Monday, July 14, 2003

Islam in Era of Globalisation - Dr Mahathir Speech

Alhamdullillah, All Praise be for Allah, by whose
grace and blessings we are gathered here today to
discuss matters regarding our religion, Islam and the
ummah. I would like to thank the organisers for giving
me this opportunity to officiate this conference and to
speak on a matter that is close to our hearts.

2. But before that I would like to welcome all
participants and guests, especially those from outside
Malaysia to this country, this multi-racial and multi-
religious country where everyone accepts the
constitution which provides that Islam is the official
religion but the practice of other religions by their
followers are guaranteed. We believe in religious
harmony as advocated by Islam in Surah Al-Kafirun, ayat
five and six. " Nor will ye worship that which I
worship. To you your Way, and to me mine."

3. Islam does not have a system of hierarchical
priests but the Muslim scholars, the learned ones or
the ulamas as they are generally referred to, play an
extremely important role in the life of Muslim
individuals and the Muslim community. Such is their
influence that the stability and progress of Muslim
countries depend much on them.

4. The ulamas are said to be the successors or the
"warasah" of the Prophet. This makes them even more
powerful. Their words are often taken as the religious
truth and seldom does anyone dispute any pronouncement
made by them.

5. The great ulamas of history were truly learned
people with only an interest in seeing that Islam was
interpreted correctly. However even these great ulamas
differ in their interpretations of Islam. This has
resulted in schisms among the Muslims, so deep that
many sects cannot be reconciled to this day.
6. Thus we have the division between the Sunnis and
the Shiahs. Their differences have lead to frequent
wars between them. But the Sunnis and the Shiahs are
again divided by the different teachings of their
imams, who were of course great scholars or ulamas.
Then there are the different schools or "mazhabs" of
Islam which have resulted in further subdivisions into
Tarikats, with peculiar beliefs including the practice
of going into a trance as part of their religious
rituals. All these groups and beliefs emerge because
different ulamas interpret and teach the religion

7. Today the term ulama is used very loosely. Just
about anyone can claim to be an ulama, a successor of
the Prophet, entitled to make any interpretation or
pronouncement on Islam. They always have some
followers who can be quite fanatical. And Muslims
become even more fragmented.

8. Political Islam emerged almost immediately after
the death of the Prophet. The Khawarij and the Bani
Umayah formed distinct groups with their own
interpretations of Islam. And they warred with each
other. Since then, various manifestations of political
Islam have gained followings in most Muslim countries.

9. Political Islam is about using Islam for political
ends. With the advent of democracy political Islam has
become more trenchant. Very frequently political Islam
leads to deliberate misinterpretations of Islam to
justify and support their political agendas.

10. Thus political Islamists go so far as to declare
that anyone who does not support their political
parties as infidels, kafir, and will go to hell in the
afterlife. This frightens a lot of ignorant people
into supporting them. Such is the fanatical commitment
of the supporters that even obvious misinterpretations
by their leaders are accepted by them. And so when the
leaders of political Islam, the false ulamas declare
that Allah uses filthy and obscene words, that Allah is
a thug, a bully and a gangster, they readily believe
that Allah, the Merciful and the Compassionate, Allah
Al-Mutaqabir is a thug, a bully and a gangster. Yet
others interpret Al-Mutaqabir differently, as Allah the
Great, the possessor of greatness. The language of the
bazaar cannot be applied to Allahu Akhbar.

11. Every now and again a charismatic ulama would
emerge and declare himself as the Imam Mahadi, come to
save the ummah. Invariably they have proven to be
false and their leadership did not save the ummah.
Instead the ummah were often defeated and sink further
into weakness and backwardness. Still there are many
even in Malaysia who claim that they are the chosen of
Allah. And their followers fanatically support them.

12. While the ulamas are important in order to guide
the Muslims along the correct paths as taught by Islam,
it is clearly important that we do not accept everyone
who claims to be an ulama as genuine. Many self-
declared ulamas are pretenders with their own self-
interest on their agenda. These pretenders have
confused the Muslims so much that frequently their
practices can hardly be regarded as Islamic. And many
Muslim splinter groups were formed because of these
false ulamas.

