The Journey Spiritual in a Dogmatic World

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion

Albert Camus

Every human is born a free spirit, and it is the experience of life that shapes who we eventually become. And although we have “become“, possibilities and opportunities will always present themselves to enable us to redefine ourselves.

But only if we want to.

Just so you don’t read the rest of this post confused, allow Walski to elucidate why he’s writing this. Some weeks back, he completed reading an important book by author, journalist and thinker Mustafa Akyol, “Reopening Muslim Minds“. To say it’s an important book would be an understatement. Walski believes everyone – Muslims in particular – should read it. And for selfish reasons, Muslims in Malaysia especially.

(Disclaimer: Walski is a Malaysian, hence the slight selfishness)

One of the things he thought of doing was to write an unsolicited review on the book, and why Walski thinks it’s important, especially for Malaysia currently. But before that, he thought it only fitting that Walski share a little bit about his own spiritual journey, so that the review might have some foundational context as to where Walski comes from.

And so, with that out of the way, let’s begin our journey. Well, Walski’s journey…

Let’s start at the beginning. Or, as close to the beginning as practical.

Walski grew up in a middle class family, both parents in the civil service, as were his granddads on both sides of the maternal/paternal divide. He was born in the mid-60s, and grew up during a time Malay/Muslims weren’t so obsessed with performative piety as they are today. A lot less uptight, too, about… well, just about everything, really.

Sure, Islam was observed in the family then. 5-times a day prayers, fasting in Ramadhan, etc. But apart from that, by and large Islam wasn’t something every damned thing revolved around like it is in Malaysia today. Yes, the state did have some level of control, but by and large it was a personal belief matter. And in the 70s and early 80s, no one talked about religious rehabilitation.

Fast-forward to 1990, when Walski returned to Malaysia after spending 8 years abroad, doing his tertiary education and briefly working after that. By then, Malaysia was already in the early stages of metamorphosis, religion starting its creep into the public sphere. Later in that decade the now infamous Lina Joy case made it clear that government departments were bound by what religious authorities dictate. Religion – specifically Islam – was no longer something between an individual and God, but between an individual and state dictates. And what the state dictates shall be what “Islam” is in Malaysia.

So if the state dictates a particular school of thought is the only permissible school of thought, then that’s that. Personal conscience? Doesn’t exist in Malaysia; at least not among anyone unfortunate enough to be born into a Muslim family, or decided to embrace the religion.

What changed Walski, looking back, was probably the Black Metal police raid that happened on New Year’s eve 2006 in KL, and before that, another in December 2005 (in Seremban). These two police raids, it would appear, were the direct result of moral outrage caused by religious councils about the evils of Black Metal, which later morphed into fantastical articles in Mastika (yes, that literary giant), and which eventually drove PDRM to act. Later in 2006 the National Fatwa Council made it “officially” haram.

Ok, first off, Walski is not a big fan of Death Metal. And the real point is not this specific genre being banned, but how the opinion of religious bodies (a fatwa, by definition, is an opinion) could drive enforcement apparatus of the state to act. Which leads to another question: do religious authorities have the power to shape legislation, and the actual people responsible to create legislation (Parliament and the respective State houses) have no choice but to comply?

Sadly, as we have slowly discovered since then, the answer is yes. Whether or not this power of sway is based on actual laws or not is irrelevant – what they say, goes. Or else, the legion of Islamic NGOs creep out of the woodworks to shout loudly. And this government, which has historically relied on the Muslim vote to remain in power, kneejerks into action. The question of legality doesn’t even arise – the religionists speak, and therefore MUST BE OBEYED.

Also interesting was this popular notion going around during the Lina Joy trial – she had abandoned Islam (and did it publicly), therefore must be eliminated. Killed. Wait, what? Isn’t Islam a religion of compassion and peace? Or, at least, that’s what Walski had been brought up to believe.

And then there was also this thing about certain words that are exclusive to Muslims in Malaysia, and no one else may use them. Huh? How and when did Islam become so exclusivist?

There are other things that popped up in addition to these two, but suffice it to say Walski had to find out more. And thus, in 2006 his spiritual journey began. The year he turned 42. Which, coincidentally, is also the ultimate answer; the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

But just like in Douglas Adams’ series of HItchhiker books, the quest became to seek what questions to ask. And the questions were many.

And it was also at this point that Walski (finally) took the trouble to read the Quran. Not merely recite it while not knowing what it says, but really read it. And understand it (or try, at least). Back in 2006 there wasn’t the abundance of tafseer (or “translation”, loosely translated) to be found on the Internet like there is today. But there were enough resources, that said.

