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Monday, 13 February 2023 15:09

Systems Approach Underpins Anwar's MADANI Agenda

At first glance, the prime minister's MADANI governance framework may appear to be another catch-all phrase to replace previous national campaigns such as Vision 2020, Islam Hadhari, 1Malaysia, Shared Prosperity, or Keluarga Malaysia.

However, in contrast to earlier legacy policies, which were largely based on a single dimension–whether it is rapid development, promotion of Islamic civilisational aspects, solving socioeconomic inequality, or enhancing national unity–-the new MADANI governance framework is structurally unique in that it embraces multidimensionality and multiple factors in order to achieve its vision of a better Malaysia.

The MADANI programme is distinctive in that the primary focus has now switched to holism and the interdependence of multiple fundamental goals or conceptions. This emphasis on holistic thinking and dynamic perspectives in policymaking are the two pillars of the "systems thinking” approach, which was developed in the 1950s and has since pervaded all disciplines at the highest levels.

Surprisingly, both supporters and detractors of the newly launched MADANI appear to overlook this ‘systemic’ aspect. Instead, the Arabic term Madani and its philosophical foundations in Islamic discourse on civil society received the greatest attention.

An opposition MP, for example, challenges Anwar's MADANI discourse by pointing to its lack of adequate Islamic grounding and comparing it to discourse brought up by eminent scholar Naquib al-Attas' debates on the matter since the early 1990s. In response, a PKR member who is also an Islamic preacher asserted that the concept predated al-Attas, and that al-Farabi and Ibn Khaldun, the classical giants of Islamic scholarship, should be considered the concept's original pioneers.

These and other epistemological disputes that dominate discussion on MADANI, however, miss the document's main premise, which is a public policy framework that recognises the complexity and interconnectivity of numerous factors in solving policy issues.

The original English acronym for MADANI, SCRIPT (Sustainable, Care & Compassion, Respect, Innovation, Prosperity, and Trust), characterises itself as an integrated and holistic endeavour in which its six components do not function in isolation. Each component is interconnected and interdependent, and they provide feedback to one another. This is primarily to tackle the new difficulties of the postnormal period, which is characterised by an "accelerated, globalised, and networked world immersed in contradictions, complexity, and instability".

One of the benefits of a systems thinking approach is that it predicts the unpredictability and multidimensionality of a complex problem by design. Adopting traditional policymaking without fully comprehending the complexities of the issue risks presenting remedies with unexpected repercussions.

Among the unintended consequences of policymaking are 'fixes that fail,' in which policy interventions exacerbate the problem they are meant to address. For example, a government directive outlawing mass meetings and promoting social distancing during the pandemic may suddenly draw more people to stores for panic shopping and bus stations to return to their hometowns. Other examples of COVID-19-related policies included mental illness caused by seclusion, domestic violence, small-business closures, and disruptions to democratic political processes. The systems thinking approach, which recognises complexity, is intended to anticipate such policy impact.

International organisations such as the United Nations (UN) have widely used systems thinking to solve a variety of important global concerns, such as its sustainable development efforts, human capital development projects, and management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WHO uses systems thinking to explain how non-communicable diseases (NCD) like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are linked to other health conditions and socioeconomic determinants of health like poverty, lack of education, and environmental variables. In its Health System Strengthening (HSS) strategy, the WHO emphasises the need for a comprehensive and integrated approach to health systems, taking into account the interrelationships of financing, governance, and service delivery.

Furthermore, systems thinking is also increasingly being used in international negotiations, such as in climate change negotiations and even armed conflict, to understand the interrelatedness of different issues and to develop more effective agreements.

Even in the subject of Islamic law, there has been a growing interest in applying systems approach as a solution to handle the complex and dynamic challenges of modern and even post-modern society.  Jasser Auda is one example of a Muslim thinker who concludes that the emphasis on the Shariah's objectives (Maqasid) is in fact a wholostic and systemic approach. In his most recent book, Re-Envisioning Islamic Scholarship, Auda uses the Quran and Sunnah to explain systems concepts such as interrelations, emergence, and wholism.

Finally, MADANI’s use of systems thinking is a positive step in the right way. This method is useful in policymaking because it allows policymakers to have a more holistic and integrated view of the complex issues they must solve. As a systems-based paradigm, MADANI offers enormous promise for addressing complex social and political issues in Malaysia and creating a more just, equitable, and sustainable society.


*Wan Naim Wan Mansor is Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS Malaysia). He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ahmad Badri Abdullah is Deputy CEO and Principal Fellow at International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Fasting to Muslims is a practice of abstaining from food and drinks, sexual contact, arguments and unkind language or acts from dawn to sunset. It is the fourth pillar of Islam. 
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25 January 2023 (Wednesday)
08:30pm - 11:30pm (Malaysian Standard Time GMT +8)
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