13. It is therefore necessary that we examine
critically the teachings of the ulamas, whether from
the past or the present. Unity and brotherhood is
enjoined by Islam, but the different teachings and
interpretations prevent unity and many Muslims reject
the brotherhood of Muslims unless they belong to their
own groups or sects or even to their own political
parties. Differences in Islam is healthy and permitted
but surely not to the extent of condemning others as
infidels, kafir and to war against each other, forming
alliances with non-believers to fight fellow Muslims.
As we all know the Prophet s.a.w. brought only one
Islam. Now there are so many who declare that they are
the only true Muslims and practice their own brand of
Islam. The one religion of Allah as taught by the
Prophet has become hundreds of religions.

14. Consequently Muslims today are so very confused
and divided that they are unable to handle the great
changes that have taken place in the world during the
1,400 years after the Prophet taught Islam to the
Jahilliah. Some apparently believe that only by
recreating the way of life 1,400 years ago can they
become true Muslims. For them Islam is only for the
time of the Prophet and the people of Arabia and not
for all ages and situations.

15. We know that when the Jahilliah accepted Islam
they became enlightened people, were able to stop the
feuds and fighting between their tribes and were able
to build a great Islamic civilisation. They acquired
knowledge and skills and dominated the known world of
their times. They widened their territories and
acquired knowledge and skills in every field of human
endeavour and became truly Allah's Khalifah on earth.
Islam and the Muslims were respected by all humanity.

16. The great Muslim civilisation that the Jahilliah
and other converts to Islam initiated, resulted in
reforms even in the non-Muslim world. It is a fact
that mathematics, the sciences, medicine, astronomy and
many other fields of learning made tremendous progress
due to the work of the Muslim scholars. This is of
course completely in keeping with the teachings of
Islam, where the first injunction to the Prophet was to
"Read", "Iqraq". To read means to study, to acquire
knowledge. During the golden years of the Islamic
civilisation, the world looked up to the Muslims for
knowledge in all fields. The Europeans and the Jews
studied Arabic in order to gain access to the earlier
works of the Greeks, the Persians, the Indians and the
Chinese which had been translated into Arabic and
studied as well as expanded by Muslim Arab scholars.

17. The Muslims also became great traders, skillfully
sailing across vast oceans using their knowledge of
astronomy. Their trade with far away places also
resulted in the spread of Islam in the countries they
traded with. They were not professional missionaries
but their worldly success and exemplary behavior
impressed the local rulers, who then accepted Islam.
Indonesia is today the most populous Muslim nation
because of the Muslim traders from Yemen and India.

18. The spread in the teachings of Islam together with
the successes of the Muslims in the administration of
their territories as well as their skills and success
in trade and industry, gained for the Muslims respect
and awe in the world. They were regarded as a world
power. No one dared to oppress the Muslims or to
invade their territories.

19. But we all know that now far from being a world
power we, the one billion over Muslims, are easily
oppressed by the non-Muslims, easily defeated in war
and are forced to accept foreign rule and foreign
hegemony. The Prophet has been called a terrorist and
insulted openly. Muslim holy places have been
desecrated. Muslim countries, divided and weak, have
to pay homage to the powerful non-Muslim nations.
Today Muslims can be arrested and detained or may even
be executed for alleged terrorism. Although Muslims
suffer much more from terror, only Muslims and Islam
are linked to terrorism. The religions of non-Muslims
who commit acts of terror are not mentioned. We do
not hear of Christian terrorists, or Hindu terrorists
or Buddhist terrorists or Jewish terrorists although
there are as many of them as there are Muslim
terrorists. We only hear of Muslim terrorists.

20. We must ask ourselves why the Muslims have to
endure this humiliation presently; why we have become
so weak and incapable of standing up for our rights.
What has changed which has made the great Muslim
civilisation fall to such a low level? Is it because
Islam is a backward religion; is it what Allah has
ordained for us, or takdir or is it that we, the
Muslims have wrongly understood our religion and not
practised it correctly?

21. Firstly, is it because of the backwardness of
Islam that we cannot now compete with the non-Muslims
and defend ourselves? It simply cannot be. We know
that when the Jahilliah accepted Islam, their ignorance
was replaced by enlightenment and knowledge and they
became capable of building a great worldly civilisation
which encompassed almost the whole of the known world
then. This great civilisation lasted for almost 1,300
years. If Islam is the cause of the backwardness of
Muslims, there would never have been a strong and
advanced Muslim civilisation.

22. If it is not the religion of Islam which has
caused the fall of the Muslims, then is it because
Allah has ordained that Muslims be backward and
oppressed by others? Again it cannot be, for Allah had
raised the ignorant Arabs and others who embraced Islam
in the early years so that they became perfect
Khalifahs on earth and brought glory to Islam, the
religion of Allah. He cannot deliberately ordain that
Islam be humiliated and the Muslims oppressed for no
23. The only conclusion that we can make for the sad
fate of the Muslims is that they are not practising the
true teachings of Islam, that the Islam that they now
practise is wrongly interpreted.

