When this article was being written, the news on the resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab just broke, nearly a week after a devastating explosion in Beirut that stirred public outrage and spurred a string of ministers to step down. It was quoted in most major newspapers that “Diab announced the resignation of the entire cabinet in a televised evening address to the nation, characterizing the detonation of highly explosive material warehoused at the capital’s port for the past seven years as being “the result of endemic corruption.” The point here is corruption.
Likewise, in our own country, for the last few weeks we were bombarded with the news of several prominent people who once were “the powers that be” being charged with taking bribery and corruption. While they are all innocent until proven guilty, however, bribery and corruption has now slowly become a cancer in our society. Most recently, we also heard of illegal gambling activities and smuggled cigarettes in one of the districts in Selangor operating for years without intervention from enforcement agencies or local council in spite of several complaints allegedly made by residents to the relevant authorities. At the time of writing this piece, three officers from the council concerned were arrested for suspected taking bribery ranging from RM300-RM3500 per month. This is not an isolated case for there have been many similar cases before where illegal gambling premises were just a stone away from the police station but no action was taken. This has posed a serious question on the integrity of those people in power that were entrusted to uphold the laws of the country, how could they turn their eyes blind to the evils happening before their own eyes, unless they were getting something out of their silence and inaction. Bucking the perception is the appointed police Chief of Johore, Dato’ Ayob Khan who quickly received people’s praise for his bravery in fighting corruption and for being a no-nonsense type of policemen. We need more enforcement officers like Dato’ Ayob Khan, or Josh Brolin who plays Sgt John O’Mara, a good policeman in 2013 American TV movie called “Gangster Squad” who was feared by the criminal Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and described him and his squad as “they are hard cases not intrested in money. A cop that is not for sale is like a dog with rabies. There’s no medicine for it, you just got to put him down”
Similarly, the influx of illegal immigrants in the country which was estimated, as of September last year, to be more than four million people was partly due to corrupt practices of our authorities especially those patrolling our borders. The Government should put greater emphasis on this matter and perhaps launch serious campaign programmes, tighten laws and enforcements to curb bribery, corruption and abuse of power. White-collar crimes are more disastrous compared to blue-collar or petty crimes or bribery for they destroy the entire integrity structure of an organisation and not just the individuals concerned.
Bribery, corruption and abuse of power can come in many forms but one of the most common form of bribery is taking “benefit” which is not rightly yours by means of giving “something” to the people in authority connected to the “benefit”. This benefit can be in the form of asking for a favour such as money, contract awards, holiday package, golf or club house membership etc. or preventing from action being taken due to performing activities against the laws such activities including operating illegal gambling premises, prostitution, smuggling illegal immigrants or the most common bribery of traffic offences.
The temptation to offer or accept bribery, commit corruption and abuse of power is enormous as the saying goes “every man has his price.” When you are in a state of a dire need and help you tend to give bribery, while when you are in position to make decisions then you tend to accept bribery and abuse the power.
The only armour that would prevent you from accepting or giving bribery and abuse of power is not laws, or knowledge of its prohibition alone but rather the strength of your own spiritual inner self and strong belief to God. A conviction that He sees you, and eventually all your actions, whether good or evil will be accountable before Him in the Day of Judgement. In Islamic tradition, this is called the quality of your spiritual heart. Some spiritual hearts are evil, and wicked, while others are pure and cleansed. Whenever a man commits a sin, then his spiritual heart will be darkened and if he repented, then it would be erased. Laws will not effectively prevent people from committing bribery or corruption, though it can help minimise the cases, for they will always find loopholes or weaknesses in the laws to evade from being charged of doing something “illegal”. Yet, what they have committed is not right though not “legally wrong” strictly speaking from the perspectives of the laws. Hence the phrase “legally right but morally wrong” was born. Similarly, knowledge or awareness alone will not completely prevent people from committing bribery, though it can help minimise the cases. Most people who committed bribery, and corruption were fully aware and had knowledge of the fact that what they had done was legally wrong and a crime, yet they still did it. The worse is when the acts were committed by the so-called “religious” people who knew very well of its prohibitions in Islam from the various Qur’anic verses and Prophetic traditions. In fact, Islam not only stipulates the prohibition of taking bribery but even accepting gifts for people in positions could also be prohibited if the gifts were given related to the positions as in the case of al-Latbiyyah. Then, what is the solution? Apart from inculcating knowledge and strengthening the laws, ultimately the best solution is to strengthen our own faith (iman) and cleanse our spiritual hearts by continuously doing good actions and avoiding evil deeds, making remembrance to Allah SWT (dhikr) and asking for his forgiveness (istighfar) and reflecting that one day we shall meet God in the Hereafter to be accountable for what we have done in this world.
Dr. Nik Roskiman Abdul Samad
Senior Fellow, Centre for the Study of Shariah, Law and Politics
Institute of Islamic Understanding Islam Malaysia (IKIM)
[A shortened version was published in New Straits Times, August 15,2020. Featured image credited to NST]