Who doesn't want more ringgit?

2 November 1997

Do you believe in religion? I do and I will always do despite the allegation in 1976 when I was incarcerated for being a "communist" which was never proven.

I survived five years of dreadful detention and still remain sane because of my absolute faith in Allah and of the loyal friends I left behind.

It was a cruel joke to play with our lives.

There were four of us: one has since died because he never fully recovered from the shock of his detention. Chan Ken Sin was a former editor-in-chief of Sin Chew Jit Poh. He was a good Buddhist and an even better journalist. Abdullah Majid, a sometime deputy minister of labour, one of the nicest of politicians, is bedridden following a stroke, living torturously. The third is Kassim Ahmad, a sturdy and principled man. Like me, he writes regularly although neither of us have yet to put pen on paper to tell the true story of the great affliction we suffered.

Kassim and I were released unconditionally by Prime Minister Dato' Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Chan and Abdullah Majid were freed with conditions much earlier than us.

Today's column is devoted to faith and Islam and the accumulation of wealth. A good subject now that the ringgit, shares, stocks and wealth are all under severe attack. At the time of writing, the markets still failed to shake off jitters all over the globe, in our part of the world, in particular. In any event it was here where it all began.

In this time of great stress and trial one must have absolute faith in himself and God otherwise he will just destroy himself.

Islam, like any religion and other accepted moral systems, condemns avarice but accepts accumulation of wealth as a perfectly worthy pursuit. Only ignorant Muslims and obscurants think that Islam, in the main, is the pursuit to prepare its followers for the next life"

The religion I was inculcated with in Kelantan and at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) which forms part of my psyche and ethos, encourages the acquisition of wealth but it also requires - both in theory and practice - that the fortune I make (which I have not as yet made) must be shared with other Muslims (and the non-Muslim poor) in the form of zakat or tithe and donations.

And as long as a rich Muslim pays his zakat and performs his other religious and communal obligations, there is nothing which seems to forbid him to create mountains of assets and other material holdings. Of course, all this creation must be entirely legitimate.

Bumiputras have little wealth but perhaps more than Malaysian Indians. However, I know half a dozen Indian families who possess fabulous fortunes and their influence is grossly out of proportion to their number.

The Malaysian Chinese have most - lots of it - but what is wrong with that? People would say the Chinese love money, extraordinarily so. I ask who doesn't? I will say this: the Malaysian Chinese work hard, they are world-class entrepreneurs, they love making money, and are very good at it, exceptionally so.

No other race, with the exception of the Jews, have had special and close relationship with wealth than the Chinese. Be honest, who wouldn't want to have this Chinese or Jewish attribute? I have heard of Malaysians complaining about the ugly showing off of wealth by the wealthy. That is another story.

The nouveau riche want to be visible because they lack self-control. It is also because society glorifies capital, so they parade their treasures and in the process get honoured!

Now the bubbles have set in: The public will know soon enough who are the real players: the Kuoks, the Kwoks, the Lims, the Tehs, the Khoos, the Chengs and others remain as strong as the Rock of Gibraltar come El Nino, haze, bubbles or whatever.

These people are incredibly super rich, shrewd, thrifty and low-profile.

I should hasten to add that a large number of Malaysian Chinese are poor, and I know some are desperately poor but, in general, through sheer industry, they thrive and their descendants will do better. According to current estimates, the average income of the Malaysian Chinese is more than twice that of the bumiputra.

The Malaysian Chinese have done well, and will continue to achieve extraordinary feats through hard work, scholarship and strong commitment to self improvement, communal and national attainment. It is a remarkably outstanding achievement for a community, most of whose members had parents who arrived penniless in Malaysia at the beginning of this century. Indeed, in the case of Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong, he was born in Southern China.

Goh Tong and the immigrants now in our country would not have left their villages whether in Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, China or Cambodia for Malaysia if they had not considered making money a natural human endeavour, perfectly sanctioned by their Maker. And like Goh Tong many will succeed, indeed, a few have already achieved what they set forth to do.

Islam, the religion of the majority of Malaysia, on the contrary, has never ever considered poverty a virtue; the idea that the meek shall inherit the earth is a Biblical doctrine; not a Koranic one.

Can I tell you the obvious: Why the Chinese and Jews succeed in life? Simple. Neither race believes in the saying that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy man to enter heaven.