Thursday, September 23, 2021

Ungku Aziz and the question of the mind

Royal Prof Ungku Abdul Aziz Ungku Abdul Hamid's recognition of the importance of the mind allowed him to accomplish things that others had not thought of doing.

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Last year, Royal Prof Ungku Abdul Aziz Ungku Abdul Hamid made an observation in the form of a complaint during a visit by a friend who was a former Utusan Malaysia journalist.

He asked why there was no entry for the term “minda” (mind) in Kamus Besar Utusan, a Malay dictionary.

When told about this, I was surprised at how such an important word could be missed by the publisher which was a subsidiary of Utusan.

Does it imply that the Malays are unconsciously ignoring the question of the “mind”, to the extent that they have become weak and lack the energy to face contemporary issues?

Ungku Aziz was, after all, the man who coined the word “minda” as a translation from English.

In one interview, he said there is no word in the Malay language able to represent the concept behind the term “mind”.

For him, the concept of the “mind” was something the Malays must pay attention to in their lives.

Kamus Besar Utusan was first published in 1995 as an ambitious effort to complement Kamus Dewan, the dictionary published by the government’s Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

The dictionary was the product of a former Berita Harian journalist whose pastime was to compile all of the Malay words used in daily newspapers and on radio and television.

He would follow and note down every word used in the Malay-language print and broadcast media, to be entered into Kamus Besar Utusan.

What this means is that in all those years of compiling, the word “minda” was never used in the Malay mass media.

It is true that the word “minda” never surfaced in the Malay conscience, and it was Ungku Aziz who saw its importance.

It was his use of the mind that allowed him to unravel the problem of poverty among the Malays through his research on the fishermen in the east coast.

It was through his use of the mind that he mooted Tabung Haji and committed towards the cooperatives movement – a just commercial system compared to individually owned private business.

The cooperative belongs to its members who derive profit from it, while in a private company only the shareholders benefit. The cooperative sector, as such, sits somewhere between the public and private sector.

Ungku Aziz introduced the cooperative model in running the bookshop at Universiti Malaya (UM), where he was the vice-chancellor.

This was followed by the establishment of a cooperative supermarket in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, which was based on a Japanese model with its managers sent to Japan for training.

I became aware of Ungku Aziz in 1974, during the student protests that started in UM and spread to other campuses such as Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Institut Teknologi Mara, Institut Teknologi Kebangsaan and Kolej Pertanian Serdang.

At that time, I was in Form Three, and the education minister was Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Ungku Aziz, as vice-chancellor, was tasked with finding a solution to the crisis at UM.

When the crisis was solved, UM student paper Mahasiswa Negara ceased publication. In its place, Ungku Aziz introduced Budiman, a newsletter published by the university’s Student Affairs Division and sold to the public.

“Budiman” means gentleman, from the root word “budi” which means “courtesy”.

Ungku Aziz had emphasised the concepts of “budi” and “budiman” as crucial in the Malay community. Throughout his life, he talked about “budi”.

Traditional Malay poetry can help one gain a deeper understanding of “budi”.

Many poems make reference to “budi”, with the message that society functions well when Malays behave as gentlemen.

Until the end, Ungku Aziz spared no effort in compiling traditional poems which he considered as great works of the Malay race which must not only be defended, but also be put into practice.

Ungku Aziz was an economist whose contribution epitomised his love for his people. He did this by finding practical solutions to the problem of poverty.

But it was the mental reformation of the Malays through the use of the mind and “budi” that was his main focus. To him, there were great cultural values which should be restored.

At UM, he introduced the Foundation Studies in Science as part of his efforts to increase the number of Malay students in the science stream.

He saw it as a solution to a shortage of science and technology professionals in the country.

But he was adamant that Malays must open their minds to a wider and more diverse knowledge of the world.

UM began translating Courier, a magazine published by Unesco.

The Malay edition, Kurier Unesco, was sold cheap to the public. It became the only Malay magazine carrying content of an international standard on science, history and culture.

Ungku Aziz accomplished things that others had not thought of doing.

They were innovative, honest and practical, not boastful or divisive.

All because they put importance on the use of the mind, something that the Malays can emulate.

Thank you, Royal Professor Ungku Aziz. Al-Fatihah.

Zin Mahmud, a journalist with more than four decades of experience, is a columnist for MalaysiaNow.

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