Stating that there is no conflict between Islam, modernity and democracy, Malaysia’s Prime Minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim pointed to India, saying that in the world’s largest democracy with the second-largest Muslim population, Muslims have accepted democracy. Addressing a discussion on issues affecting the ‘Muslim world’ organised by the Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought, Ibrahim said the idea of “inclusivity” is central to his mind.
Referring to the eruption of the issue of temple demolitions in Malaysia in 2008, Ibrahim said he and his party had taken the position of compensating the Hindu community and rebuilding the temple. “It was an issue of justice and tolerance. I was here in India soon afterwards and there were around nine media houses pounding on this issue at me, but I could stand on a moral high ground. My stand was that no temple should be demolished in Malaysia and it is also expected that the same principle be followed across the world,” he said, adding, “Though I didn’t mention any specific mosque here.”
“We can stand on a high ground only if we are seen to be morally coherent and consistent, which unfortunately is not the case, both in Muslim and non-Muslim countries,” he said.
Asked if there exists a conflict between Islam and modernity, Ibrahim said these are questions framed by the West, which show a lack of understanding of Muslim societies. “There is no conflict whatsoever. There are texts on Islamic modernity and we talk about democracy compatible with Muslim. This a narrative created in Washington and London. Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, is a democracy. In India, which has the second-largest Muslim population, Muslims have accepted democracy. We have Turkey and Malaysia and well. This idea stems from not actually understanding Muslim society and by looking at the Arab countries as the entirety of the Muslim world,” he said.
Former chair of National Minority Commission, Tahir Mahmood, however, asked how there can pluralism in a country with a state religion, pointing particularly at Malaysia. Admitting that there have been excesses against religious minorities in Malaysia, Ibrahim said they were “nothing” compared to other countries, “including this (India)”.
“We do not have a state religion. Islam has been said to be the religion of the federation while respecting worship of all other religions. Six per cent of our cabinet are Indians. Our Chief Justice is Christian, Minister of Finance Buddhist… It’s the actualisation of ideals which is important,” he said.