LONDON: Sitting in Lecture Theatre 2 of the Cambridge Judge Business School, listening to a talk on Rahmatan lil ‘Alaminor ‘The Compassionate Islam’, I felt that it was the kind of lecture that I wanted to hear, and had the kind of speaker or lecturer who made me want to listen and know more about the subject.
The speaker was Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mujahid Yusof Rawa, whose present task is to bring this philosophy to the international stage and make the world understand Islam and see it as a religion promoting universal values.
The hour-long lecture, delivered off the cuff with just a few glances at his script, was presented in a well-structured manner, all the while engaging the audience. In short, it was impressive. It has been a long while since I heard an impressive speech delivered in such a manner.
‘It is essential to state the position of Islam in relation to the rise of radicalism and the growing of Islamophobia, being aware that there is a need to change the negative perception towards Islam,” said Mujahid to his audience about the need to have the right narrative of Islam.
Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin, admitted Mujahid, is not a new concept.It has been discussed and debated in the academic realm. Books, he said, were written to describe the values of benevolence, kindness and mercy that Islam advocates.
‘But what is new is that the Malaysian government, through the Prime Minister’s Office, intends to translate the ideas into government policies transcending the ideas into practical solutions to the contemporary challenges,’ said Mujahid, admitting that it was a new policy as part of the government’s efforts to create a new image of Malay-sia in addition to promoting a model of shared prosperity and peaceful coexistence.
Now, this makes the philosophy a tough one to deliver, especially coming from a multicultural country with a lot of baggage to deal with at the moment. The baggage will be scrutinised when the concept he is sharing is brought to the world.
How do we share our experiences while we are dealing with what’s happening in our own backyard?
Mujahid said that in Malaysia, the presence of various ethnic and religious groups have led to irresponsible parties igniting the fires of race and religion, creating worry among some who have been living harmoniously together for a long time.
‘In effect, the community suffers from some extent of erosion of trust in each other, hence giving birth to Islamophobia and xenophobia.
‘The current government is seriously looking into this challenge and is committed to address the issue through a broad vision of ‘Malaysia Baharu’ or the Shared Prosperity Vision.’
Speaking to the minister after his lecture, Mujahid said before the government can convince the outside world of the success of this model, he felt the pressure of the need to show that the model was successfully implemented in Malaysia.
‘The challenge that we face in our own country cannot be taken lightly, especially when these new ideas that we promote are not readily acceptable, especially in the context of our multi-racial society. This is a challenge to me, and with social media showing this policy in a negative light.
‘We too have to counter these negative images using social media. So it is important that in this case, we are able to have this narrative out there via social media.’
At the moment, the push is via top universities abroad, starting with the Cambridge School of Business and later, to Harvard in the United States, although the minister had spoken on this concept before it became a policy at the Beijing foreign studies department in China and in Jordan.
Mujahid said the rationale behind presenting it to top universities was borne by a desire to link up with its academicians.
‘We also need their input in terms of government policies, not just academic. There is a possibility that there are people who are interested in doing research.
‘There were some who were doing their PhDs who said this was something that had relevance to their research area, about interracial community.
‘So this in a way also helps foreign academicians to see the policy that we implement in Malaysia.’
Mujahid said the concept of a compassionate state can only be gauged by the success of its implementation and impact.
‘It is indeed a long way but I believe we can reach there.’
The lecture, though well received, nevertheless left me with one disturbing feeling.
We had a good product in terms of Mujahid, who delivered an impressive message at a very impressive location in Cambridge. However, we do need the right crowd - the international crowd that was intended to listen to his message - to be there in Lecture Theatre 2.
And perhaps, or rather, more importantly, a local i.e. British media to be present to bring the message even further to the intended audience.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Thursday 14 November 2019