Ahmad Badri Abdullah
We are living in a highly connected world with a complex socio-economic models and networks that often generate issues for which linear problem solution method do not offer adequate resolutions.
The current pandemic crisis has proven this as we explain.
Normally, when a quick fix is attempted to unravel symptoms of a problem, the solution invariably creates unintended consequences that may exacerbate the problem over time.
Unfortunately, people tend to discount the truism that those dire consequences derive from their quick fixes and even more so when they apply more of them.
The same fix that seems to overcome a problem in the short run often creates unintended consequences that further exacerbate that problem.
Terms such as 'fixes that fail' or the 'cobra effects' have been coined to illustrate an event when a solution unexpectedly worsens the problem. Scenarios such as these were apparent during the initial phase of the movement control order (MCO) in Malaysia.
For instance, the government order to halt mass gatherings and promote social distancing unexpectedly led people to gather in stores for panic buying and bus stations to return to their hometowns.
A long list of unintended consequences of Covid-19 related policies developed one after the next, ranging from mental illness due to isolation, domestic violence, shutting down of small businesses and disruptions of the democratic political processes.
This list is expected to grow even longer with the reopening of public spheres and businesses after the MCO period in the absence of careful systems-oriented thinking and preparation.
It is important for policymakers therefore to thoroughly analyse and mitigate any unintended consequences emanating from their decisions.
"A policy is better when the more of these unintended consequences it takes into account before the policy is administrated" argues Homa Zarghamee, an economics professor at Bernard College, New York.
A systemic approach of thinking, planning, and leadership is thus essential in managing complex crises such as the one unfolded by Covid-19.
This involves cultivating a shared understanding of the nature and risk of the pandemic through mass communication, visualising causal relationships and effects through systems modelling and mapping tools (e.g.: dynamic interacting map published by the World Economic Forum) to spot unforeseen risks, identifying critical leverage points to instigate effective actions and enhance the capacity for coordination, and collaboration across different sectors.
In the context of Islamic jurisprudence, forecasting consequences of actions or decisions is technically known as i' tibar al-ma 'al, which relates to our concerns.
Its legitimacy primarily derives from Qur'anic verses that demand people to carefully look into the outcomes of their action such as the verse in which Muslims are advised not to insult the dieties of pagans and idol-worshippers for fear of reprisals that may then lead to greater social enmity and hatred (al-An'am, 108).
Hence adequate planning and consideration of the consequences of words and actions is highly recommended for all Muslims, especially for their leaders, law makers and governments.
In the current situation, policymakers and the society at large should be keenly aware of the complexity of our highly interconnected globalized world with reference especially to unintended consequences of decisions.
This can be better done by promoting a systemic approach for officials, industry players, and civil society organisations.
For many Muslim societies such as ours that are expected to return to a new normal post the MCO period, mainstreaming systemic thinking and its approaches should become part and parcel of the decision-making process, particularly in the attempt to mitigate dire unintended consequences.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Tuesday 12 May 2020
The 2020 Budget has been receiving a myriad of responses over its effectiveness in solving the country’s economic maladies and its ability to stimulate growth.
The nation’s budget is an important instrument and proof of the government’s earnestness in pursuing the economic and social needs and objectives of society and the people. It is reassuring on the whole to see that this budget is a step closer to the Islamic objectives (maqasid) by adopting the concept of ‘shared prosperity’ and showing in many ways that it will be pursued. Yet, there may be scope for better realisation of maqasid of syariah in certain areas.
Beyond technicalities, it is also important to gauge the budget from the lens of Islamic higher objectives (maqasid syariah) as it does not merely function as a legal mechanism, but more importantly, a guide for holistic socio-economic development.
The allocation of RM1.3 billion to the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) along with a special grant of about RM100 million for the promotion of Islam as a compassionate and peace-based religion is undeniably a mark of the government’s commitment to protection of religion and development (hifz al-deen).
Although it seems to be allocated for Islamic affairs per se, the Rahmatan lil-Alamin approach adopted by the government would actually enable harmonious interactions between Islam and other religions in Malaysia.
