(The trilogy of Human Duress)
To me the three topics - politics, business and religion - seem to command the concern of the world today. Sports, hobbies, fashion etc fill up the rest of human concern. Politics and business top the bill in the news media while sports and fashion make up the commercial headliners, which sometimes qualify as business news. Love, marriage and sex of course transverse the whole gamut of human activities and interests, often lying at the very root of all motivation.
I like to focus for now on the relationships between politics, business and religion, the three things that seem to divide the world.It's politics that create friends and enemies, supporters and opponents (or oppositions), divide people in the same country and region, cause unrest, protests, feuds and even wars. Business and commercial interests tend to bring people and nations together but not when there's a wrangle for ownership of scarce resources- land, valuable ores, oil etc. When that happens business interests become political.
But religion? It can be deadly divisive as when people kill each other over religious belief and faith in the past and to some extent even now, but otherwise it lies at the back of the human mind as a personal secret (not unlike love and desire) and only stirs up emotions when the followers of one faith begin to denigrate or insult the beliefs and customs of another group. That emotion, however, can quickLy spread to become a national and political issue, even on a global basis!
We see then how important the trilogy of human duress ( I call it so because politics, business and religion put certain unavoidable constraints and impositions on people in society) is, in our life today. Politics can cause a war within or between nations, business failure can shake up the basic foundations of our life and religious enmities can spread like wildfire to wipe out an entire race. The dangers of all three often come together to cause men to become wilder than wild animals. See for example what's happening in Italy.
We all fear a nuclear war which can wipe out the entire human race. But what about this trilogy of human duress which can combine to become as deadly as a nuclear war? We've seen nations in our own time shattered and burnt down to smithereens because of a combination of the three human concerns - politics, business and religion - the latter to be taken in its broader meaning to include its elements such as ethical beliefs, concept of freedom etc. We see these three areas of human concern continuously pulling countries apart, causing tremendous strains on the people and causing them to break into partisan groups.
Yet, the torchbearers and leaders in all the three areas of human concern seemed not to be aware of the dangers they can create when the tensions in all three areas combine.
Let's take the Malaysian case. The political divide in the country is coterminous with the religious divide - UMNO vis-a-vis.
PAS. UMNO has formed its affiliates through Barisan National ( the National Front) while PAS has affiliated with Parti Keadilan and DAP to form Perikatan. The political and religious divides are clear enough. Is there also a business divide? Where do some of the more prominent tycoons and businessmen stand? Certainly many are in MCA, a member of the Barisan Nasional. But DAP certainly has a number of them on its side, from all racial groups. thus making the business divide quite clear. Religion does not seem to be playing a major role except for the Malay components of the two major contending forces in Malaysian politics. They are both Islam but their views differ far enough to break them up into two groups with different Imams even when praying in the same mosque. That was some time ago and I don't know whether it still happens now , openly or in secret. For more than fifty years the UMNO Malays and PAS Malays have never seemed to be able to settle their differences except for some brief period of political agreement and cooperation, when PAS did join the Barisan Nasional.
The stress and strains the Malays are going through because of this divide are not so obvious. But I'm sure they are being felt by members of the affliates in the opposing poitical entities. Business and functional relationships in their everyday life keep the Malays together to the extent that we sometimes only see the religious leaders bearing down on each others while the followers just smile or even laugh.
Can the situation ever be improved and the apparent conflict be resolved? The question, I think, is becoming more pressing as the younger Malays begin to question why two groups professing the same religion should be enemies. They are not even divided in their sectarian belief or mazhab since both adhere to the Sunnah walJamaah. Their differences are founded only in terms of minor issues that do not and cannot erode their aqidah such as on the question of creating an Islamic State, each party having its own interpretation of the term, the adoption of Hudud Laws (which only affects the Muslims), the acceptance or non-acceptance (haram) of interests in the banking system and business interactions, the covering of the head, face and hands (the aurat) for the womenfolk to be totally or partially accepted, etc. These differences seem to be fizzling out as the young Malays learn more about Islam, realize that some non-Muslim celebrities are finding it more comforting to their souls and embracing it. They are, therefore, coming back to the teachings with greater conviction.
More significantly the pressure of modern living in terms of business transactions, professional work and everyday life style seems to demand more of the young Malays' time than the obligations of their religion. The consequences of failing in their everyday endeavor to make a living will be more painful and obvious than the failure to perform a prayer or fasting in the month of Ramadhan, especially since they can cover up the failure when unintentional through late performance (kadha'). These and other arguments make religion a harmonizing and comforting socio-psychological factor to fall back on when life becomes pretty tough. As such they do not allow the religious concern to place a divide between them and their relatives and friends, which at one time happened in Malaysia.
We see, therefore, a possibility of business ( a general term for earning a living) becoming a bridge between the political and religious divide. In business we do not really care who the business partner is so long as we have a mutual interest and that our transaction can be mutually beneficial. Business interest can overcome other interests in many cases. If we accept this principle, politics can then be a means of self-identification in the social matrix of behavioral choices, taking a stand where necessary and giving support to a popular leader of our choice, while religion can provide a guideline for ethical choice and standard, guiding our spiritual growth without gross intrusion on our business life. In as far as Islam is concerned, it also encourages business. A saying of Prophet Muhammad SAW (pbuh) stated that nine tenth of our sustenance comes from business.
Can this thought or principle be practiced at the national and international level? I think it can provided we first take pains to study the relationship between the trilogy of human duress as I call it, and make sure that their destructive forces do not combine to cause a war between people, groups of people, racial groups and between nations. If that is allowed to happen the trilogy can become as dangerous as a nuclear blast. Politics and business can cause tension between people of the same race and religion. Couldn't the common religion be used to overcome political and business conflicts? When political and religious factors cause the tension, couldn't common business interests be maximiized to redice the strain? All national leaders and statesmen should, I think, take a look at the dangers and potentials of the trilogy and develop strategies that can bring peace to a nation and between nations by optimizing on their integrative forces and minimizing their disruptive tendencies.