Malaysia’s prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and Uzbekistan’s president Islam Karimov have received public recognition for their presumed services to Islam. Neither man will be dismayed by the dubiousness of the honour or its source.
Mahathir is the current recipient of the King Faisal Prize for Services to Islam. The source of this award speaks for itself. Saudi Arabia is the avowed enemy of Islam is a well known fact no longer their friends can hide. The Malaysian premier was cited in the prize as ‘a living example of an Islamic leadership reconciling the confirmation of fundamental Islamic values, in theory as well as practice, and the employment of modern development techniques in a way which has put his country in the forefront of nations.’
Mahathir was also honoured for following a ‘wise policy, which has entrenched friendly ties between the Muslims and non-Muslims of his nation,’ according to the citation as reported in the Arabic daily, Al-Hayat, on January 15. Other reasons for the dubious honour included the ‘establishment of Islamic cultural institutions such as the International Islamic University, the Islamic Bank, the Centre for Understanding Islam and the Enterprise for Economic Development.’
The inordinate praise for the perceived Islamic, and economic policies of Mahathir is bound to strike most Malays as an invention of the Saudi imagination with no reference to what is happening in their country. Even in Malaysia the people are becoming more and more aware that Mahathir regime’s economic policies are undermining all moral values and culture, particularly among young people.
A perceptive article published in the Crescent International (September 16-30, 1996) under the headline: ‘Malaysia: a model Islamic State without Islam’, analysed the effect of the government’s economic and social policies on the country’s moral values. ‘Those mesmerised by Malaysia’s economic growth considering it as a role model for the Muslim world had better think again,’ the article warned. ‘Problems which have hitherto been associated almost exclusively with America or Europe are no longer frowned upon in Malaysia.’
The article cited ‘pornographic videos, free sex, loitering, teenage pregnancies, gangsterism’ and baby dumping as some of the problems Malaysians were accepting as normal in the rush to industrialise ‘albeit with imported technology’ - depicting them as a ‘cancer eating away at the moral foundation’ of the Muslim country.
Unlike Mahathir, the Uzbek leader, Islam Karimov, did not win a prize, but he received praise and public recognition from the country’s grand mufti as a dedicated defender of Islam. The mufti unashamedly told a BBC world service news programme on January 16 that Karimov ‘has done so much for Islam.’
The Uzbek president, who has banned Islamic movements or even parties in his country, is ‘so proud his name is Islam’ the mufti enthused. Under his leadership, ‘the State will provide space’ for new mosques, he said, adding that ‘all that one has to do is to write to the government.’
The Uzbek minister of culture, Erkin K Khaitbayev, told the same programme that ‘Islamic extremists will not be tolerated in his country. ‘We will never allow Islamic extremists to establish an Islamic republic in Uzbekistan,’ he said.
Karimov first became president on March 24, 1990, and was re-elected by direct popular vote on December 29, 1991. But his term of office was extended to the year 2000 by a rigged referendum on March 27, 1995.
In a sense it is unfair to put Karimov and Mahathir in the same category. Unlike the Uzbek leader, Mahathir did not suppress Islam as an agent of an occupier: Karimov as a former communist served the Soviet regime in crushing Islam before 1989 when the system collapsed and Uzbekistan became independent two years later.
But both men are confirmed secularists and do not, by any stretch of the imagination, deserve to be honoured as friends of Islam.
Muslimedia - March 1-15, 1997