24. We know that in 1492 the last Muslim kingdom in
Spain was defeated and the Muslims were expelled from
Spain. Why did this happen? If we look at the
history of Al-Andalus as the Muslims called Spain, we
will see that after the Muslims conquered Spain, they
set up a tolerant and enlightened administration. The
acquisition of all kinds of knowledge was encouraged.
A great library was set up in Khartubah or Cordoba.
Scholars from Europe came to Al-Andalus to study the
works of the Greek, Persian, Indian scholars,
scientists and mathematicians which has been translated
by Muslim scholars including the contributions of the
Muslim scholars themselves. Muslim engineers built
waterways to irrigate the country and agriculture
flourished. Products of iron and steel, copper and
bronze, and intricately carved timber were manufactured
and exported to bring wealth and fame to Al-Andalus.
Great mosques and palaces were built exhibiting a
unique architecture much admired by the Europeans.

25. However after some five hundred years the Muslim
jurists began to preach against this liberal attitude
towards the study of non-religious subjects. The study
of the works of the non-Muslims of the past was
discouraged. To gain merit in afterlife the only
subjects that should be studied were those related to
the religion of Islam. Slowly but with gathering
momentum the Muslims became ignorant and backward.
They paid less and less attention to worldly affairs,
allowed their wealth to be dissipated and their
military strength neglected. After the death of Al-
Mansur in the 12th century A.D. the condition of Al-
Andalus deteriorated and it broke up into many small
states. The rivalries between these states weakened
the Muslims further and one by one they fell before the
attacks of the Spaniards. Granada was the last to

26. The Muslim civilisation would have ended then
except that at about this time the Turkish Muslim
Othmaniah dynasty emerged as a power in the Eastern
Mediterranean region. These Turkish Muslims expanded
their control over the Muslim Arab territories in West
Asia and North Africa enabling Islam and Muslims to
continue to be a strong power in the world. Much of
the Balkan states fell under Turkish rule. But the
Turks did not keep up with the developments in Europe
in terms of industry, especially the development of new
weapons. Nor did they acquire contemporary knowledge
and skills. Towards the end they were more concerned
about dress codes, whether form-fitting trousers and
peak caps for the Yaniseri mercenary soldiers were
Islamic or not. Lacking modern weapons and troubled by
deteriorating discipline, the Turkish army rapidly
weakened. The British and the French moved in to
instigate the Arabs to rebel against Turkish rule.
Hoping to become independent of the Turks, the Arabs
forgot about Muslim brotherhood and collaborated with
the Europeans to defeat the Muslim Turks. But in the
end the Arabs did not get their independence because
the British and the French occupied their territories,
divided their lands and made colonies of these
artificial states.

27. Turkey itself would have become a part of Greece
had it not been for Kemal Ataturk who even though he
himself claimed to be a secularist, nevertheless lead a
strong Muslim Turkish force to expel the Greeks from

28. The history of the decline and fall of Al-Andalus
and the Othmaniah Turkish Empire hold many lessons for
us, among which is the need for modern knowledge and
skills in order to ensure the defence of the ummah.
For as long as the Muslims are able in accordance with
Islamic teachings to balance religious knowledge with
worldly knowledge, they would be strong enough to
defend themselves and their religion. When they
disregard this teaching and concentrate only on
religious knowledge they would become weak and unable
to defend themselves against their enemies.

29. It seems that we have learnt nothing from our
past, from the rise and fall of the Muslim civilisation
in Spain and Northern Africa, and the similar fate that
befell the Turkish empire in the East. Every effort to
develop the Muslim countries since then has been
opposed by Muslim scholars who believe that this world
is not for the Muslims, or who believe that there is
merit only in studying religion. Other pursuits are
considered as secular and worldly, including the
defence of Islam and the ummah.

30. The positive teachings of Islam are interpreted in
a negative way. Muslim unity is made conditional upon
acceptance of a particular belief or political creed.
Those who do not accept these conditions would not be
regarded as Muslims and unity with them is rejected.
When the Quran says that when we judge we must judge
with justice, we reject this injunction in favour of
adherence to procedures even if it results in
injustice. And many more teachings of Islam are
twisted and distorted so that the religion fails to
deliver the great promises of Islam.