And what Walski found out was actually in the Quran? Eye-opening and enlightening, to say the least. More importantly, a lot of what today constitutes Islamic practice and belief is not in the Quran at all. Like, for instance, that apostates and blasphemers may no longer live. Sure, there’s damnation and all, but no worldly punishment. Similarly, the punishment of stoning to death – nowhere in the Quran.

Also eye-opening was the much-repeated appeal for us to use our intellect and reason. And not at all like what most religionists today demand, that we must accept their truth as the only truth, and most of all, never question.

So what happened to Islam between the time the Quran was revealed, as the seal of revelaion and God’s final word to mankind, and the present day? In a nutshell, a lot. Put it this way: if the very basis of this nation being secular in nature can be altered, challenged and re-interpreted 60-some years after 1957, what more a faith that’s been around for over 1,400 years?

Which brings us to back to Mustafa Akyol’s book, “Reopening Muslim Minds“. Its subtitle, by the way: A Return to Reason, Freedom and Tolerance. Not ‘opening’ but Reopening. Not ‘Towards’ but A Return to. Think about the title and their implications.

And when Walski gets around to writing the review, we’ll discuss this more.

So that’s the journey Walski embarked on in 2006, and which continues till this day. A journey of asking questions, and seeking answers. It’s a journey that will continue until his last breath, in all likelihood. There have been more questions than answers, but that’s okay.

Such is the nature of spiritual journeys, it would seem.

No Fly Zone

You know it’s kinda hard just to get along today

Our subject isn’t cool but he fakes it anyway

He may not have a clue and he may not have style

But everything he lacks well he makes up in denial

The Offspring, Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)

Not everyone can speak off the cuff well. Particularly in public. And some politicians, well… they probably shouldn’t speak off-the-cuff in public at all, anywhere.

Adham Baba’s latest verbal blunder (FYI: Spanish Flu is not the past tense of Spanish Fly…)

Dr. Adham Baba is Malaysia’s Health Minister. And he has a spectacularly shameful track record of saying the wrong things in public. He’s one of those politicians who shot into prominence courtesy of Perikatan Nasional’s Sheraton Backdoor Coup in February 2020.

Last year the minister became the butt of netizen’s jokes when he suggested, on national TV no less, that drinking warm water could avert someone from getting COVID-19 (complete with a demonstration of how to drink warm water). Not long after, his gaffe about being in a virtual conference with 500 other countries (when he meant 500 delegates from around the world).

He became such an embarrassment that subsequently Malaysia’s COVID-19 daily situation report has since been delivered by the Ministry of Health’s Director General (save a few occasions). And you’d think the vaccination program coordination would be led by the Minister of Health, right? Well, that task (and some might add thankfully) has been taken over by the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, on the pretext that this was more under the purview of that ministry.

Let’s think about it – vaccine vials and syringes aren’t exactly rocket science. And Walski suspects that the real reason is because the Health Minister has presented himself to be slightly less than inept. Yes, he’s become that big of an embarrassment. At least in Walski’s eyes.

And so it brings us to Adham Baba’s latest embarrassing mis-delivery: saying Spanish Fly when what he wanted to say was Spanish Flu. And screwed up the year as well (it was 1918).

Trust Malaysia’s premier punk-activist artist Fahmi Reza to generate a quick response!

Walski did consider the possibility that knowing what “Spanish Fly” is could be general knowledge the average Malaysian didn’t have. But Walski doesn’t think that’s the case at all; the number of people who almost immediately recognized the gaffe made was significant. And if they didn’t already know what Spanish Fly refers to, thanks to Adham Baba, Malaysia’s Health Minister, they do now.

Regardless, it’s now become abundantly clear where Adham Baba’s No Fly Zone is: public speaking of any kind!

VaccinedNation

Normalcy was declared. (Normalcy was always a declaration.)

Arundhati Roy, “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”

So today is the day Walski gets his second SinoVac jab, three weeks after the first dose in late June. About darned time, if you ask him. No, he’s not complaining – he’s just relieved the waiting is over.

Post-First Dose Pose (June 21, 2021)

The second dose today was administered at the same vaccination center, housed in the Setia City Convention Centre in Setia Alam, where I got jabbed the first time. The only difference between three weeks ago and today – a heck of a lot more people.

Which is a good thing – for the past several months it seems like the vaccine roll out was moving at a snail’s pace. Fortunately it has ramped up significantly in the past month, and right now just over 10% of the adult population have received both doses of their COVID-19 vaccines, either the SinoVac (which is what I got), the Astra-Zaneca or the Pfizer varieties.

