Malaysian PM: Muslims 'at crossroads'

POSTED: 2:31 a.m. EDT, May 29, 2007


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- Malaysia, Indonesia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan have challenged Islamic countries to work together to create a new golden age to liberate Muslims from poverty, conflict and extremism.

The five nations told an Islamic conference on Monday that many of the 1.6 billion Muslims globally rank among the world's poorest people with an international reputation that has been tarnished by false perceptions that most support terrorism.

"We are now at a crossroads in our history as an ummah (Muslim community). Never in the history of the ummah ... have we faced such great odds," Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told government officials, corporate executives and analysts attending the World Islamic Economic Forum.

"While the nations of the West basked in the glory of their global ascendancy, Muslim nations were largely consigned to what people term 'the Third World,"' Abdullah said.

He noted that the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference accounted for only 5 percent of world's gross domestic product in 2005 despite comprising 21 percent of the global population.

Abdullah said Muslim nations must take bold measures such as investing heavily in education. He cited the examples of his own country, which spent 8 percent of its gross domestic product on education in 2004, and the United Arab Emirates, which recently announced a US$10 billion (euro7.4 billion) endowment for investments in education across Arab countries.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who leads the world's most populous Muslim country, said Islamic nations can work "as a collective force" for their own development because they currently supply 70 percent of the world's energy requirements and 40 percent of raw material exports globally.

"We in the Islamic ummah can achieve true solidarity among ourselves ... and reclaim the eminence that (we) enjoyed in the Golden Age of Islam," Yudhoyono said.

He suggested Muslim countries remove trade barriers to boost business and encourage tourism.

Kuwait's Prime Minister Sheik Nasser Al Mohammed Al Sabah said another challenge for Muslim countries is to promote dialogue with the rest of the world, especially to "refute activities by the minority (of Muslims) who do not represent the tolerance of Islam."

Sheik Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the Crown Prince of Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates, said such efforts to improve ties with other nations were necessary because "the Muslim world is not an island, it is part of the (larger) world."

Zahid Hamid, Pakistan's Minister of Privatization and Investment, said a widening ideological chasm between the West and the Islamic world has resulted in Muslims "paying the highest price for being caught in the clash between extremism and moderation."

Islamic countries increasingly feel "the overwhelming majority of Muslims ... are being demonized for the actions of a small minority," he said, adding that frustrations have grown because of persistent conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestinian

Yasmic Mahmood of Microsoft Malaysia