Self-mastery Is The Key To Better Politics

GE14 being imminent and politicians in their upbeat mood, political temperature in Malaysia is heating up.

Yet, all these years, the tranquility of our life has more often than not been affected by political issues.

And to many members of the society, politickings and politicisation of almost all matters seem to be unabated and with that, their anxiety and restlessness too.

As for the veterans and seasoned observers, the political scenario throughout all times has almost always been as such; despite that, they too are worried by its bearings on the fate of their religion, nation and country.

For far too long, politics is seen as the arts of gaining power and once successful, of remaining therein.

Power often intoxicates the one empowered.

And because of the intoxicating nature of both power and influence, one who is possessed of them will always have to face the risks of derailment and transgression.

Nevertheless, for Muslims who are conscious of their religious teachings, the Qur’an—especially in surah al-Araf (7): 20 and Ta Ha (20): 120—has long informed us about this inner inclination to power as early as the creation of the first human being, the Prophet Adam, peace be upon him.

In fact, in the two Qur’anic reminders above, it is related that the Devil used a two-pronged ploy—power and immortality—to seduce and thus derail Adam and Eve (peace be upon them).

Power to be immortal as well as unceasing power, such pair is indeed enticing!

If the aforementioned verses are scrutinised together with the surah al-Humazah (104): 2–3, then the Qur’anic admonition is rendered all the more lucid about some who mistakenly assume that the wealth they amass can sustain them.

It is important to note that Adam’s derailment still occured even though the Qur’an in surah al-Baqarah (2): 30–39 explicitly proclaims him for the knowledge that Allah bestowed upon him, especially the knowledge of all names.

Due primarily to forgetfulness and lack of resoluteness on the part of Adam, the knowledge which was expected to guide him seemed insufficient in saving him from the charms of the two factors cunningly crafted by the Devil such that he and his partner later became denuded.

This effort to manage man’s inner cravings is rendered even more difficult today given the fact that there seems to permeate among us a particular understanding of Knowledge as Power.

How can it not be more challenging?

For, the knowledge that is supposed to lead and guide can also be misused and abused to keep one in power and, worse still, increase one’s dominance!

Is there then no means to avoid such a predicament?

In addressing this issue, we should bear in mind that the knowledge that ought to be nurtured towards controlling those in possession of power as well as those eyeing for it actually has to do with the reality and nature of our very selves.

One’s own self is indeed the most intimate domain over which one exerts one’s power and influence.

In fact, self-knowledge and mastery is originally the essence of ethics, a discipline of study which springs from intelligence that is guided by revelation.

And the never-ending struggle to control and manage oneself properly has been declared the greatest jihad in Islam.

Ethics in the Religious and Intellectual Tradition of Islam is understood as ilm tadbir al-nafs—the knowledge of governing and steering oneself.

It acts as the basis of the two subsequent disciplines of study pertaining to governance at large, i.e.:ilm tadbir al-manzil(economics, originally) and then ilm tadbir al-khilafah or ilm al-siyasah (politics).

Ethics is thus understood because the relationship of the “soul” (nafs)—also taken to mean “spirit” (ruh) and “intellect” (aql)—and the body (jasadbadan) which characterises human self as an integrated whole is defined in psychology (ilm al-nafs) as the relationship between “that which governs” (that is to say, the intellect) and “that which is governed” (viz., the body).

Unfortunately, the organic symbiosis obtaining between the three aforementioned disciplines of study, with ethics being the core, has long been severed and ignored.

Even if ethics is taught, the quality of its contents and articulation is left stunted at the primary and secondary levels of education.

It has been quite some time since ethics is not taught in a dynamic and engaging manner as a core subject of utmost significance at the tertiary level of education, what more in the overall system of fostering leaders in various fields and on all levels.

In fact, even if it is offered at such an advanced level, ethics is no longer focused on the inner self-knowledge-and-mastery—the spiritual and the bodily, together—but is further constricted to etiquettes, rules and regulations, as well as procedures and protocols governing the externalities of human relations, all of which often need to change and are indeed subject to change due to human cunningness!

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