UNITY, DISSENT … Mahathir holds summit of Islamics, says Muslim world in a state of crisis

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said the Muslim world is in a “state of crisis” and called for “implementable” solutions as he hosted a summit of Muslim-majority countries here this week. Mahathir, a doctor by profession before he took to politics, is a high-ranking leader in the Islamic world, and known for his modern, tech-savvy, market-oriented mindset.

Mahathir led Malaysia from relative obscurity to modernity and progress ever since his leadership of the nation for the past few decades – though with interruptions in the political process in the country he built from scratch.

Mahathir made the call to action as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani highlighted in their speeches the plight of the Palestinians under decades-long Israeli occupation. “We all know that the Muslims, their religion and their countries are in a state of crisis. Everywhere we see Muslim countries being destroyed, their citizens forced to flee their countries, forced to seek refuge in non-Muslim countries,” Mahathir told a packed crowd gathered in Malaysia’s biggest city.

The 94-year-old prime minister pointed out that while other countries devastated by World War II have recovered and developed, many Muslim nations “seem unable to be governed well, much less to be developed and prosper…. Fratricidal wars, civil wars, failed governments and many other catastrophes” continued to confront many Muslim countries and Islam “without any serious effort being made to end or reduce them or to rehabilitate the religion.”

However, even as he sought a unified voice among Muslim-majority states to address those issues, several countries — including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan  — were absent from the meeting, which is seen by some in the Muslim community as an emerging competition to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). On Tuesday, Pakistan announced that it pulled out of the summit, citing concerns from Saudi Arabia the event could “divide” the Muslim world.

Initially, it was reported Prime Minister Imran Khan, who earlier confirmed his presence at the event, was sending Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to represent him. But the country withdrew altogether just two days before it started. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who was earlier listed as a speaker at the event, was also a no-show. His vice president, Ma’ruf Amin, who was announced to represent him, cancelled at the last minute citing health reasons. Ma’ruf is the former supreme leader of Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, Hahdlatul Ulama.

On Thursday, Mahathir was asked by the media if he received a message from the Indonesian president about Jakarta’s participation at the summit, but he waved off the question. As for Saudi Arabia, Samsudin Osman, the summit secretary-general, earlier told Al Jazeera that Mahathir had sent a personal representative to invite King Salman to the summit. Saudi Arabia also decided to skip the event. Osman said the summit is not meant to rival the OIC.
Khaled Meshaal, former leader of the Palestinian group Hamas, was among those who attended the summit. He told Al Jazeera the event in Kuala Lumpur is “not meant to create animosity between any nations” in the Muslim world.

Meanwhile, in his opening speech on Thursday, Iran’s Rouhani blamed “serious security threats” facing the Muslim world and the Middle East in particular on the “Zionist regime” – a reference to Israel, which he said continues to impose its will on the stateless Palestinians. Rouhani said the plight of the Palestinians remains the most important issue in the Muslim world. Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim expressed the same sentiment, saying the occupation of Palestine is “one of the most important sources of instability in our region”. 

The annexation of Palestinian lands, illegal settlements, and the “Judaisation of Jerusalem” are examples of policies that “wipe out the Arab character of the city and provoke the feelings of Arabs and Muslims everywhere”, he said.
In a veiled criticism of Saudi Arabia, Rouhani said the “mental and behavioural radicalism” in some Muslim countries has “paved the way to foreign interventions” in the Middle East. “The war in Syria, Yemen, and riots and turbulence in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Afghanistan is the outcome of the combination of domestic extremism and foreign intervention,” he said.

Calling Iran a “model of resistance”, Rouhani urged the Muslim world to develop its own economic framework “to save it from the domination of the US dollar and the American financial regime”. He said Muslim countries can establish special mechanisms for banking and financial cooperation, and use national currencies in trading. Iran has been under US sanctions since 2018, and is barred from using the international financial system to carry out trade with other nations.

For Turkey’s Erdogan, the challenge for the summit is to “implement and execute the plans” agreed upon between the leaders present, even as he said Muslim countries “should come to terms” with their own failures, particularly in preventing conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere. “It is unfortunate that we are wasting our own energy on internal disputes,” he said, referring to the current situation in the Muslim world. He said Muslim countries should not leave the fate of the 1.7 billion Muslims in the hands of Western powers, including the five-member states sitting as permanent members of the UN Security Council.

“The world is bigger than five,” Erdogan said, repeating his frequent criticism of the international body’s permanent members whose veto power, he said, is harmful to smaller nations. He said the US Security Council is “way past its expiry date.”Nur Aldeen AlKawamleh, a doctorate graduate in Islamic studies from Jordan and a delegate at the event, said he hopes the summit will deliver alternative solutions to issues not addressed by the OIC.

The messages delivered reflect some criticism towards the OIC, he said, adding he sees the emergence of a “new coalition” of like-minded countries to address issues in the Muslim world. Ahmad Farouk Musa, a professor at Monash University in Kuala Lumpur, also attended the summit. He blamed Saudi Arabia for being a proponent of sectarianism in the Muslim world, and for showing its opposition to the summit, which tries to bring different voices into the debate. “We have seen how this sectarianism destroyed the fabric of unity among Muslims. And to me, the main proponent, sectarianism in the Muslim world is none other than the Saudis and their virulent ideology,” Farouk Musa said. 

Saudi Arabia’s animosity towards the summit was because of the “presence of the Iranian leader,” Rouhani, he said.


Mahathir Mohamad functioned as Malaysia’s Prime Minister for 22 years from 1981 to 2003. Then, he sat in the sidelines, and others ran the nation for a few years. The 94-year-old politician returned to centre-stage a few years ago to oppose the political force he was once a part of, the Barisan Nasional coalition, the ruling party in Malaysia since its independence from Britain in 1957.

During Mahathir’s first tenure as PM, the country experienced rapid economic growth and the country’s diverse population – mostly ethnic Malay Muslim, but also significant minorities of ethnic Chinese, Indians and indigenous people – enjoyed rising incomes and improving living standards. 

“In order to grow a country, to develop a country the first need is for stability. Ours is a multiracial nation and normally multiracial nations are not stable. So the first job that I had to do was to make sure that all the races were brought together for the country’s growth. That means, of course, that all the different races are represented in the government and they can speak for their own race and also for the nation,” he says.

“Because everybody has a fair share in the governance of the country, they feel satisfied that their problems will be taken care of and that leads to stability where development becomes possible.”

Mahathir’s life achievements were recognised at the opening session of Doha Forum 2019. During his acceptance speech, he did not hold back from expressing his views on the modern world. “Today’s world is confronted with increased concern over the sustainability of global economic growth in the face of rising political, social, and environmental challenges,” Mahathir says.

The Malaysian prime minister argues the US is leading the world in the wrong direction when it comes to multilateralism. Commenting on the US-China trade war, Mahathir says, “Trade wars do not solve anything. They only antagonise people and other people not related to the war. There is too much politics involved … if you follow economic rules … perhaps you can solve the problem in a much much better way than confrontation and trying to destroy each other.”

“Becoming very nationalist is good. But not at the expense of other people. Every country should care about itself but that needing to be protective or secure doesn’t mean confronting others. It’s better if we learn to work together.We were going a long way towards multilateralism. But now nationalism seems to affect many countries.”

When Mahathir joined the now ruling coalition, he was expected to hand the reins to new leadership two years after the May 2018 election. Now, the Malaysian leader says he may stay in power beyond 2020 and would not guarantee who would succeed him as PM. He says he wants to fix problems created by the previous government before resigning – with a new economic plan slated to be achieved between 2025 and 2030.  –Al Jazeera, IHN-NN

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