Friday, April 13

City Circle: Pluralism and Islam: Lessons from Malaysia Click for more info

Shout pluralism, and I'm there. However today's talk wasn't quite the pluralism I was thinking of; this was more about Islam coexisting with other faiths and cultures rather than exploring the common themes between them all.

Still, that's not to say it wasn't interesting. Malaysia is an interesting place to talk about, especially for Muslims in the UK. This isn't, as some people seem to think, because of the similarities in terms of integrating Islam into a western democracy. No, in actual fact it's because it's an example of the exact opposite: the integration of non-Muslims into an Islamic democracy.

Professor Khoo Kay Kim was the guest tonight. Of his many points, here are the ones I thought were interesting enough to jot down:

  • Malaysia is an unusual and complex place; enough so that most Malaysians don't understand it themselves.
  • Non-Malays don't really understand Islam.
  • Muslim Malays don't think that Islam is relevant to non-Muslims.
  • Not all Malays are Muslims.
  • Muslims are failing in their role as ambassadors of their religion.
  • Muslims need to explain their religion to others, and not just on a practical or superficial level.
  • Citizenship is rooted in education: "To build a nation, build a school".
  • Placing a national ideology into any curriculum must consist of more than just memorising a constitution.
  • The 31st of August, 1957 wasn't about independence, but more about the transferring of sovereignty from rulers to the people.
  • Politics seems to focus people on their "roots".
If I'm honest the talk was more about Prof Khoo than the subject he was talking about. Most of his lecture was composed of quips, anecdotes and stories, each very simple but powerful in demonstrating the issue he was trying to raise.

Like I mention above, Malaysia is a polar opposite to the UK with respect to the status of Islam in society. I found it surprising then that many in the audience felt that it could be analysed for answers to the problems we have here; the reason why I think it can't is because unlike in Malaysia the Muslims here are in the minority. The issues aren't just inverted, they're quite different.

Still, some of the global themes apply, like teaching others about Islam ourselves, rather than allowing non-Muslims to do it for us, so if Malaysia holds any lessons at all for us, it should be to do that much.