.

Some quarters even go further saying that Einstein was one of the 'stealers' by creating his 'relativity' or e=mc2 or the word "Algebra" has been coined by the nickname "Al-Jabbar".

The irony of these 'claimants' when queried, is that they have never read history of :

a) how these formulas/discoveries ended up with Einstein,

b) Or how the terminologies or history have never been changed except to facilitate pronounciation, or

c) how some western scholars came to see the Muslim Scientists seeking knowledge from them - in short becoming their students

But yet, the reality is that our 'basic' science and maths are still BASED on the western scientist/mathematician hypotheses despite the arguments.

You can only see Khawarizmi's or Ibnu Sina's names being mentioned many times by Muslim scholars but only ended up as 'part of great history of the Muslims' or 'Muslim legends' - no more than that. (fullstop)

Despite I have seen efforts being put to relive their researches even having institutions or NGOs, yet the actual application is so scarce! or the actual Walk the Talk is much easier said than done.

My 1st Question : We are so proud of these names, when they are not even Malays? Why do we forget our race whenever we talk about them?

(Yes some would say, they are Muslims and so are we...isn't that funny? We tend to forget our race at that time?)

(It's just like when Non-Malay shuttlers won the World-Class Badminton Championship and we refer them as 'Malaysians'..huh no race or religion?)

My 2nd Question : Why do we still having the inevitable tendency of justifying, benchmarking and basing our researches on the Ancient Muslim Scientists discovery yet still comparing notes and quoting western scientists/scholars works & hypotheses?

My last question : Why 'some' of us Muslims claim that whatever their 'new' findings or inventions are based on the Ancient Muslim Scientists works but yet the mechanism of such invention can be easily found in western science books? (even with formulas)

What is my point..really?

I'm not saying that the mechanism or formulas do not exist in our Holy Qur'an but imagine, how pointless it would be to spend so much time seeking the secrets of Al-Qur'anul Kariem or Al-Hadis in order to discover certain formulas for certain 'inventions' but in the end, we couldn't prove that our final findings are really from the Al-Qur'an.

(now don't you think that it's an indirect 'mockery' of the holy Qur'an if we are being asked to justify certain technical findings by a Non-Muslim and we can't provide the correct answer?

If this scenario not being handled carefully and professionally, it will also be a big embarassment to our religion)

I feel a bit awkward whenever somebody walk up to me and say that solar energy is originally Islamic Technology but the invention we see TODAY, undoubtedly originated from the Non-Islamic sources.

While I'm writing this comment, I'm fully aware of the other fields of Islamic remarkable discoveries such as the fields of astrology, astrophysics, quantum physics/temporal theories, obsterics and gynacology etc.

So, I'm really talking about Islam as the real 'a way of life' not pathetically claiming what comes from others should be justified and matched to the Islamic teachings.

Believe me, I've seen a foreign standard/codes of practice with 'Nas' being mixed together to justify that 'this is ours'. To me, this is VERY unreal.

It's like a 'new faction of religious politics' forming up.

My suggestion would be simple :

Let's talk what can we do in the future rather than what have been done in the past. Let bygone be bygone.

I'm just afraid of the fact that while we are busy arguing about the past, others have gone further ahead and leaving us behind lamenting the past.

This is what happen when Muslims :

a) are trying to justify something of 'dunia'-oriented with Islamic teachings, (or intepreting certain 'firmans' literally. (terjemahan secara harfiah)

b) are attempting to relate a non-'syariat' elements (but serve only to beautify/justify the syariat and not vice versa) by generally 'Islamizing' them without proper backup of ijtihad or blind 'taklid' (which is extremely dangerous)

c) and by not having proper religious background or guides from Gurus/Ulamas, you can see many Muslims are simply mixing Usuluddin and Feqah or Feqah being mixed up with Tauhid or Tasauf - like nobody's business,

d) or by simply quoting the ancient discoveries during the age of ancient religions/Samawi teachings of the Prophets prior to Rasulullah S.A.W. as MUSLIMS and overlooking the words 'Nasrani', 'Hunafa' etc.

Of course here I'm not implying that EVERYTHING must have a 'nas' in order to ensure implementation of something - that will be too rigid.

Yet as I speak; ironically; there are STILL Muslims who have this narrow kind of thinking...on one side they appear to be professing the true teachings but on the other side, they themselves fail to justify with good reasons of why they are also using technology/knowledge of Non-Muslim origin.

Or at one side, they loudly proclaim that Islam is not limited to rituals but it also a way of life but they themselves are too 'ritualistic'.

(I don't blame them - Perhaps because they unaware of the 'ijtihad' process and the 'nas' function)

Islam is a raceless and colourless religion - it doesn't belong to any race (not even Arabs) or any skin colour - It's not a caste (kasta) oriented teachings.

There are too many Muslims in Malaysia and all over the world that are Non-Malays....yet they are Muslims.

Thus, we can still teach Silat to Non-Muslim/Non-Malay or Muslim/Non-Malay. Just go back to the basics of our very own school system...

Pengajian Moral for Non-Muslims
Pengajian Agama Islam for Muslims

Is that so hard to do?

Mohd Nadzrin Wahab said...

Assalamualaikum Poknik,

Your comment furnishes us with so many questions, but I believe you already have the answer.

The Melayu race has been corrupted and trapped, by nationalism and colonialism.

It is a sad situation we face, when we point to symbols and not substance. We justify our actions and pride with them, and not use them to inspire us.

We leave the present to look to the past, and leave our future as dreams unattained.

However, I am an optimist, and I believe, with all my heart, that there are people out there, who believe as I do.

That one day, the Melayu race will rise again, not as a symbol, but as a result, of Iman in their qalb, shining through their akhlak, and making waves again in the world.




Salam Brother Nadzrin

The questions are not really meant to you but I'm just throwing them openly to provoke and mind-probe everyone to pause, take a deep breath and started to think even a while (fikir sejenak)

"What have we done to the world?"

"Have we done enough?"

"Can we repair it?"

(Again, the abovementioned questions are not meant for you...I sure hope we can plan propery for the future)