By : Nur Hisyam
“History comes and goes. Only great people know how to appreciate the history.” – Sukarno
History can be described in many perspectives. As a legal practitioner, history is a guideline in order to use as reference to face similar situation or upcoming event. Politician and political observer view history as pattern to study reason and consequences in anticipating the future. For historian, they view history covers prospect of lives and matter of significance chronology in a bigger view.
Recently, historical writing grows rapidly and sometimes could be manipulated for personal interest. Notwithstanding, manipulation action should not be legalised besides using as moral values for human lives. Some said “The past is where you learned the lesson. The future is where you apply the lesson,” But is it true that we profoundly learn history for the right purpose or just instill pride within ourselves.
“Those who fail to learn the history are condemned to repeat it.”- Winston Churchill
History Definition Across Period and Thoughts
From etymology aspect, according to ‘Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu’ gives the definition of history as hereditary, genealogy, past factual event, tale, ‘tawarikh’ or myths.
R.O Winstedt said that history is originated from Arabic word and defined history as genealogy. In foreign language, the terminology of history is similar to the word from ancient Greek, Historia which means research and investigation. However, the meaning of the history has changed over time. Wallace E. Cadlwell said that the word historia which means a researching has changed to be events and memories that happens in the past. This is due to the various exegesis from the word historis or history itself, History also has many definitions and meaning from the philosophy perspectives or from its own view. This can be proven by Dionysius, a historian who once said history is a philosophy that gives lessons from their point. Al Masudi in other words saying history is a note that brings human beings knowledge together which is the holiest Science. Moreover, Ibnu Khaldun believes that history is a book of society and the world civilization. One of the Chinese historian in eighth century, Hseuh-Cheng said history is not just the process of collecting document from bureaucrats and scholars but it should be used to make a better world. Lastly, from E.H Carr’s view, history is a process of a continuous interaction between historians with their facts which are unstoppable dialogues from today and in the past.
On the other hand, there are still many interpretations from different time and thoughts. But, it does not change the function of history from propagating the real story even cannot be fully accurate which wanted by Leopold Von Ranke with his famous sentiment, wie es eigentlich gewesen. Nevertheless, it should be firmly followed by the writers to write a history based on reliable source and appropriate interpretations and not just from their own perception or imagination for fulfilling own will.
“Accuracy is a duty and not a virtue.” – A.E. Housman
For instance, Herodotus, first Greek historian which called the father of History was accused by the other historians as an exaggeration regarding on the story of the Greek-Persia War in his writing. Other than that, Cicero and Thucydides had accused him as a liar. This is just because Herodotus wrote the history that happened a century before he was born. Even though, based on the studies by historians afterward, Herodotus had used a right approach and way in gaining correct info. His extra oral tradition and observation in his research can be seen in his traveling to Egypt. Although it was not perfectly accurate, but it was backed by many of authentic references to support his writing and became the first authority of writing history.
History: Bind or Eliminate of Thinking
“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books, books which glorify their own causes and disparage the conquers foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history but a fable agrees upon?” – Dan Brown
Today, history is not actually written to teach the people of learning from the past to be applied in future. However, it used to get a stronger power and emasculate somebody. This is the reality that can be seen lucidly when the story is been told dominantly the elites and for some of groups interest.
This problematic can be observed in several series of history which written by distorting the facts through their own exegesis and left out other facts in eliminating events that let other people know easily. Azhar Ibrahim sees this as a deception towards history. This habit forces the society to condone this version of history as an official of history. It is also an oppression towards event and roles of a few groups of society.
The history that based on feudal, nationalist religious sentiments also be used to undertake or kill other groups in society. It depicts that history is not becoming a progressive tool but towards more passive which sinks in the sea of past story. Could be worse, it stops to learn lessons and solve the humans’ crisis and justice that happened a long time ago.
This looks even worse when many of intellectual are not brave enough to fight against the entities which have enormous power and support. This leads the society to confine in false narrative of history and moreover can cause social disorder. Azhar Ibrahim believes the existence of the group which permitted and blinded their eyes towards the fabrication of history will lead to the dismantling of ethics and public opinion.
In education sector, we cannot deny the growing of thoughts especially on history which has been wrapped tightly that causes of destroying young generation thoughts. This can be seen on how history is been taught. The process of teaching and learning is just about memorizing the notes to get high marks in examination and not be taught appropriately. Moreover, it was not taught openly to the criticisms and authenticity of narratives of events even from moral contexts. Now, history is just become a platform to support the government.
In the result, young generation would only possess weak culture and narrow view of thinking. This has been reminded by Raja Aminullah after seeing this pattern of thinking from young generation. The narrow-mind set and racism without arbitrating the human context and moral ethics from young generation prove this scenario. This main reason of this problem happened because they are regularly living in non-critical thinking and obsesses in a narrow thinking of history.
Lastly, it slowly kills the people thought. Then causing the destructives of society and lead the society to be the next pandir that confines in the world of fanaticism permanently without observing the right and the falsehood in order to uphold the history as a way of learning and guidance in the future as told by Syed Husin Alatas.
