Tribute to Prof Syed Hussein Alattas

This post is adapted from a few months back, when i was in less of a bloggy mood. I guess there are people who never knew who he was in the first place, to be able to mourn him.

So here goes.

A mighty Muslim warrior in the intellectual and political battle against evil (corruption, captive minds, parochialism and foolishness) passed away on the 23rd of January 2007 in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, of a heart attack.

Our Ummah, Our World is poorer now.

Please pray for him, for his family, friends, supporters..

I had the good fortune to squeeze his brain at his home one night in mid August 2006, he was hilarious and had a complex sociology of the 'fool' and of flattery ticking over in his brain. Into the silly hours we went. One of the few people i have heard of who was an original thinker (Books on; The myth of the lazy native, Problems facing intellectuals in developing societies, Captive minds, The sociology of corruption:nature, efffect and function, Corruption and the future of asia), and contributed to the progressive political scene.

As a justice seeking individual he suffered at the hands of the malaysian state and the pretty gutless intelligensia there. This was particularly apparent towards the end, where he was character assasinated (6 months press barrage) out of his job as the VC of University Malaya under some trumped up political corruption ruse. This happened at the time when he was tackling intellectual corruption (plaigarism) and economic corruption (catering contracts) on the campus. irony is not dead.

Never a fan of the once fashionable 'Islamisation of knowledge' brigade (a movement to sort out our knowledge culture that started in the 70s'), he reflected that this resulted in the creation of an exclusivist discource for the political benefit of some 'islamists', in muslim students not reading as widely as they should and in 2nd ratedness. He felt it that that alleyway was blind and had done a lot of damage.

He was very keen on the regionalisation of sociology. Given 1000s of sociologists in the third world we have a very strong base, but little collective discussion, the eu has a collective discussion, they have a regional interest. I really hope that his thoughts on south east asian sociology (including desh!!) are heeded.

As a sociologist he understood how knowledge is produced and constrained and struggled hard all his life to free our 'Captive Minds' and point out various 'Manifestations of the fool'. He advised us not be be jargonists, to hide defective reasoning in layers of jargon, that its a battle between valid concepts and jargon.

When we spoke last summer, i really wanted him to come to the UK, we never invite original contrubuters like this. He seemed very game but his health was basically a limit. I also hadnt sorted my life out enough to know where i would be and when i would be where. I was also worried that UK folks are too far gone, salafised, foolish and parochial to appreciate him.

Still i really do hope that his writings and ideas are read more widely in the colonising, decolonising and especially muslim worlds. I hope young undergrads and postgrads find motivation and clues in his work, that its inspired and helps them to 'go for it', as it were. i implore you to go out there and search hard for his books and writings on the web. SOAS library and British library stock his stuff, so probably do the Other India Bookshop.

"I concentrated on the captive mind because the captive mind is most urgent as far as the developing society is concerned. We are not concerned with the slave holders, we are concerned with the enslaved. And a change, as we all know, can only be achieved if there is an awakening of the downtrodden, of the slave community. Without the change in the slave community, the attitude of the slave community, there can never be any change. As far as the slave holders were concerned, they will not give the freedom away. It had to be wrenched from them. The slave must wake up to wrench the freedom the slave holders."
(Multiversity Meeting on 'Redesign of Social Science Curricula', Penang 2004)

Multiversity was a project through which i first met the Prof, http://www.multiversitylibrary.com/index.jsp

Farish Noor's Obituary is here


nai said...


I almost wrongly recognized him as Prof. Naquib Al-Attas. Both of them are our great schoalars. Yet, it was kind of disspointing how ISTAc has change now. During our previous class in Islamization of Knowledge few semester back, our lecture have mentioned that before ISTAC has gone through political problem, he used to talk, discuss with Prof Naquib AlAttas. But suddenyly, all of the great2 scholars at Istac has left Istac.I mean how decent could it be. Nowadays, as you mentioned, our world become more and more poorer when we lose great thinker like them. Not so many peolpes could realy absored on what they are delivering.

Sadiq M. Alam said...

indeed we are from Allah and to him is the final journey.

my deep respect for the man of great height. may his contribution benefit him in the hereafter and may his works continue guide more thinkers.

peace be to his soul. Assalamualikum.