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A Voice for Moderation: Badawi on Islam

Tun Abdullah Badawi at the Asia Society on Oct. 19, 2009. (Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)

Tun Abdullah Badawi at the Asia Society on Oct. 19, 2009. (Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)

NEW YORK, October 19, 2009 - Former Prime Minister of Malaysia Tun Abdullah Badawi spoke with Asia Society President Vishakha N. Desai about the role of Islam in contemporary Malaysia, Badawi’s political career, and his involvement with ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Badawi discussed the challenges he faced in office and his experience with Islam Hadhari or “Civilizational Islam,” a form of government based on the teachings of the Quran.

When asked if he believed in the prospect of a unified, progressive, and tolerant Malaysia, Badawi said, “It takes time…  for me it’s going to be an effort I must continue even now.”

Desai then asked him about the controversy over "affirmative action" in Malaysia.  He explained that after independence, the Malays, Chinese, and Indians were identified as belonging to three distinct occupational functions in society: the Malays have become policemen and soldiers, the Chinese are businessmen, and the Indians make up the labor force. He said the Bhumiputra, or quota system, which favored Malays, was invented to battle this social division.

Badawi claimed that one of his biggest regrets is that he was unable to make these changes: “I wish I had more time [to change] the mindset of people… Whatever we do the people must be with us...and they must be ready for this change.”

As for his achievements, Badawi said he founded The Institute of Advanced Islamic Study in order to conduct in-depth studies on various aspects of Islam, with an emphasis on Islam Hadhari. He said it is especially important after 9/11 to educate the world about Islam in an effort to combat religious stereotypes.  “We must find a common platform… Between the Muslims and Christians there is plenty of common ground, we should not be disputing, we should not be quarreling, we should not be enemies,” he concluded.

Reported by Sulagna Ghosh