The [email protected] initiative, which aims to put Malaysians back to work, is not only commendable because it secures the Islamic objectives of property protection (hifz al-mal), but also because it supports the pivotal Quranic objective of securing human dignity (karamah insaniyyah). It is a timely policy since, last year alone, half a million Malaysians were jobless. For the same purpose, the government will also incentivise youths and firms to bolster the work market in preparation for a more challenging situation next year.
The government also took various steps to address the widening income gap by increasing the minimum wage to RM1,200 in major cities and providing various assistance for the bottom-40, and more importantly the bottom-20 of the economic strata. However, improvement in the amount and coverage of the minimum wage increase is crucial to better address the endemic income disparities in Malaysia.
Closing income gaps may not only lead to better social integration but also fulfils a salient trait of the economic system targeted by the Quran that envisions an equitable distribution of wealth: “So that it will not be a perpetual distribution among the rich from among you.” (al-Hasyr 59:7)
Despite its relevance, return-to-jobs policies need to be approached holistically to observe the unintended consequences on the family institution, a core emphasis in Islamic objectives, as women who have been focusing on their families are now compelled to enter the job market. Sufficient support systems for women workers, such as flexible working hours and childcare facilities at offices, should be enhanced.
The budget also outlines allocations for environmental initiatives which include the extension of the Green Investment Tax Allowance and Green Income Tax Exemption. There are also specific allocations for the preservation of pristine forests, as well as the peninsula’s tiger species.
While these initiatives are in line with the Islamic objective of environmental protection (hifz al-biah), they are also crucial in mitigating the dire consequences of global climate change. Nonetheless, emphasis should also be given to facilitating social-based initiatives, in contrast to a market-based approach, such as local and urban farming as well as environmental activism.
It is also important to highlight the budget’s introduction of a new category of EPF withdrawal for fertility treatment and tax relief of up to RM6,000 for fertility treatment. This is critical in addressing the threatening fall of the country’s fertility rate recorded in 2017 by the Department of Statistics. As Islam emphasises protection of progeny (hifz al-nasl), this initiative is also most welcome as Malaysia is due to become an ageing nation by 2030.
Experts have said that small and medium enterprise (SME) digitalisation is a pleasant surprise in the 2020 Budget. It is an initiative to enhance business efficiency and expand their export markets amid a challenging economic atmosphere considering the ongoing US-China trade war.
Digital transformation is indeed among the main highlights of the budget which includes the setting up of a 5G ecosystem, e-wallet promotions as well as various incentives for fintech firms and technological startups.
While both laudable and necessary, the focus on automation and technological skills among workers and students need to be supplemented by humanities education as this is likely to serve as a cultural and moral compass, helping us to be the best stewards of technology.
Nonetheless, it would be not enough to conclude that the budget fulfils basic aspects of the five essentials, namely religion, life, progeny, intellect and property. Through a more substantial approach of the maqasid, the budget needs to be analysed in light of four underpinning aspects; purposefulness, multidimensionality, interrelatedness and due observance of future consequences.
With the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 as its core purpose, it is hoped the 2020 Budget will chart a new narrative of sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development that caters to all segments of society.
The writer is a research fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Saturday 02 October 2019
On the eve of our 62nd National Day, Malaysia, as a nation is facing developments that may disrupt its social fabric.
Sporadic yet worrying incidents involving ethnic relations have revealed the fragile state of social unity in the nation despite gaining independence 62 years ago.
Ironically, these events took place after the country’s change of government in last year’s general election, which purportedly paved the way for more a open and free society.
The recent incidents could be an unintended consequence of a complex set of socio-political change.
The reluctance to endorse jawi and khat as part of the syllabus by vernacular schools and the controversies surrounding Islamic preacher Dr Zakir Naik may be the tip of the iceberg of a more complex majority-minority dynamics in the country.
Since 1957, the country’s quest to achieve national consensus in regard to inter-ethnic relations remains a crucial challenge.
This situation, if left un-checked, may lead to further social and political disintegration, which contributes to egocentric behaviour, norm violation and distrust of public authority.
