A summit to address the plight of the ummah

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN/ pic by BERNAMA

MALAYSIA will host leaders from Indonesia, Turkey, Iran, Qatar and Uzbekistan today at a high-profile gathering of Islamic leaders and decision makers to address the rising concerns plaguing the Muslim world.

The Kuala Lumpur (KL) Summit 2019 will focus on the malaise suffered by the world’s 1.75 billion Muslims and the intellectual discourse will seek resolutions to the common issues faced by the followers of the world’s second-largest religion.

The summit comes on the back of diplomatic overtures made by Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey on the sidelines of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in September where leaders of the three countries seek to create a new international television channel to combat Islamophobia in the West.

The three heads of state solidified their populist appeal by speaking against atrocities committed on the Rohingyas, the Palestinians and in Kashmir during their general assembly address.

Religious discrimination and hatred against Muslims in many parts of the world are among the issues that are high on the agenda at the three-day event. The gathering will also focus on areas involving food security, defence and development in the technology sector.

Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (picture), who chairs the summit, will deliver a keynote address. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the Qatar’s ruling emir Sheikh Tamim Hamad al-Thani are also expected to speak.

But the KL Summit has been under fire by the leaders of some Middle East countries over its guest list. They claimed the summit as a separate bloc outside the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) which is largely the platform to discuss issues related to Muslims.

Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s last-minute decision to opt out of the event fuelled speculation of the opposition from Saudi Arabia.

Pakistani news reports suggested that Khan was forced to reconsider his attendance by Riyadh given the perception that the summit intends to replace the OIC. Pakistan is the world’s second-largest Muslim country after Indonesia.

Indonesia VP Ma’ruf Amin has also cancelled his scheduled visit to Malaysia to attend the KL Summit, citing health problems, Turkish news agency Anadolu Agency reported yesterday. Indonesia is represented by its Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.

Dr Mahathir, however, refuted the claims of Saudi’s pressure, saying Khan was never forced to attend the event in KL.

“That’s his choice, there is no compulsion. He probably could not attend because he has something else to attend to,” Dr Mahathir said.

The outspoken leader also held a conference call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Abdulaziz Al-Saud late Tuesday evening where the latter, who carries the title Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, conveyed his stance that issues on Muslim nations should be discussed through the OIC.

The presence of Iran’s Rouhani further irks Saudi Arabia which has been on a cold war with the largely Shiite Muslim country for decades.

King Salman later reaffirmed his views on OIC via Saudi’s state news agency.

The OIC was established in 1969 and is the second-largest intergovernmental organisation after the UN with 57 member states.

The majority of its members are Muslim-majority countries, while others such as African and South American countries have significant Muslim populations.

But the organisation has long lost its force and significance in resolving conflicts including the bloodbath involving Palestinians and sanctions by the US against Iran.

Detractors have labelled it as a mercenary that safeguards strategic and vested interests of super powers in the Middle East region.

Many observers view the OIC as a forum that has failed repeatedly to unite the global Muslim world.

The PM’s Office issued a statement where it described the KL Summit as “a non-governmental organisation initiative, supported by the Malaysian government and is not intended to create a new bloc as alluded to by some of its critics”.

The KL Summit 2019 may not have the rubber stamp endorsement of the UN but the over 1.7 billion Muslims have the right to be heard in a world that requires decisive actions to uphold the religion and the future of the ummah.