So, today I attended a conference in Kuala Lumpur called "Peace Symposium: The Relationship Between State and Religion".
I was genuinely interested to see what was being discussed, but was also not surprised at the topics raised. In other words, many things said were rather superficial and restricted to misconceptions and the general view that religion (or a strict understanding of religion) was to blame for many of the woes of the state.
This could be no less manifested in the fact that many of the speakers were liberals (and even non-Muslims) attempting to argue for an increased form of secularization within Malaysia. However, what was more revealing was the fact that there were some U.N. representatives present at the conference, and they were considered its major donors. Not only that, but the keynote speaker they invited - "Maulana" Azhar Haneef -- is an American Ahmadiyya missionary, which is not even part of the orthodox creed of Islam.
The fact that such a conference received such generous funding from the outside -- and its primary representative was a man who has absolutely no ties to the majority of Muslims in Malaysia or their theological views -- should raise some very suspicious eyebrows.
At the end, I was able to ask a question to the speakers, which I think may have caught the eye of the U.N. observers, but also facilitated some healthy dialogue: "Why is it that so many people are attempting to secularize Islamic ideas and practices when there is a historical trend that the MORE secular Muslim majority nations become, the MORE violent they become as a result?". I then followed up with some historical examples (Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, etc.).
Most of the speakers dodged my question all-together, stating that it was a "waste of time" to even discuss the issue. However, one non-Muslim attempted to answer by simply stating: "It's true that secular Muslim-majority nations are more violent, but that's because they aren't really secular; the religious clerics are in control."
Needless to say, I almost laughed at the absurdity of his response. However, my question was met with applause and even some participants coming to me at the end and thanking me for asking it.
But what still lingers is this -- how is such a conference able to operate so openly without people noticing the anomaly of its presence? Once again: foreign funded with primarily non-Muslim and liberal speakers that don't even represent the Muslim majority in Malaysia. This is not an accident, nor is it something to be apathetic about.
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