According to a 2017 survey conducted by Oxford Balvitnik’s School of Government, demographic division continues to be a major obstacle in developing healthy inter-ethnic relations in Malaysia.
Malaysians, in this sense, do not have much opportunity to foster inter-ethnic interaction and friendship due to lack of diversity in their neighbourhoods, schools and workplace.
Additionally, the study found that religion can pose a barrier to national integration if not approached from a proper angle.
To avoid a decline in social cohesion, there must be a framework of peaceful coexistence.
Islam, from its early inception, has always been committed to promoting the idea of co-existence among different religions and ethnic groups.
The Quran is replete with injunctions that promote good treatment of the non-believers: “Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed Allah loves those who act justly” (Al-Mumtahanah (60): 8).
Prophet Muhammad has also shown an exemplary tolerance and respect towards other religions.
In a hadith, the Prophet proclaimed that: “He who harms a peaceful/contracted non-Muslims, harms me; and he who harms me harms Allah.”
This principle is also enshrined in the Madinan Charter, a treaty between the Prophet and Madinan people that guaranteed their religious and civil liberty, regardless of faith.
In the modern context, Abdullah Bin Bayyah, an Islamic scholar and former minister of Mauritania, has been a leading force in promoting the concept of peaceful coexistence at the international stage.
In 2016, Bin Bayyah was among the key figures to initiate the Marrakesh Declaration, a document that represents Islam’s commitment to coexisting with other religions and protecting the rights of non-Muslim minorities in Muslim-majority countries.
Notwithstanding these principles, the need for systemic approaches in dealing with such complex social phenomena is paramount.
Merely introducing new laws or imposing policies with the hope of improvement is not likely to work in a complex situation of social disintegration.
In this context, causes and effects do not operate in a straightforward fashion due to multiple interlocking factors.
Instead, developing ecosystems of change and confidence- building measures would more likely influence the system and generate good results.
Moreover, these approaches would be better attuned to the perspectives of different social actors, such as the government, philanthropies, religious institutions, non-governmental organisations and the private sector.
Only then can a more holistic picture of reality be discerned and causes of social problems be identified.
With such comprehensive measures, the actors involved could how past solutions would not work or even make things worse.
They may then develop initiatives that will become a fertile ground for system-wide changes.
In sum, in appreciating their independence, it is high time Malaysians revive their commitment to nation-building and coexistence through religious consciousness coupled with systems-based strategies.
The writer is a research fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Thursday 05 September 2019
Vaccination has become a complex and controversial issue among Malaysians, especially Muslims. It has led to hair-splitting disputes involving safety, efficacy and halal matters.
The anti-vaccine movement in the country began as a social campaign that became widespread over social media. Malaysian households were, and are still, being exposed to conflicting messages on immunisation. The spread of information, more often than not misinformation, has dented the government’s public health policies concerning vaccination.
There are at least three main reasons why Muslim parents refuse to vaccinate their children. The first, probably the foremost reason, is that most of them doubt the vaccine’s halal status. Second, they are more convinced that homoeopathic and traditional medicines are safer alternatives. And third, they fear the vaccine’s side effects such as brain damage and autism, which have been widely circulated on social media.
As a consequence, Malaysia, in recent years has been registering a steady increase of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, pertussis and tetanus. Cases of measles are reported to have increased from 235 in 2014 to 539 in 2015. Pertussis (whooping cough) had increased from 497 in 2014 to 655 cases in 2015 while tetanus cases have doubled in 2015 compared with 12 cases in the previous year.
Conflicting messages on alternative medicine such as homoeopathy and naturopathy have also challenged the public trust. This trust deficit in vaccination needs to be carefully dealt with, otherwise, the growing anti-vaccine trend could dampen the growth of even the nascent halal vaccine market in the country. This is due to the fact that the movement does not merely suspect the halal status of the vaccines but involves a total rejection of vaccination as a valid healthcare option.
To address these challenges, it is proposed that immunisation be viewed beyond the confines of epidemiological and economic analyses, and include other factors such as social and religious dimensions.
