Malaysian political leader to host Islamic conference in wake of PM’s controversial summit

Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim. (AP/File)
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Updated 07 January 2020

Malaysian political leader to host Islamic conference in wake of PM’s controversial summit

  • The event is expected to include celebrity Muslim scholars

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim is to host an international conference aimed at tackling global challenges faced by Muslims.

This week’s meeting comes in the wake of Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s controversial Kuala Lumpur Summit in December, which was criticized by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) over its list of invitees.

Anwar, who is president of the People’s Justice Party, along with his politician daughter, Nurul Izzah, will gather together a high-profile panel of global Islamic experts for the Unity in Diversity (UID) Conference 2020 being held in the capital on Jan. 8.

News portal Free Malaysia Today said that the event would include “celebrity Muslim scholars” that were “theologically aligned.”

Speakers are expected to include American Muslim scholar Omar Suleiman, the founder of a Texas-based Islamic think tank, Nuruddin Lemu, the son of Nigerian Grand Mufti Ahmed Lemu, and Yasir Qadhi, a Saudi-educated Pakistani American scholar.

A spokesperson for the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) and the Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF) said the idea for the conference first came about in July last year when Anwar had met with Suleiman while they were both performing Hajj, adding that it was “mischievous” to suggest it had been staged as a follow-up rival to Mahathir’s gathering.

Ali Salman, CEO of the Islam and Liberty Network Foundation, told Arab News that Anwar’s UID conference could not be compared to the Kuala Lumpur Summit because the level of engagement with world leaders was quite different.

He said both events “should be taken only as a start, as large parts of the Muslim community still live under conditions of authoritarianism, poverty and bigotry.”

Anwar has been widely tipped to succeed Mahathir as PM of Malaysia, but no date has been set for any transition of power.

“In any event, the domestic political struggle in Malaysia should not overshadow larger questions and issues faced by the Muslim world,” Salman added.

Prof. James Chin, an Australia-based Malaysia expert and director at the Asia Institute, told Arab News that the UID conference would likely be of little significance to the Islamic world.

“This conference consists of people friendly to the leadership of the Islamic world in contrast to the KL Kuala Lumpur Summit. Outside the Islamic world, it will have little appeal to the rest of the world.

“Of course, Anwar will be the main beneficiary of this event as he will reinforce his international brand as a progressive Islamic leader,” Chin added.

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 22 January 2020

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.