Remembering Mr Lee Kuan Yew through his value of education and wisdom
It was 1959. I was 13 years old and in Primary 6A. At the school assembly, our Principal, the stern-looking Mr Ratnamsabapathy, rambled up the platform in front of the flag-post while we students looked on worried because most of the time when he went up the platform, he had disciplinary announcements to make. As usual, the moment he was up on the platform, he stared at us and, as usual, silence fell on the assembly. All eyes were on him, awaiting his angry words. Suddenly he smiled, looking happy and elated. The students’ tension vanished.
“I’ve a happy announcement to make,” he announced. “A man by the name of Lee Kuan Yew is now our Prime Minister of Singapore. Do you know that he was from this school, your school?”
An appreciative murmur and cooing stirred the air at the assembly. Seconds later, we gave full attention to our Principal who poured more information about Mr Lee, and then asked, “Are you all proud that he was a former student of Telok Kurau Primary School?”
The word “Yes” resonated from the assembly.
“Then, you must work hard like him and go on to secondary school and then go further up the ladder of education and career as high as you can.”
Mr Lee was instrumental in making primary education compulsory in Singapore. No child, male or female, is deprived of pursuing primary, secondary or tertiary education because of poverty. There are numerous primary and secondary and post-secondary schools. There are ITE technical colleges and polytechnics and universities. To Mr Lee, there is no excuse for anyone to remain unschooled.
Mr Lee passed away on 23 March 2015.
Mr Lee had steered Singapore for over three decades to be what it is today, lifting it from being a third world country to a first world nation by decisively placing education in the forefront. He himself was educated at Raffles Institution, Singapore; and at Cambridge University, UK, and was a lawyer before turning to politics and rising to become Singapore’s first Prime Minister.
Muslims and Muslim countries ought to take examples from this modern man’s wisdom and foresight in placing education of Singaporean children in the forefront. In fact, what Mr Lee did was completely Islamic. There is no place in Islam for curtailing the educational pursuit of anyone, male or female, or attempt to kill a girl (Pakistani Malala Yousafzai) – just because she is a girl – who wanted to pursue an education. Malala in her memoir, “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban”, says: “Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons.”
In the first place, Islam promotes the acquisition of learning and wisdom. First of all, Muslims ought to be very honoured to see their religion, Islam, started with the word “Read” (in the very first word or the very first Revelation received by Prophet Muhammad), and also proud to possess a Holy Book – the Quran – that:
- has a chapter entitled “Read!” [Chapter 96 (Iqra)], and
- instructs people to read (“Read! In the name of thy Lord….He who taught the use of the pen, taught man that which he knew not. (96:1-5) [This is the first Revelation.]
What is also interesting is the fact that the Quran even has a chapter with the title “The Pen” (Kalam), with its first verse going thus: “By the pen and by the record which men write…” (68:1)
In today’s term, “pen” is any instrument, including the word-processor, used for writing or forming words in communication. Thus, reading and writing taken together are the most important activities in all fields of education, progress and development.
The Quran (God’s Words) and the Hadith (Prophet Muhammad’s words), each in different volumes and not mixed up in the same volume, have numerous references on the pursuit of education and wisdom. Some examples are:
- “Those endued with knowledge stand firm in justice.” (Quran, 3:18)
- “One learned man is harder on the devil than a thousand ignorant worshippers” (Hadith)
- “God commands you to acquire wisdom.” (Quran, 6:151)
- “Studying is like glorifying God, and teaching is like charity.” (Hadith)
- “A house empty of wisdom is like a ruined deserted house.” (Hadith)
- “Learn, teach and widen your knowledge and do not die ignorant. God does not excuse ignorance.” (Hadith)
- “Follow not the path of the ignorant.” (Quran, 10:89)
- “The acquisition of knowledge is the obligation of every Muslim, male and female.” (Hadith)
The Muslim is advised to strike a balance between his material requirements and his spiritual needs. Prophet Muhammad said: “The most correct concern of a true believer is to pay attention to matters of this world and to matters pertaining to the Hereafter.”
In his book, “Muhammad, the Educator of Mankind”, the author, Afzalur Rahman, says: “Man rises to a higher status though knowledge, demonstrating his superiority to other creations. He wears the crown of dignity and honour through learning, enquiry and study and will lose that status if he leaves it and follows the ways of ignorance. Learning leads to virtue and power, while ignorance, to vice and degradation. Thus the basis of preference according to the Quran is learning. It is through learning that man proves the value of himself …”
Education is important. It can produce people with wisdom who would be useful to the progress of their own country as well as humanity.
Unlike some countries that have been tearing themselves into shreds through unIslamic dogmas, killings and destruction of infrastructures, Mr Lee did a great job by building Singapore into a cohesive, corrupt-free, save, secure, peaceful and harmonious successful nation. All these efforts are truly Islamic.
Today (Sunday, 29 March 2015) at 2 pm, the State Funeral Service for Mr Lee Kuan Yew is to be held at the University Cultural Centre, National University of Singapore. It will be followed by a private cremation at Mandai Crematorium. By this evening, the body of the late Mr Lee will be gone. As the Quran says, from God we came and to Him is our return. (2:156)
Stephen Grellet once said: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
Mr Lee has passed through this world once too, like everyone else. But he has left this world leaving behind his legacy of fortitude, integrity, contributions, accomplishments, splendid governance and dedication to Singapore. It is now for Singaporeans to admire, learn and apply the legacy in their endeavours to serve the society and humanity in their own individual way and capability.
Thank you, Mr Lee, for giving your entire life to Singapore and promoting honest and corruption-free government as well as ensuring the nation’s security and prosperity. We bid you farewell.
By: Shaik Kadir
Sunday, 29 March 2015