The nature of multiple interactions of different actors needs to be considered. In this perspective, the government — especially the public health department — is not the sole actor and proponent of public health. Broader societal forces like the social network and household decisions need to be carefully observed as well.
An anti-vaccine movement in the country can cause a trust deficit on both vaccination and government health policies. Public trust is a critical element in the success of any public health programme. However, in the Malaysian context, it tends to be driven by a top-down approach.
The governance of vaccination, for instance, is often seen as a top-down approach to maintain control. Therefore, there are limited efforts and awareness on the importance to gain public trust among the bodies who run the immunisation campaign. Hence, a bottom-up approach is needed to reinstitute trust among the public.
To prevent further decline of public trust of the Malaysian society, proactive actions should be taken by the government and mass media. The government should aim to develop “affective trust” with households through building emotional bonds by way of repeated interaction with them. Also advisable is a rigorous social media campaign to inform the public on the importance of vaccination — one that should preferably be promoted through friendly programmes that involve family, parents and children.
The government should also engage with practitioners of homoeopathy or naturopathy — through roundtable and dialogues. A consensus on public health priorities and programmes, including vaccination, could also be developed. Any form of confrontation should be avoided and issues must be addressed rationally since confrontation will only exacerbate the problem.
It is alarming how intense and divisive the debate between vaccine proponents and its detractors has become. Therefore, it is proposed that Islamic ethics of reasoned disagreement (fiqh al-ikhtilaf) should be the guiding principle in vaccination debates.
The late Professor Taha Jabir AI-Alwani, who authored the book of ikhtilaf, proposed that Islamic ethics of disagreement should encompass the attitude of preserving the brotherhood, unity and avoidance of division among fellow Muslims. Moreover, those who are involved need to remain committed to the truth — it means they are willing to listen to others and stand to be corrected.
Ultimately, intellectual humility is of critical importance in dealing with this contentious issue.
The writer is a research fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: New Straits Times, Wednesday 20 February 2019
Food is an indispensable aspect of any festive celebration in Malaysia. With a happy mix of ethnicities and cultures, the country is a host to numerous varieties of food. During the fasting month of Ramadan, Muslim communities produce and consume a large amount of food as they normally organise iftar (breaking of fast) gatherings.
The advent of Eid al-Fitr does not ease their love for food as the festival demands another set of traditional dishes and delicacies be served to friends and visitors. All this results in a huge amount of food waste. There are reports that no fewer than 9,000 tonnes of food are discarded per day during Ramadan.
The development of modern agriculture in many countries has led to the displacement of food production at the individual, local and community levels as it is, in many cases, being outsourced to multinational corporations or large agribusinesses.
Most of the people today are consumers rather than producers of food. People do not produce their food anymore like they used to and this has somehow led our communities to lose their connection with the food production practices and traditions.
Currently, we are also facing some worrying issues in terms of our food system as the largely centralised industry has failed to meet some expectations. In terms of distribution, the global community is witnessing a considerable decrease in food production despite increasing demand. To meet the population demand by 2050, our global agricultural production must increase by 60 per cent. The disparity between demand and production will lead to serious dysfunctional imbalances in food distribution globally.
Added to this are food waste issues we face at the national level. Food waste as defined by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations is the removal of food from its overall supply due to economic behaviour, poor stock management or neglect.
Reportedly, a third of the overall food that is grown is wasted between any point from farm to fork daily, which is valued at more than US$1 trillion (RM4 trillion), and if consumed the amount would be sufficient to feed 870 million people worldwide.
One of the main contributing factors of the food waste phenomenon, despite individual attitude, is the linear trait of our food chain, whereby food supplies tend to move linearly from producers to consumers. This results in the generation of vast quantities of food that consumers do not need. It is the sad reality of all segments of the food market and this has led to another linear economic culture of “buy, use and dispose”.
What is needed is a food system model that emulates the cycle of life. Experts call this circular economy. Such a model keeps resources in use for as long as we can, thus maximising value for everyone. By connecting producers of food and consumers in a balanced loop, the circular model gets rid of the “buy, use and dispose” mindset. Also, such a model enables us to regenerate the products and materials at the end of their service life.
