Malaysia is a study in apparent contradictions. While the mainland boasts the famous Petronas Towers in the highly developed capitol at Kuala Lumpur, the Borneon states of Sabah and Sarawak are still home to hunter-gatherer clans. Though the nation’s sizeable Muslim population is subject to shari’a law, its non-Muslims are not. Malaysians of many different races and religions have lived side by side with relatively little conflict for decades. This remarkable accomplishment should make other nations take note—and in the West at least, it has. An absence of conflict does not equal unity, however, and Malaysia faces real problems as it seeks to bestow upon its citizens a sense of national identity.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has the unenviable task of uniting Malaysia’s disparate societies, and of communicating to them all his vision of a peaceful, progressive Muslim-majority nation. Fortunately for the United States, and much to the chagrin of his political opponents, he’s up to the challenge and has just extended his efforts to make more allowance than ever for religious diversity.
Najib’s endorsement on Sunday of the Inter-faith Relations Working Committee’s mission is just one indication of his commitment to Malaysia’s unity. It’s also a sign that he’s not willing to sacrifice Malaysia’s unique cultural and religious diversity in order to reach that goal; instead he will do the harder work of continuing to unify a disparate group while allowing for maximum diversity:
Goodwill and understanding among races and religions are the core foundation of building a strong, prosperous and harmonious Malaysia, as envisioned in the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) and the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said.
The Prime Minister said the country would not be able to grow and develop if there was lack of understanding among its citizens of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.
“The Government cannot transform (the country) and achieve what is planned under GTP and ETP if there is no unity and harmony.
“These two points are the essence of this nation and we must work hard, not only to preserve this but also to bring unity and harmony among races to a new level.”
This is exciting news for both Malaysia and for Western leaders who are eager to work with a progressive Muslim nation, but not everyone is pleased. Najib’s own Deputy Prime Minister rebuked the committee earlier this year, before its work had even begun:
“They are just small fry, a small role played within the Prime Minister’s department,” he said.
Muhyiddin also said the committee will not touch on Islamic matters, although he later denied using the term “small fry” and said he had referred to the group as a “minor committee.”
Najib’s endorsement of the Inter-faith Relations Working Committee, combined with his upcoming visit to the United States, signal his growing eagerness to do what it takes to make Malaysia both a better place to live, and an attractive prospective for foreign leaders and investors.Read more.