The Muslim world is in a “state of crisis” with countries fighting fratricidal wars, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Thursday, as he urged a summit here of Islamic leaders to “develop and progress as fast as possible” and end their dependency on powerful non-Muslim nations.
Saudi Arabia and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have shunned the meeting in Kuala Lumpur, attended by hundreds of delegates from 52 mainly Muslim-majority nations. Both issued veiled criticisms on Wednesday against the four-day event, saying it could emerge as a competitor to the Jeddah-based inter-governmental body’s role as the collective voice of Muslims.
Mahathir, however, said the gathering aimed to find out what had caused the “pain and anguish” among the nearly 2 billion people worldwide who follow Islam.
“Yes, Islam, the Muslims and their countries are in a state of crisis, helpless and unworthy of this great religion,” Mahathir said in a keynote speech, as he sought to explain why he had helped organize the Kuala Lumpur Summit.
“At the very least, through our discussion we may find what went wrong,” he said. “We may even find solutions, if not to end these catastrophes at least to awaken the Islamic world.”
Saudi Arabia has described the summit, which ends Saturday, as the wrong forum for important issues affecting the Islamic world, and OIC Secretary General Yousef al-Othaimeen warned that such gatherings could divide Muslims. The leaders of Iran, Turkey and Qatar – countries that are seen as rivals to the Saudi kingdom – were among those who addressed the gathering on Thursday.
In his speech, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan agreed with Mahathir that the summit was needed to provide a venue for Muslim leaders to talk freely about issues such as Islamophobia, terrorism and sectarian conflicts ravaging the Muslim world.
He criticized “platforms” that bring the Islamic world together for their “lack of implementation.”
“It is a must to update the platforms such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation which brings Islamic countries together, in such a way to increase their effectiveness,” Erdogan said of the 57-member OIC, the Muslim world’s largest intergovernmental body.
Turkey’s leader also criticized the U.N. Security Council, saying it had “completed its lifetime,” as he called for a “new structure” to protect the interests of Muslim countries.
“The system … leaves the fate of 1.7 billion people of the Islamic world to the enjoyment of the five permanent members of the Security Council,” Erdogan said, referring to China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and United States.
“The world is bigger than those five,” he said.
Late Tuesday, Mahathir had assured Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during a phone call that the summit in Kuala Lumpur had no intention of creating a new Muslim bloc that would rival the OIC.
The following day, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who along with Mahathir and Erdogan had been a prime mover behind the summit, decided to stay away from the meeting in Kuala Lumpur at the last minute. According to news reports from Pakistan, Khan cancelled his plan to attend the meeting to appease Riyadh.
Indonesian Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, who was scheduled to stand in for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, leader of the world’s most populous Muslim nation, also said he could not attend the meeting here, citing health concerns.
‘We cannot deny the facts’
On Thursday, Mahathir pointed out in his speech that many Muslim nations had become “dependent on the mercy and charity of the non-Muslims.”
“To my mind, we have no choice but to develop and progress as fast as possible,” the 94-year-old prime minister said.
“We cannot deny the facts that there are fratricidal wars in several Muslim countries, that many are beholden to the powerful non-Muslim nations,” he said, emphasizing that Islamic nations “cannot even equip [themselves] with the means to ward off the attacks by others.”
During the day, Mahathir and Erdogan witnessed the signing of 15 agreements, including a deal with Turkish firearms company TISAS to jointly produce handguns for Malaysian security forces.
Turkey and Malaysia also signed agreements on research and development in defense and aerospace.
When his turn came to address the summit, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani proposed the creation of a Muslim cryptocurrency and a banking system among Islamic nations, allowing them to end their dependency on the U.S. dollar.
“The Muslim world should be designing measures to save themselves from the domination of the United States dollar and the American financial regime,” he said in his speech, without explaining how the economic framework would work.
Rouhani, whose country has been under U.S. sanctions since 2018, also called for joint research on artificial intelligence and cyberspace.
The conference’s first full day saw no discussion about the plight of stateless Rohingya refugees from Myanmar or the persecution of Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region, but summit organizers had indicated earlier that such issues could be addressed during the event.