Integrity has to be earned the hard way throughout our life. You may have spent years or decades doing the right thing and accumulating your integrity, but one misstep, one mistake, one indiscretion affecting your honesty or morality, the whole of what you have accumulated, is wiped out. Once you lose it, it is even more difficult to accumulate it again.
* This is a speech delivered by Tun Hamid Mohamad, former Chief Justice of Malaysia at the 1st UNITEN Premier Lecture on 3rd February 2012
I thank UNITEN and the Institut Integriti Malaysia for giving me the honor of delivering the first lecture of this series. I am more honored by the fact that this lecture is on integrity which makes me believe that I must have some integrity, at least sufficient to deliver this lecture, provided that the invitation is not a mistake !
As I am not an academician, I have decided to speak about what I have seen, heard and experienced throughout my life, vis-a-vis integrity. So, if you were to ask me how long I took to prepare this lecture, my answer is “Sixty nine years and ten months!”
I hope you will bear with me for a while, while I narrate the story of this man whom I am taking as an example.
At the close of the nineteenth century, a baby was born in Permatang Tinggi Bakar Bata, Kepala Batas, Province Wellesley. He grew up in the village, attended a pondok school in Kedah, then in Kelantan and later spent a few years in Makkah where he attended classes at Masjid al-Haram.
He returned home, married a girl from the same village, worked as a rice planter. He taught the Qu'ran on a voluntary basis twice a day to the children in the village, besides being the Imam of the mosque in the area.
In 1950‟s there was no school in Bumbung Lima. He and the people in the area decided to build a school. They collected money after every harvesting season which was entrusted to him for safekeeping. They went into the nearby forest to cut down trees and bamboo and, in the gotong royong tradition, built a three-classroom school made of attap roof and woven bamboo walls and windows. The Government provided the teachers and the children in the nearby villages went to school.
The mosque with woven bamboo walls, was old and rotting. He initiated a fund to rebuild it, collecting RM15 (if I am not mistaken) from each family after every harvesting season. He kept the money in safe custody, bundled in an old piece of cloth and known to the wife and children as duit Masjid and no one would touch it. During that period, he bought an old Austin 8, the first car in the village. Fearing that people might think that he had misused the duit Masjid to buy the car, on the following Friday, he carried the bundle of money to the mosque. Before the prayer started, he placed the bundle on the floor of the verandah of the mosque (called balai lintang because it lies horizontal to the main building) and announced to those present. ”Those of you who think that I bought the car with the “mosque money”, come and count it.” There was a complete silence. The mosque was built and completed, wholly from the money collected from the villagers and their sweat.
There was an Imam Muda, a lebai from Kedah, married to his niece. There was a rumor that he used to go and collect money from the taukeh of a shop where gambling was going on. A date was fixed for a “hearing” and, as usual, on Friday. Our subject challenged those who saw the incident to come forward and repeat their allegation. Two men came forward and swore that they were in the shop and they saw the Imam Muda came and took money from the taukeh. The Imam Muda was relieved of his position. There was no Majlis Agama Islam yet at that time.
There was an Indian man by the name of Banggaru living just outside the village. He had eleven young children and his wife had died of childbirth. Their mud house was flooded. He invited Banggaru and his children to live temporarily underneath his Malay-type kampung house built on stilts. They lived there until the flood subsided. About thirty years later, a car came to our subject's house. There were three Indian men in the car. The two younger men carried an old and sickly man, sitting on the back seat of the car into our subject's house, which was a new one though on the same spot as the old one. The old and sickly Indian man was no other than Banggaru. He wanted to meet “Haji” (that was how he called our subject) for the last time before he died and to thank “Haji” for all his help. Banggaru died soon after that. He knew how to say “thank you”.
There were two Chinese families living just outside the village. They always quarreled with each other and would run to “Haji's” house to complain about the other. Needless to say, our subject would advise them to live as good neighbors, after all there were only two of them there.
Another Chinese man. a complete outsider, came to open a bicycle shop in the nearby Bumbung Lima. He had no money. He went to see our subject to borrow a few hundred Ringgit who gave him the money and mind you, strictly without interest as interest is riba'. The Chinese man‟s business grew and he ventured into other businesses before he died. His children inherited his businesses and are well off now but I doubt whether they know the story.
One day, the aged mother of the Penghulu came to his house crying: her son had chased her out of the house. More than a decade later, the Penghulu himself, now retired, came to him complaining that he had been chased out of the same house by his son. Of course, our subject reminded the Penghulu of the earlier incident.
He was already very old then but he could still cycle. Someone informed him of some people gambling in the bushes nearby the village. He cycled there and on seeing him approaching they all fled. It was not a case of fear but ashamed to be seen by him gambling.
He died at the age of about 100, unfortunately we do not know his date of birth. Even then, he died in style. He had complained of feeling feverish. He wanted to take his ablution, which he did. He asked for a clean sarong and baju Melayu, He dressed up for prayer, placed the prayer mat facing Ka'abah and said “Soon the Imam will come”. Not comprehending what he really meant, his son replied, “No, it is still too early for Maghrib”, He collapsed, dressed for prayer and while waiting for it, complete with ablution. Then the children understood what he meant by “Soon the Imam will come”. That night, three generations of his students kept awake and recited the Qur'an for him. The youths in the village insisted that they wanted to carry his body to the cemetery about two miles away instead of being transported by van.
