RZS-CASIS 10th Year Anniversary:

By Nurshafira Noh

I always have this quote on my resume,

Unfortunately, robots capable of manufacturing robots do not exist. That would be the philosopher’s stone, the squaring of the circles” 

of which I cannot remember since when I put it there. It was quoted from Ernst Junger’s novel, The Glass Bee, that seemed suitable to be a reminder, as someone working in the tech industry, that it was not machines that we should feel awe too, but humans. However, one cannot even have the idea to quote that as a reminder if one doesn’t know CASIS years and years prior to that. This is a short reflection of mine on how CASIS since its inception has heavily helped me swim in the sea with the shore of this world (although I just realized that it also coincided with my own 10th anniversary since I personally started to know Prof Naquib al-Attas’ ideas too). 

To be honest, if one can dissect one’s own history (perhaps temporarily, Frankenstein-ing one’s own self), there are two Shafiras I would see in relation to CASIS, at least. One was my 19-years-old-self when I first sat in  Saturday Night Lecture when Prof al-Attas lectured about the meaning of happiness) and the other is my current adult self, who is a freelancer, around 5 years older than the formerly mentioned self. Between being young and being freelance (in one’s whole career path so far). Between being so naive about the world and surviving life as an early adult. But both, at the very core at least, speaking from outside, indicating this tendency of being like flotsam, risk of being rootless and exposed to the very changes out there. This was the door for me to enter, on how CASIS being so meaningful to be an anchor in my life. Despite all things changing around and within, I always have this pursuit to know what’s unchanging then. What would help me explore yet although one would immerse in the sea to seek for the pearl-like how Mutanabbi put it, one should not and don’t want to drown in it. This was particularly hard, working in the tech world as a freelancer when all the people in the industry have always said that “technology will always evolve”. It was hard to keep with the pace. 

Yet this pursuit of finding what’s not changing was not new; the journey went further back, to the days when I attended Saturday Night Lecture circa 2010. That was my earliest memory with CASIS, when Prof Naquib al-Attas lectured on the meaning of happiness. It was then I heard for the first time in my entire life (despite going to religious boarding school where the idea should have been discussed supposedly and scored A in History where the textbook mentioned Prof’s name, so I supposedly know what Prof might say), that happiness is unshifting. It was so huge for me, that with that one line, it actually helped me survive the next decade of my life. That was the start. Happiness is not about conforming to what the society, the lecturers and anyone say. The pursuit is not relative and subject to people’s whim. It can be something higher than that. This was my first memory with CASIS. 

-At ISTAC Building, Jalan Damansara on a site visit trip during WISE Summer School 2014-

Second was when I started to involve myself more in social activism a few years after, CASIS has always helped so many young people, including me, in being the buffer to what’s out there. The years when I joined and was a part of the crews of Universiti Terbuka Anak Muda (UTAM), was when I experienced how the postgraduate students in CASIS engaged with these youngsters, patiently listening and following up with some of us, to guide us in our rebellious years. Those were the years where philosophical discourses started to enter the youngsters mind. It was in 2014, when WISE Summer School started too. I was among the ones who joined on a last minute scholarship paid by someone who gave away his place due to his tight schedule. The exposure is one thing, to be exposed to diverse international Islamic discourse while getting to know new friends; but the more memorable experience out of this was the unspoken taste of pleasure to be among these people – to sit in for example, my fondest memory was when I can sit in one of mini workshops they had at night (yes, night time) where brother Wan Mohd Aimran discussed an excerpt from Prof al-Attas’ Philosophy of Science; or to share the same room with other international participants for the first time in my life (and witnessed how weird it was for me, seeing the Muslima not wearing socks while praying when they were from different mazhab); to listen and see Prof al-Attas smiled at the end of the ceremony; to ask about the nature of doubt (that my friend and I thought were so huge) to Dr Zaidi Ismail; and of course many more. The discourse is not just a mere discourse; there’s a soul to it. This was the year where while sitting in KLCC, they (brother Khayrurrijal, brother Wan Ahmad Fayhsal, sister Hajar Almahdaly and  brother Syafiq Borhanuddin, to name few) referred me to al-Ghazali’s Ihya Ulumuddin reminding me about power (social activism has a lot to do with power discourses e.g. Marxism, socialism, and political change; this was the years prior and leading to BERSIH); the same period of years when I was exposed (or rather became interested) to philosophy of science and tech. too, which turned out to get back at me years after I started venturing into the tech industry. 

That pursuit of something unshifting, unchanging has expanded, from a smaller pursuit of one’s own life purpose after school, to one’s pursuit of social identity and sense of contribution to the society, up until, at least now, to one’s pursuit of understanding one’s own industry. It was indeed a journey. Yet, standing and swimming in the real job industry, this pursuit of unshifting became more real. It is everywhere. Tech industry for one, or to extend it further in honesty, the economy, have always been emphasising about progress: change is the only thing that does not change, is the mantra. But like Gai Eaton put it, the fast-paced train would only make us anaesthetic. The vertigo of going too fast somehow made us lose the sense of enjoyment, direction, or perhaps, meaning too. After a few years going in submarine mode from CASIS, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, I started to join back as an audit student. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going by knowing where to go to seek for the source of the strength. Somehow the audit class is a reminder for tuma’ninah for me. It was also surreal how in Philosophy of Science class by Prof Zainiy Uthman, we are reminded about intention, human soul, tasawwuf and many more; nothing dry we cannot relate.  

-Tutorial group during WISE Summer School 2014-

That was when it finally made sense to me how despite all the changes around us, there is a need for dynamic stabilism, this was coined and said by Prof. Wan Nor Wan Daud years ago. It made sense to me now as I feel it myself; how without a dynamic framework to live in today’s world, we can be floating or gasping unknowingly. We can engage but are half-cooked. We can try to offer solutions, but not to the core. This does not in any way imply only one-way works but how the diverse ideas and concepts can build on each other is the question. The issues we are facing are not simple, it is complex and often probes us to go beyond. We are asked to also look inside, to know ourselves, to be honest with our own capacity, because changes need to be sustained and filled in. Or else, after one to the other, it would be a vacuum and we know how a vacuum can suck all sorts of things to its center. And the center of these loci is humans – not robots, not machines, not another artificial intelligence. Despite living in a more technical society (where technology is embedded deeply in our daily life), we could still be human, if we know how to be one. But this is where dynamic stabilism is needed. 

This reflection of mine is to share how CASIS has been enriching not just the academia but people beyond. I always hope more people from the tech industry (especially those who are working in startups and venture capitalists) would one day get to know the works done in CASIS and the works of Prof al Attas. If the Western world have Klaus Schwab, we should be happy to learn from our own too and build upon those very ideas. CASIS has been doing all the hard work to sustain throughout the many years; educating more people, engaging more stakeholders and communities, while at the same time, maintaining and trying their best to ensure high-quality academic works as well. I truly feel ashamed if we do nothing to support them. 

Nurshafira Noh is a freelance web designer and a digital advocate.