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Insaf is the foundation of integrity

Inculcating insaf in oneself is key to establishing integrity. Photo by Scott Graham - Unsplash

By: Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

Simply put, integrity is practicing honesty and adherence to moral and ethical principles and values. However, ironically, there is no universal scale to measure integrity as there are no universally acceptable moral and ethical principles and values. In an ethical standard, what is right to some, might be wrong to others or what was right in the past, might be wrong at present. And vice versa. Changes in the level of acceptance or rejection of moral and ethical dilemma across time, as periodically revealed by Gallup surveys, are testimony to this ambiguity.

Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

Nevertheless, integrity is the centre of our attention at the individual, institutional, and governmental levels.

In 1998, the Malaysian Government under the premiership of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi formulated the National Integrity Plan (NIP) upon the spirit and principles of the Federal Constitution, the philosophy and principles of the Rukun Negara as well as the aspirations of Vision 2020. NIP was aimed to “establish a fully moral and ethical society whose citizens are strong in religious and spiritual values and imbued with the highest ethical standards.”

The NIP 1998 identified five priorities known as Target 2008, (1) reduction of corruption, malpractices and abuse of power; (2) increase the efficiency of the public delivery system and overcome bureaucratic red tape; (3) enhance corporate governance and business ethics; (4) strengthen the family institution; and (5) improve the quality of life and people’s well-being.

15 years have passed. Has there been a gradual improvement in the integrity index as reported by Transparency International in Malaysia? Let the debate be put aside.

Noticeably, the fifth priority which was aimed to improve the quality of life and people’s well-being cannot be achieved without economic equity and/or justice – resonating a common goal embedded in the National Economic Policy (NEP).

Now the big question is, could the NIP or NEP be achieved without ensuring insaf? Insaf in Bahasa Melayu (BM) primarily means a sense of compassion, sympathy, and/or justice. A more common word in BM to refer to those human attributes is adil. However, in its usage, insaf is commonly used to refer to repentance.

Needless to say, in both meanings, one’s sense of insaf brings responsibility starting with self and extends to a family, community, environment, and even at the political level.

If one desires to have something that he/she does not deserve – is a simple example of not adhering to insaf for him/herself. Dealing with a cat on the street, a tree in the forest, or even choosing a certain lifestyle without wasteful behavior need a true sense of insaf. Let alone, how one’s authority is imposed on others. Let others not tell you or force you to realize what you deserve for yourself.

It is often despised that the top 1% richest people have 50% of the total wealth of the world population. Those top 1% might have followed a high level of integrity to accumulate their wealth. But I doubt if they followed the standards of insaf.

While institutional good governance is aimed at transparent, fair, and ethical standards to ensure integrity – it may well ignore the plights of individual staff to cope with the imposed targets. Again, an example of integrity without insaf.

Like many other developed countries, Malaysia is heavily dependent on an immigrant blue collar workforce. All those countries have their claims and recognition for good governance and integrity. But do they all apply the standards of insaf when dealing with that workforce?

We often see how a democratic insaf misses due respect in the political arena. When a majority determines the decision-making in a democracy, all parties involved must respect a democratic insaf too. If one’s opponent wins in a democratic race, the democratic insaf is not to pull the opponent down with allegations and smears but to find a way to make thyself faster.

We not only see a commitment to integrity in our society but also have an index to measure the degree of integrity. To a greater extent practice of integrity can be imposed with the law. Be it liked or not, people then adhere to honesty and ethical values in their actions.

Unlike integrity, we have no index to measure insaf. But we can commit to insaf. We can judge the degree of compassion, sympathy, sense of justice, and repentance that lies in our hearts. No one else can.

Talking and enforcing integrity will be less of a success to improve the conditions of a nation or mankind as a whole with a lack of insaf at an individual level. Albeit, insaf is the foundation of one’s integrity.

The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya.

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