Information technology enables the circular economy to operate effectively, as it is able to connect consumers directly to food producers without any boundary.
For instance, an initiative known as Farmigo in the United States has been connecting consumers with local farmers through an online platform whereby they can order fresh products directly from their preferred producers. In this system, the farmers will only harvest fruit or vegetables when they have orders to fulfil, as an approach to prevent waste. In South Korea, households need to pay to the government according to the amount of food waste they are likely to dispose, and this has led to the recycling of 95 per cent of food waste annually. In Malaysia, Hayati Food Aid Foundation has been collecting unserved dishes from hotels and canned food from hypermarkets to distribute to charities and kitchen soups.
As we are celebrating the month of Syawal with the spirit of returning to our God-given natural selves (fitrah), we need to reflect as well on our food production system and consumption patterns in order to ensure they operate in such a way that conforms to the natural cycle of life. It is a crucial step at preventing wastage in any sphere of our life, as Allah, May He Be Glorified, has declared: “Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his Lord ungrateful,” (al-Isra’, 17:27).
Ahmad Badri Abdullah is a research fellow at IAIS Malaysia, with a focus on maqasid al-shari’ah (the higher objective of shari’ah), usul al-fiqh, and contemporary Islamic jurisprudence discourse, particularly in the subject of systems thinking and its application in Islamic philosophy of law
Published in: New Straits Times, Friday 22 June 2018
Born in Naysabur, in the Abbasid province of Khurasan, Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj al-Qushayri in his early age studied hadith from prominent scholars in his own hometown such as Ishaq ibn Rahawayh (d. 238AH/ 853CE) and Yahya ibn Yahya al-Tamimi (d. 226AH/841CE). He was a Persian scholar who is known as a scholar of hadith (muhaddith) and his compendium of hadith, Sahih al-Muslim is deemed as one of the two most authentic collections alongside Sahih al-Bukhari............... [click here to download the full article in pdf]
Abu Muhammad Izz al-Din Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd al-Salam al-Sulami was born in 578 AH /1182 CE in Damascus. He was from the tribe of Banu Sulaym, of Moroccan origin. He was a great Muslim scholar who has contributed immensely in the field of Islamic jurisprudence and its principles (fiqh wa usulihi), particularly in promoting the idea of maslahah (public benefit) within the ambit of Islamic law as well as establishing the science of weighing between maslahah (benefit) and mafsadah (harm). Therefore, he was among the scholars who put their utmost endeavour to develop theoretical edifice of the higher objectives of Islamic law (maqasid al-shariah). Beside his great scholarly contribution to the Ummah, Izz al-Din was also known for his unwavering attitude in defending the rights of the people which needed to be carefully observed by society’s leaders.,............. [click here to download the full article in pdf]
World River Day has been held annually on the last Sunday of September in dozens of countries since 2005. It marks the commitment and enthusiasm of river conservationists to cultivate awareness of the need to protect and rehabilitate our water resources. Recently, the government initiated the River of Life (ROL) Project, an Entry Point Project (EPP) of the Greater Kuala Lumpur/-Klang Valley national key economic area that aims to create a vibrant and livable waterfront along Sungai Klang. The project involves river cleaning, river master planning, and beautification, as well as river development....................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)
In light of socio-economic crises worldwide, “happiness” has gained traction and received much support for it to be recognised as a standard indicator for social progress, as well as an overarching goal for public policies. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, for instance, have committed themselves to redefining the development narrative, wherein the qualitative aspects of people’s wellbeing occupies the primary concern of governments. Paying attention to happiness as a multidimensional concept of growth is thus instrumental in the pursuit of human and sustainable developments...................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)
The recent state visit of King Salman Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia to Malaysia significantly drew high-impact investments to the country. This includes a big investment that bolsters Malaysia’s plan to become the world’s main producer of halal vaccines by next year. A memorandum of understanding was signed between AJ Pharma, a Saudi-based pharmaceutical company under al-Jomaiah Group, and the Halal Development Corporation for an investment of US$300 million (RM1.32 billion) for facilities and infrastructure in Malaysia........................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)