Malaysia’s longest-serving former prime minister was honored with a lifetime achievement award at a virtual event on Friday that also featured a special lecture by him.
The Sinan Wren Foundation, a thought leadership organization based in Turkey and the UK, hosted Mahathir Mohamad for its annual Shaykh Ahmad Al Sirhindi Ramadan Lecture.
Muslim countries should ensure good governance,” said Mahathir, whose tenure as premier in the 1980s saw a steep rise in Malaysia’s socioeconomic development.
“It is because of the good governance that the [Muslim] countries will progress,” he added.
The nonagenarian politician, who served as the Southeast Asian country’s fourth and seventh prime minister, stepped down from the position in February 2020. He has since been critical of corruption in succeeding governments.
Muslim communities must “upgrade, educate, and make themselves skilled,” Mahathir said at the virtual event moderated from Istanbul.
“Knowledge of science and mathematics is very important and everybody must have it,” he said, lamenting how “Muslims everywhere are oppressed because we are weak.”
Describing the former Ottoman Empire as a world power, Mahathir, a medical doctor by training, said: “We could not do much for Palestinians whose lands have been taken away because we are weak and our strategies were wrong.”
“We have the OIC but it cannot agree on anything,” he said referring to fault lines in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — the second largest multi-national platform constituted of only Muslim-majority countries.
On the situation in Myanmar, he said: “We can try and apply pressure, whatever little, at the ASEAN level.”
“I would have proposed breaking relations with Myanmar, but I am not the prime minister,” he said, referring to Malaysia’s position on ongoing demonstrations against the Feb. 1 military coup in Myanmar and the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.
Focus on capacity building, higher education
Responding to a volley of questions from participants who attended the event from around the world, Mahathir repeatedly insisted that Muslims should “focus on capacity building, higher education and making themselves indispensable for the society.”
“When big powers think that you are important to them, they will protect you,” Mahathir said.
To questions on the issues of Palestine, Uyghurs, and Kashmiris, Mahathir suggested: “We should let all the world know about atrocities, then you can have some solidarity if not any action.”
“You have to be well-educated, well-organized, disciplined, firmly objective,” he told a Kashmiri participant.
“You have to be patient, upgrade yourself, find ways where you can become absolutely necessary to your society,” the former Malaysian premier added.
“When you find you are weak, then you lose,” he opined.
An author of over a dozen books, Mahathir believes that solidarity is a must to “reduce oppression, [but] strengthen yourselves in whatever way possible.”
Become indispensable for society
Mahathir proposed that Muslim minorities should acquire more education and skills to become innovative. “Then, the majority will see you as an important segment of the society.”
“As a minority,” he added, “We should make ourselves inconspicuous. Train and upgrade ourselves, until you have certain abilities that make you less prone to attacks.”
Quoting the proverb “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Mahathir urged Muslim young people to work on themselves to navigate the challenges the Muslim nations face.
Announcing the lifetime achievement award to honor Mahathir for his public services, the foundation unveiled a plaque adorned with Islamic calligraphy.
The South African calligraphist based in Istanbul who prepared the plaque explained the Arabic writing on it: “A leader of the people is the one who serves them.”-AA