By Datuk Dr Nasharudin Mat Isa
On April 5, the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation was invited to participate in the organisation of an international conference on the topic of moderation – an Islamic Approach to face the Global Transition on Asean and Thailand.
The organisers, scholars and activists from the Scholars for Peace, as well as the Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University, had also invited me to deliver a keynote address on moderation – in due recognition of the necessity to further understand moderation, and to engage with the foundation on ways it can advocate and participate in the dissemination of moderation.
Such a topic is timely given that the world we live in today is one that is full of contradictions. On the one hand, with growing material wealth and advances in science and technology, human civilisation has developed, dare one say, as never before.
On the other hand, frequent regional conflicts and global challenges like terrorism, human refugees and trafficking, as well as poverty, unemployment and the ever-widening income gap, have all added to the rising uncertainties of the world. So much so, what started as economic and political crises have somehow become religious conflicts.
This has led to many feeling a sense of bewilderment and if I may, led to chaos at certain points, as people wonder: What has gone wrong, or where did we go wrong with the world? One thing has led to another, and this chain reaction of events has seen to the rise in extreme protectionism policies as well as creating a sentiment of false populism.
The divisions upon Brexit have been succeeded by the chaotic scenes in the United States, while there represents, too, within Europe, a rise for the policies and sentiments by Dutch Geert Wilders and French Marine Le Penn in their respective nations.
Asean, too, is not exempted in this matter. As a region that celebrates its diversity – with a significant number of Buddhists, Muslims and Christians living side-by-side – inter-communal and inter-religious issues have risen. Olden and yet-to-resolve issues have led to newer and more complicated ones.
In short, we seem to have come back to what the English writer, Charles Dickens, had so famously uttered: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
It is in our view that these inter-religious issues, more so in the context of the conference’s topic, have arisen due to the hijacking of Muslim terminologies. It is this very scenario that has long been feared by erstwhile learned scholars of Islam, namely the confusion and corruption of knowledge – as propagated between two sets of extremism visibly seen today.
One is the hard-line terror as espoused by Da’esh and its ilk, which ultimately led to the unfair coinage of the term “Islamic terrorist”.
A terrorist, whatever his propensity – be it Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Christian – should always be identified and condemned as a terrorist, and never by his religious affiliation. This was noted just as well by Asst Prof Dr Pirongrong Ramasoota, the vice-president of Chulalongkorn University, in her speech, who pointedly remarked that the 969 Movement does not represent Buddhist tradition nor can the Ku Klux Klan ever be seen as a Christian movement.
Now, at the other end of the spectrum, there are the sects of people who seek to define and promote Islam (or any other religion) and its terminologies according to their own whims and desires, foregoing the true and correct disciplines of Islamic knowledge.
These two sets of extremes have also given birth to a clash of confusion between Arabisation and Islamisation.
There needs to be a differentiation between the two, so that peaceful coexistence can take place in the context of Asean.
Essentially, amid all these challenges, the fact remains that there is the discernible need and desire for us to bequeath our future generation a sea of tranquillity, instead of passing on an ocean of stormy currents and muddied waters.
For this to happen, moderation is the way to go. The conundrum to these confusions vis-à-vis challenges has always been prescribed to within man’s history.
Tomorrow Part 2 – in the quest for peace and prosperity, progress must always be tempered with the spirit of humanism and education
The writer is executive chairman and chief executive officer of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation. He spoke at the International Conference on Moderation – An Islamic Approach to Face the Global Transition on Asean and Thailand – at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok on Wednesday.