Why do people go to him for advice, for settlement of disputes and for all kinds of things? Why do people not want to be seen by him doing something wrong? The answer is that they have a lot of respect for him. Why do they respect him? Simply, it is because of his integrity.
Who is that man? Today, sixteen years after his death, UNITEN and Institut Integriti Malaysia, not knowing the story, invite his youngest son to deliver this lecture. Yes, that man is my father, Haji Mohamad Bin Haji Abdullah or known as “'Pak Su' or 'Pak Cik' Haji Ahmad”, depending whether you are from the paternal or maternal side. If I deserve this invitation, I owe it to him and I dedicate this lecture to him. May Allah bless his soul. What can we learn from him regarding “integrity”?
First, he did not even know the word “integrity” whether in Malay or English, what more words like “transparency”, keutuhan and so on. But he knew what was right and what was wrong and he always chose to do what was right. I surmise that, most probably, he knew such Qur'anic words like haq and batil, ma'aruf and munkar which could have influenced him greatly, as they did on me. My point is, you may live a life full of integrity without realizing it but by doing what you know is right and avoiding what you know is wrong.
Second, I believe he knew the word jujur and ikhlas but, in all my life, I did not hear him use those words even once. But what he did not preach through words, he, perhaps without realizing it, was preaching through examples. There is nothing more effective than preaching through example. As far as I have read that was what Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. did. Due to his excellent examples and more so being a Prophet, the sahabah like Abu Hurairah would follow him, observed every movement he made and every word he said, in answer to questions or otherwise, and recorded them faithfully. All those examples became traditions and followed all over the world for one and a half millennium now. That is the power of leadership by examples, good examples.
Why was “Kepimpinan Melalui Teladan” forgotten almost as soon as it was launched? Because the good examples were not forthcoming. As a result, very few people, took it seriously and soon it became irrelevant and was forgotten.
Even Madonna, the “material girl”, knows how to appreciate integrity when she speaks about her father:
“My father was very strong, I don't agree with a lot of the ways he brought me up. I don't agree with a lot of his values, but he did have a lot of integrity, and if he told us not to do something, he didn't do it either.”i
Now, listen to this:
“O you who have believed, why do you say what you do not do?
Great is hatred in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do.” – Al-Saff (61): 2 and 3. (Sahih International)
I do not think anyone would suggest that Madonna and/or her father had read those two verses!
Third, integrity has to be earned the hard way throughout our life. You may have spent years or decades doing the right thing and accumulating your integrity, but one misstep, one mistake, one indiscretion affecting your honesty or morality, the whole of what you have accumulated, is wiped out. Once you lose it, it is even more difficult to accumulate it again.
Fourth, a person's academic qualification is quite irrelevant for a person to attain integrity even though it helps to understand it. But understanding integrity does not make one a person of integrity. A person may be an intellectual but he may be intellectually dishonest or he may be dishonest with his maid or driver both of which, trivial as they appear, would put a blot on his integrity. You will be surprised that what appears to be trivial may have a big negative effect on a person's integrity.
On the other hand, a person may not be able to define integrity. He may not be able to give lecture on it. With the fitrah that Allah has given us, with right upbringing, right surrounding, a person would know, what is right and what is wrong. True enough that right and wrong could be subjective, greatly influenced by your religion, culture, society and law. Yet, when it comes to honesty, the core ingredient for integrity, I do not think there is any room for a difference of opinion. So, lack of integrity is not due to ignorance. You know integrity but the question is: do you have it? Whether you have it or not depends on you, on what you do throughout your life. In other words, it boils down to our character. But, we are all human. Everyone has moments of weakness and indiscretion. However, what makes the difference is how serious and how often. When such moments of weakness and indiscretion become the norm rather than the exception, what more when those “wrongs” have become “normal”, then there is something really very wrong with the person.
Fifth, a person's position is irrelevant too. He may hold a very high, important and powerful position. If he has no integrity, the very same people who salute him, bow to him, greet him and try to please him, may not have any respect for him deep in their hearts. A good indicator is what people say behind your back or how the same people treat you after you retire: whether, seeing you walking at the supermarket, people whom you don't even remember or recognize would walk up to you, greet you, introduce themselves, ask how are you and wish you well or, even those you recognize just turn away. That is why I used to say that the real assessment of our career while we are still alive is when we retire. The final one is when we die.
Sixth, integrity requires no advertisement if you have it, neither can you hide it if you don't have it. Actually, a person's honesty can be seen on his face. I am sure you have experienced listening to a speaker whose delivery was impeccable, who was very fluent and witty and who spoke without text. You were mesmerized by him but, when he stopped and the moment the sound of clapping died down, you wondered whether he meant what he said. On the other hand, you would have experienced listening to another person, who read his speech with some difficulty but even as he spoke, to quote Allah yarham Tun Mohamed Suffian, “you could see his honesty shining through his forehead.” ii
Out of curiosity, I tried to check what other people have said or written about integrity, focusing on the word “integrity” itself in relation to “individual integrity” as against “organizational integrity”. I find the results interesting. Let us run through a few of them.
“A person is not given integrity. It results from the relentless pursuit of honesty at all times.” - Unknown.
“Integrity is what we do, what we say and what we say we do.” - Don Galor
“Integrity is the essence of everything successful.” - Richard Buckminster Fulleriii.
“Integrity is doing the right thing, even if nobody is watching.” - Anonymous.
“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.” - William Clement Stoneiv.
“Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.” - Spencer Johnson.v
Surprisingly, they seem to be talking about the same thing.