Reaching out to the Rakyat: Ikram’s search for a ‘rahmah nation’

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Ikram is an Islamic organisation that strives for moderation, progressiveness and acceptance of everyone from all walks of life, write Ibrahim Tajuddin and Eugene Yapp.

In a recently published article entitled ‘“Islamic Assault on Malaysia’s Higher Education” by Murray Hunter, it was saidthat the ex-Education Minister Maszlee Malik had left behind a column of Islamic activists in the top echelons of the ministry and public universities.

Citing a former vice-chancellor as a source, whom he did not name, Hunter pointed out that the appointments of 26 new vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors were not made on merit but on the basis their of loyalty to Maszlee, Salafi preachers and Perlis Mufti – Muslim legal expert – Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin. He added while referring to the same source: “If Maszlee had more time as the Minister of Education, both the Ministry and almost every top position in Malaysia’s public universities would have been filled with members of an Islamic NGO dedicated to enhancing Islamic teachings and practices in everyday life. That NGO is Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia.” Hunter also lumps other organisations affiliated with Ikram as assisting the same cause.

What is disconcerting about Hunter’s article is the claim that Ikram’s leadership has been infiltrated by Salafi sympathisers pushing fringe ideas of Islam. Salafism, according to Hunter, is “a revivalist crusade within Sunni Islam that developed in Egypt in the late 19th Century as a response to Western European imperialism”. Following Hunter’s line of thinking, one may say by extension that those who are associated with Ikram will similarly further the cause of Salafism in the country. And so, according to the article, there is an explicit agenda to Islamise the higher education system in Malaysia rather than pushing for education reforms.

Who then is Ikram which Hunter alleges as pushing fringe ideas of Islam and who are those affiliated with Ikram?

There is Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM), a coalition of 27 civil society organisations of mixed faiths, human rights, community service providers, think tanks and educationist groups – whose overall goal is to respond to the critical challenge of national unity and inter-religious harmony.

Amongst the mixed faith civil society organisations within GBM, Ikram stands as one of its founding members. The senior leadership of Ikram are also senior leaders and executive committee members of GBM. Within this coalition, Ikram embarks on nation-building projects such as the promotion of inter-ethnic and religious harmony over issues such as the constitutionality of vernacular schools and the recent Jawi controversy.

In working together with other member organisation within GBM that are of different faiths and ethnic composition, Ikram uses the guiding principles of Islam to disseminate and educate the public on a better and more prosperous way of life where people are able to find and understand themselves and those around them.

In this respect, Ikram’s vision of a ‘rahmah nation’ deserves mention simply because non-Muslim coalition members within GBM such as the Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) and others are able to stand together with Ikram on such goals for nation-building.

  • competent and accountable leadership
  • an administrative system based on effective checks and balances
  • good governance
  • fair and just laws
  • a knowledgeable, civil and compassionate society
  • strong family institution
  • harmonious ethnic and religious relations
  • a stable and thriving economy
  • equitable distribution of wealth
  • sustainable development
  • the safeguarding of citizens’ welfare, health and security
  • the spearheading of global peace and humanitarian efforts

The detailed implementation of such concepts and goals remains to be worked out in total and to be fully effected. Within the multi-ethnic and multi-religious make-up of GBM, Ikram has collaborated with other ethnic groups to foster a better and deeper understanding of each other’s religious cultures and practices. It has conducted the Aidilfitri Harmony celebrations which saw various ethnic performances carried out and food stalls established for the Rakyat to get to know the food of other ‘ethnicities’. It has exchanged views with academics and lecturers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), China. It was one of the GBM participants that launched the National Unity Piggy Bank and more recently one of the co-partners that organised the Forum Jawi: Saling Memahami to help ease misunderstandings on the Jawi issue. 

Ikram’s Impak Bahasa Malaysia

Within local communities, GBM has initiated and contributed to the welfare and development of local communities through the Impak programmes. Originally adapted and modified (by one of GBM’s longstanding members, the Tamil Foundation) from the United States’ Parents Assisting Student Success (PASS) programmes, GBM organised classes held for parents to educate them so they could educate their children. Using the Impak Chinese programme, GBM reached out to both parents and school-going children in low-income areas to benefit them.

Because of its effectiveness, from September 2016, Ikram took the lead in starting the Impak Bahasa Malaysia programme for residents in the Kota Damansara People’s Public Housing scheme, collaborating with other NGOs such as Friends of Kota Damansara and Community Transformative Initiative. It held two batches of classes from 2016 to 2017, benefiting over 30 Malaysian Malay, Chinese and Indian parent-participants and their children. It held family days for the participants solely to enhance relationships between the parents and Impak organisers. Plans for Impak’s implementation program include taking it to the schools and offering more such programmes in the Kota Damansara People’s Public Housing scheme and nearby schools in Petaling Jaya and Kajang.

Since 2018 the Impak Bahasa Malaysia programme was taken forward: Ikram held eight Training for Trainers sessions for Impak Bahasa Malaysia, of which three were at the national level. The other sessions were for trainers in Putrajaya, Sabah, northern Malaysia, Johor and Simpang Renggam. As of May 2019 378 Impak Bahasa Malaysia trainers and two master trainers conducted over 24 Impak Bahasa Malaysia classes across the country from October 2018 to May 2019 with a record number of 516 parents of different ethnicities participating. The closing ceremony of Karnival Sayangi Komunitiku (Love My Community Carnival), held at the Taman Wahyu People’s Public Housing scheme, witnessed a new launch of the Impak programme by Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s representative, P Prakabaran. 

Ikram’s actions in this programme over the past few years reflects greatly its commitment and concern for not only Muslim communities but also non-Muslim as well. We in GBM can say that Ikram is an Islamic organisation that strives for moderation, progressiveness and acceptance of everyone from all walks of life.

Based on this, Ikram advocates progressive ideologies such as creating dependable leadership for the Rakyat, equality and justice. The guiding principles of Islam that Ikram adheres to include initiatives to form understanding and collaboration with other ethnicities, with different religions to work together to achieve the ‘rahmah nation’.

In this climate of misunderstanding, uneasiness and suspicion towards each other and perhaps anxiety over the Islamisation agenda, a great deal of effort must be made to dispel the fears of all communities, to replace them with inclusiveness and acceptance with mutual respect and to embrace the shared value of striving for the common good. 

All Malaysians owe this responsibility to themselves, their children and their families to make this dream a reality. It is our duty, as loyal Malaysians, to seek the welfare of the city and the country with justice, compassion and mercy. The urgent call is to prioritise the welfare of the poor and unfortunate and to aim for a cleaner and sustainable environment. 

Above all, it is important to create a harmonious community with respect for diversity, given the ethnic and religious mix in the country. Hunter’s article has failed to achieve this. Rather than spur educational reforms, the article has brought disrepute and fostered further dissension and suspicion among the communities. 

We all agree our nation is not perfect; there is much that is not right with it, and there are differences of expectations in terms of our national trajectory and even identities. But that is within the realm of dialogue and negotiations. Most critically, it is in reaching out to all Rakyat – who are of different languages, beliefs, practices and cultures – that we can forge a common understanding among Malaysians.

Ibrahim Tajuddin is a senior executive with Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia while Eugene Yapp is a programme consultant with GBM.

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