Selangor, at the dinner reception in conjunction with the First International Conference on the World Forum for Muslim Democrats on 2nd November, 2014, Petaling Jaya.
The World Forum for Muslim Democrats as conceived and convened by the right honourable Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim is indeed a landmark achievement. This conference is the first ever international conference on Islam and democracy to be held not just in the state but in Malaysia.
However, it is a sad commentary on the state of democracy and the rule of law in Malaysia that at a time when such a forum is being convened, Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim is again being politically persecuted by the Malaysian authorities.
This second prosecution is part and parcel of a despicable conspiracy, to assassinate Dato’ Seri Anwar’s character and destroy his political career as a genuine democrat and as a champion for reform and justice.
It is obvious that the voices of condemnation both at home and abroad are falling on the deaf ears on the current regime – a government that is hell bent on putting Anwar Ibrahim behind bars again.
After nearly six decades of gaining Independence, it is patently and tragically clear that we have before us a criminal and judicial process that is deeply flawed.
It is flawed not because of some inherent deficiency, weakness or incompetence of the judges. It is flawed because of the abuse of the powers that be and their morbid fear of losing power. Consequently, the nation itself is on trial: sending Anwar Ibrahim to jail once again is as good as sending justice to the gallows.
This relentless persecution of Anwar Ibrahim shows that the struggle for democracy in a country like Malaysia is fraught with inherent dangers. Anwar Ibrahim’s courage and fortitude in returning to Malaysia rather than choosing the life of a political exile is a source of inspiration to all who cherish democracy, freedom and justice.
Tonight’s dinner has brought together a gathering of eminent Muslim leaders and intellectuals as well as some prominent leaders and law makers from other faiths.
This approach rightly underscores the importance of an inclusive paradigm in the discourse on democracy and Islam.
Too often, we come across initiatives that appear to address issues on a piecemeal basis without looking at them holistically or taking into account the cultural and religious diversity of the societies that we live in.
In fact this failure to look beyond one’s confines, has in many ways resulted in a culture of intolerance and bigotry. This in turn has given rise to all kinds of negative tendencies and consequences and a world view that is one-dimensional and inward looking.
The present day manifestations of this narrowed blinkered world view can be seen in the rise of extreme bigotry and many forms of extremism.
I am sure this subject will be addressed thoroughly and comprehensively in the conference. In surah al-Baqara, verse 143, Allah declares:
“And thus we have made you a just community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you.”
In order to appreciate the true importance of this verse, I cannot do better than to refer to the great alim and world renowned Islamic jurist Sheikh Dr Yusuf al Qardhawi. As far back as 1981, interpreting the above-quoted verse, he said:
“The Muslim umma is a nation of justice and moderation; it witnesses every deviation from the sirat al-mustaqim, that is, the straight path in this life and in the hereafter.”
“Justice and moderation” – these are indeed key concepts, that are more than ever before, crucial for the Muslim umma. With extremist groups springing up like mushrooms, the umma is being confronted with a direct challenge to their world view.
The failure to condemn these extremist and violent and destructive groups by some Muslim leaders casts a dark shadow on their true positions. In remaining silent to the atrocities committed by the likes of IS and Boko Haram, they become complicit by omission. The paramount importance of these twin imperatives – justice and moderation – is therefore lost on them.
These issues are not just pertinent as subjects of discourse at high level conferences like this but are matters which have a direct impact on the people. In Selangor, for example, the failure to appreciate and embrace these Qur’anic imperatives among groups that pride themselves as ‘Islamic’ has led to the outpouring of fanatical and extremist sentiments. These sentiments are then given wide media coverage by the mainstream media controlled by those in power.
In this regard, I must stress that such sentiments will have no place in the administration of the State of Selangor and we will do our utmost to ensure that the principles of justice and moderation will prevail at all times. I am pleased that this sentiment is shared by the newly installed Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Most Rev Julian Leow Beng Kim. I noted with high regard his pledge to heal and build the nation and his view that a fresh narrative for the nation “would include mutual respect, interdependence and coorperation.”
“Of late, our beloved nation has witnessed a rising tide of intolerence and communal animosity fuelled by irresponsible quarters serving the interest of their own agenda”
As the state of Selangor is in many ways a microcosm of Malaysia with the distribution of the various ethnic and religious groups in the community, these developments and the manner in which the authorities respond, therefore, affect the nation as a whole.
This conference of world Muslim democrats cannot be more opportune coming at such a point in history where the term ‘Islamic state’ has become a byword and even ‘Islam’ itself has taken on so much negative connotation.
Hence, it is earnestly hoped that the views articulated on matters pertaining to these labels as well as democracy and Islam will help clear the confusion and misperceptions and contribute positively towards the furtherance of justice and moderation.
Last, but not least, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Mr. Jiro Hanyu, the chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation for holding this first International Conference of the World Forum For Muslim Democrat in Selangor. It is indeed fitting for a Japanese foundation to support the efforts to bring together Muslim democrats as well as democrats of other faiths, to deliberate on the challenges at hand.
As the first non-western democracy, Japan will no doubt play a pivotal role in the dynamics of engagement with Muslim democrats economically, politically and diplomatically. Despite the difficulties and set-backs currently faced by Muslim democrats in the Arab world and the formidable challenges ahead for the umma, I believe that the march for democracy in the Muslim world will gain from strength to strength.
Saya mengharapkan penglibatan dan penyertaan secara konstruktif daripada para demokrat Islam dan bukan Islam dalam wacana ini supaya dapat membina kefahaman dan melenyapkan prasangka terhadap Islam dan peranan positifnya pada zaman sekarang. Adalah diharapkan wacana ini menjadi wahana kepada pelaksanaan tahalluf siyasi di negara ini.