It’s now been about 5 hours since I got the second dose, and so far the side effects aren’t very discernible yet. Apart from feeling some discomfort from what felt like elevated body temperature (but still below 37º C), and a touch of lethargy (more drowsiness, actually), the first jab was pretty much without major side effects.

Rock ‘n Roll, mofos! Walski’s fully vaccinated…

In the months since the so-called “emergency” was declared earlier this year, the number of new daily cases hasn’t been encouraging. And the many versions of MCO (semi-lockdowns) have not aided in bringing the infection numbers down either. Walski won’t go into the nitty gritty details of why these “efforts” haven’t achieved their desired results, but suffice it to say it’s been the seemingly uncoordinated rollouts, unequal enforcement, and ad hoc caveats introduced midstream that have been the modus operandi. Not impressive, to say the least.

Be that as it may, the ONLY way forward for us to get out of this mess of a pandemic is through mass vaccination. That’s how Walski sees it. And today, Walski joins the 3+ million other Malaysians who have been fully vaccinated.

With the daily dose administration standing at about 300k, and expected to reach 400k per day soon (with more vax channels opened), Walski hopes that we can reach the 75% vaccinated population threshold sooner, rather than later.

The FUBAR of a political mess Malaysia is in aside, it’s a VaccinedNation that will bring some level of normalcy back into our lives here in Malaysia. Perhaps not the normal normal we’ve come to miss, but enough of it to allow us to function better, and more importantly for many, start to earn their living again.

Stuck in a virus-go-round…

So ’round and around and around we go… where the world’s headed, nobody knows

Ball of Confusion – The Temptations (1970)

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t start yesterday. Or last few weeks. Or even last few months. If you count from the date the MCO was first instituted – March 18, 2020 – we’re today in the 453rd day of various MCO alphabet soup movement restriction modes.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when Walski saw this being reported today (originally from the Malaysian national news agency Bernama, carried by New Straits Times):

JUST drafting?? Now?? Kind of a major oversight to not have a clue of how to get out of this frickin’ mess, don’t you think so? The headline you see above is how Bernama reported it (NST calls it the “rehabilitation plan”).

You know what it sounds like? PN’s plan to QUIETLY exit… presumably while no one’s looking. Since PN pretty much stole the government from right under PH’s noses, that’s what thieves do – how to escape after it’s all said and done.

Of course, that’s not what it means. Fortunately. Just the cynical side of Walski’s brain on overdrive. And it’s a humid but otherwise dull Sunday afternoon. Like, what else is Walski gonna imagine?

Meanwhile, on the pandemic front…



… we have about 489 less cases today compared to yesterday. And Maxis has successfully administered another 133,804 doses of vaccine as of midnight yesterday.

(Now, tell Walski he’s not the only one who thinks those vaccine infographics look like Maxis ads. Right? Right?)

So yeah, good news on that front. Except Walski still hasn’t gotten his vaccine appointment yet. But hopefully Walski won’t have to whine about that anymore soon. And soon couldn’t come sooner enough.

But back to that recovery/exit plan drafting exercise just announced…

Why wait only until now to start thinking of a recovery plan? Shouldn’t this have been done, oh, maybe about six or even eight months ago? So it’s no wonder why the hashtag #KerajaanGagal (failed government) has continued to resonate and trend on Twitter for the past several weeks. For a coalition that was so gung-ho in stealing the people’s mandate, these guys certainly haven’t been anywhere close to exemplary in handling the COVID-19 crisis. Not in Walski’s book, at least.

Ok, he will give this much to them: they DIDN’T SUCK. Overall report card: C+. Just slightly above average. Nothing to shout about.

Some people have been laying praise on this government for doing what they’re supposed to. Walski really didn’t realize just how low we’ve set the bar for ourselves, because the government has performed… exactly how they should have, no more, perhaps a bit less.

In any case, the gradual dip in the number of new cases in the last couple of days doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet. Especially when there have been reports that overall there has been less testing done. The less we test, the less new cases we uncover. That’s just the way it works.

So let’s wait and see if those number improvements sustain. Walski honestly hopes they will, don’t get him wrong.

Well, so much for now. Pray that Walski gets inspired to write about something other than related to this pandemic we’re stuck in next. Because frankly, it’s tiring to even think about this mess we’ve been in for the better part of the last year and a quarter.

As a very good friend of Walski’s always says, “… tired lah, dei!