31. It is not Islam which has resulted in the decline
of the Muslim ummah. It is the numerous
misrepresentations and misinterpretations of Islam
which brought about this misfortune on the Muslims.

32. Recently when Muslim countries were threatened,
Muslims in Malaysia like their brothers all over the
world prayed for Allah to save the Iraqi Muslims and
their country. But their prayers have not been

33. Is it that Allah s.w.t. has abandoned the Muslims?
Certainly it is not. In the Quran Allah has enjoined
that Allah will not change the fate of anyone (Muslims)
unless they strive to change their fate themselves
(Surah Al-Ra'du - Ayat 11). Allah has also enjoined
upon the Muslims that they must prepare their defences
in order to strike fear into the hearts of the enemies
and to defend the ummah.(Surah Al-Anfal - Ayat 60)

34. We know that the Muslims have not really tried to
change their fate, their weakness, and backwardness.
They have not tried to catch up and surpass their
detractors in knowledge and the capacity to produce
arms, to have disciplined and well-trained forces for
their defence. Allah s.w.t. has given them much wealth
but they have not used this wealth in the way of Allah.
They have made no real effort to unite. They refuse to
accept that the world of today is not the same as the
world of 1,400 years ago.

35. Frustrated with Israeli oppression and the
occupation of their lands, the Palestinians resorted to
suicide bombing. Many consider them as martyrs,
shahid. Yet the Malaysian security forces which fought
successfully to save this Muslim country from falling
into the hands of atheists are not considered worthy of
merit. Similarly no merit is accorded to the people
who study science, mathematics, engineering etc. which
are essential for building the defence capabilities of
Muslim countries. Nor are the people who industrialise
and enrich a country given any consideration. Yet all
these people help to strengthen the Muslim ummah and
prevent them from being humiliated the way they are

36. The Muslims will never be able to bring back the
honour and the respect for Islam and the Muslims unless
they become capable again of defending themselves. To
be capable there are many things that they have to do.
I have already mentioned them. We can restore the
glory of the Islamic civilisation if we orientate
Muslims towards the need to have all the skills and
knowledge to make the Islamic way of life - Addin -
admired, respected and held in awe by others.

37. The decision is ours to make. If we think we
should restore the glory of Islam and the Muslim
civilisation; we should free ourselves from oppression,
be capable of defending ourselves, then we have to
strive to do all the necessary so-called worldly
things. If we think we should not do anything worldly
then we should accept the humiliation of Islam, the
Muslims and their countries.

38. I have said that the Muslim scholars, the ulamas
were and still are the most influential members of the
Muslim ummah. They are capable of changing the Muslim
mind in any direction. If we think we want to progress
and become strong, the ulamas can motivate us.
Achieving all the things that our detractors have
achieved is not difficult. But we need to be pointed
in the right direction. The ulamas can help us do

39. Our salvation will not be achieved by blindly
killing innocent people. Rather we should plan and
execute a long term development plan and to excel in
all fields. Our rehabilitation will take a long time.
We have to be patient. Innallaha maassobirin. But
Insyaallah in the end we will succeed for that is the
promise of Allah s.w.t. He will not change our fate
until we strive to change our fate ourselves. We must
prove to the world that Islam is not an obstacle to
progress, that Islam is a religion for all times, that
Islam is a religion of peace and stability, that Islam
can co-exist in a world where Muslims make up only one-
sixth of humankind.

40. As I said it is for us to decide. Your conference
is important because it is a conference of the most
influential people among the Muslim ummah. If you
decide that you want to remove the shame of being
looked down upon and trodden under by those who are
against us, then you must tell us that you want us to
do everything possible to restore our past glory and
our great civilisation.

41. That is the decision that you as ulamas will have
to make and you have to make this decision by
consensus so that different interpretations will not
split us further. That is your collective duty to
Islam and the ummah.

42. Islam is never wrong. Allah has not ordained that
His religion be insulted or denigrated, nor the ummah
oppressed and humiliated. The sad fate of the Muslims
today is their own doing, their failure to practise the
true teachings of Islam. It is for the Muslims to act
to resuscitate their religion and bring back the past
glory of the Islamic civilisation. And the ulamas must
guide them through the correct interpretations of
religious exhortations. But the actual work must be
done by Muslims qualified in the various skills. It
would be disastrous if the learned in one field assume
they are experts in every field.

43. I wish you a successful conference. May Allah
s.w.t. bless and guide you in your deliberation.
Shukran. Thank you.

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