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” – George Orwell
Historical Development of Different School of Thoughts Lead the Dynamic Changes
“Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” – C.P Scott
In history discourse, the juxtaposition of ideas cannot be denied. This is because, history is a spot to interpret the facts and explain freely by its researcher as long as they have their reference of fact to prove. E.H. Carr once said that every single historian has freedom to choose and pick their own facts according to the context of their explanation. Therefore, we are recommended to know in details of whom historian before pondering their writing. We should know this history are written from the perspectives of colonial, nationalist or religion.
We can relate this to event that happened after the proclamation of Constantinople. There are a lot of narratives from the Islamic and Western scholars. All of them depict their point of view to prove their own narrative to show who is the true and vice versa.
For scholars who incline to Islam, they would show the good side of Ottoman Empire. We can see from the first example by Shawqi Abu Khalil, who told that the subjugation of Constantinople had freed the people from the injustice of Byzantine hegemony and had succeeded to spread the peace and uphold the law especially on social and judicial affairs. This concludes the factor of reverting a lot of people into Islam. On second example that we might get from HAMKA’s writing. The story is about on how one of the Turkish had destroyed the tiles of the Aya Sophia Church caused a resentment to Sultan Muhammad Al-Fatih. He decided to rebuke that man and nearly kill him just because of destroying the church. The Christians congregation who felt anxious to the behaviour of that man came to Sultan and paid tribute to him.
But, whoever inclines to the Christian, they would see the dark side of Ottoman Empire which tortured and suffered the people after the opening of Constantinople. First example that can be seen clearly from Chase F. Robinson who used Filippo da Rimimi’s writing to prove him. “…the King of Traya (The King of Turk) is so overjoyed of celebrating his winning by destroying temples. In Hagia Sophia Church, he harassed and raped the young women roughly like an animal. He did the same way to young woman which was Cassandra in Pallas Temple, Athens.”
Secondly, Roger Crowley has told a similar story. It was about a Turk soldier who broke the door of Aya Sophia and gathered all of the people there regardless o gender and to be bind tightly. All of religious symbol and materials were destroyed and all their accessories were seized.
As we can see, there are juxtaposition which have a lot of discrepancy of narratives from Islamic and non-Islamic side of view. Whichever of these narratives can be accepted as long as their point are supported from solid arguments. To know who is the true or false need a more profound and newer research to find who is the correct one and indirectly the narratives of history can be improved as told by Ranke. Therefore, E.H. Carr put the history as a process of interaction between the historian and facts the past and present.
Through a new narrative of history, the discourse or discussion of history in our society could be discussed aggressively. The presence of new query could lead and produce new exegesis in more accurate and dynamic in solving the problems that confined in people’s minds.
Historians had put history as guidance to people to avoid of repeating their mistakes. Hseuh-Cheng had put history to improve the world. But, how? There is no way besides of learning the history itself. Learning history is not all about inculcating the morals only. But it is the technique that must be learnt to avoid repeating the same mistakes happen repeatedly. It is emphasised the reason of writing Sulalatus Salatin and Malay History.
“I’ve heard of a legendary Malay tale that was narrated by someone from Goa. It is our obligation to preserve the tale so that our descendants would know of this tale so that it will never be forgotten. And so that they may benefit from the lessons derived from it.” – Sulalatus Salatin
Notwithstanding, history must be freed or it will become weapons of killing ourselves. That is the reason why we can see a lot of people became more racist and more extreme after reading and learning history. Their social ethics have been dissipated causes the narrowing of the way of thinking. Indeed, history which is free from propaganda and human interest can free the people from human crisis and able to produce a sustainable society and more progressive. If the history is being taught in an appropriate way, it could lead a more critical thinking in our society.
- Samad Ahmad, Sulalatus Salatin: Sejarah Melayu, Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 2018
- Ahmat Adam, Antara Sejarah dan Mitos: Sejarah Melayu & Hang Tuah dalam Histiografi Malaysia, Selangor: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2016
- Azhar Ibrahim, Menyanggah Belenggu: Kerancuan Fikiran Masakini, Selangor: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2016
- Chase F. Robinson, Para Pembentuk Peradaban Islam Seribu Tahun Pertama, Jakarta: PT Pustaka Alvabet, 2019
- Hamka, Sejarah Umat Islam, Selangor: PTS Publication, 2016
- Muhd. Yusof Ibrahim, Ilmu Sejarah: Falsafah, Pengertian, Kaedah dan Pensejarahan, Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 2016
- Muhsin Mahdi, Falsafah Sejarah Ibnu Khaldun: Kajian tentang Dasar Falsafah Ilmu budaya, Kuala Lumpur: ITBM, 2014
- Raja Ahmad Aminullah, Minda Tertawan Intelektual, Rausyanfikir dan Kuasa, Selangor: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2011
- Roger Crowley, 1453 Detik-Detik Jatuhnya Konstantinople ke Tangan Muslim, Jakarta: PT Pustaka Alvabet, 2018
- Shaqi Abu Khalil, Toleransi Dalam Islam: Prinsip Dan Aplikasi, Kuala Lumpur: ABIM, 2018
- Syed Hussein Alatas, Intelektual Masyarakat Membangun, Selangor: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 2016
Nur Hisyam was born in Ipoh, Perak. He is student Degree in History Education from Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) and former President of Bahasa Melayu Debate’s Club UPSI. Now he is Fellow in Lestari Hikmah.