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Islam on Edge


Anwar Ibrahim’s Islamic Agenda

December 13th 2010

Arab Topics - Anwar Ibrahim

The list of prominent U.S. admirers of Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s former Deputy Prime Minister, on trial for corruption and sodomy, is impressive. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, former President of the World Bank James Wolfensohn, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Letters of support on his behalf praise his leadership and fight “for international justice, peace and development.” Strangely, these prominent figures fail to notice that Anwar’s fight is not for democracy, justice and peace according to Western principles. Instead, his call is for democratization “on the platform of Islam.”

It is Anwar’s constant advocacy of Islamic rule that led the Qatar-based spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf Qaradawi, to join the defenders of the Malay politician.

Qaradawi, one of the most influential modern Islamic scholars, was banned from entering the U.S. in 1999. Among other terrorist-linked activities, Qaradawi headed the Saudi-based charity the Union of Good, an umbrella organization for some fifty Islamic fundraising groups funding al Qaeda and Hamas. The Union of Good was designated by the United States in 2008 as a supporter of terrorism. Qaradawi has also advocated suicide bombing as “ martyrdom in the name of God,” and the killing of American and coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, he issued a fatwa forbidding Muslims from buying or even advertising American or Israeli products.

But the Qaradawi-Anwar affiliation and business ties, as do Anwar’s many articles and speeches championing Islamic rule, continue to elude his Western supporters.

Anwar’s advocacy of “Islamic democracy,” ostensibly meant to fight for social justice and freedom of religion, makes him popular with Westerns desperately seeking moderate Muslim leaders. However, even a cursory review of Anwar’s speeches on democracy and Islamic finance over the decades show that Anwar is a committed Islamist in the mold of Sayyid Qutb.

One of the Muslim Brotherhood’s most influential ideologues, Qutb’s books, Social Justice (al-Adala al-Ijtima’iyya, 1949), and Milestones (Ma’alim fi al-Tariq, 1964) argue that Western democracies have failed, and that only the earliest days of Islam should serve as a model for society. Qutb’s books are known to have contributed to the radicalization of jihadists such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abdullah Azzam, and Osama bin Laden … and the self proclaimed champion of democracy, Anwar Ibrahim.

In 1999, imprisoned on previous charges of corruption and sodomy, Ibrahim wrote to Abdul Hamid Abu Sulaiman, a fellow director of the Virginia-based Muslim Brotherhood’s International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT): “I’m trying to keep myself busy—with prayers … and reading … Sayyid Qutb and Maulana Maududi’s tafsirs (interpretations).“

On October 12, 2006, lecturing on Islamic revivalism in Malaysia in Washington DC, Anwar reiterated that he was most influenced by the writings of “Syed Qutb, Hassan Al Banna, and Maududi.” The three are known as the ideological fathers of Islamic revivalism as practiced by the global Muslim Brotherhood organization.

The establishment of an independent “Islamic economy” is an important factor in the Muslim Brotherhood agenda. Consequently, the development of Islamic banks is viewed as critical to facilitating the establishment of a global Islamic state.

The first successful Islamic banking experiment was the Mit Ghamr Savings Bank in Egypt, in 1963. The Egyptian government, which subsidized the bank, shut it down in 1968, after Muslim Brotherhood-led demonstrations swamped the country.

Islamic banking was introduced in Malaysia in 1963, with the establishment of Tabung Haji (Pilgrim’s Fund), a savings institution created to help Muslims save towards their pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). But the Islamization of Malaysia began in earnest in 1981, when Mahathir Mohamad became Prime Minister. He immediately established the Islamic Consultative Body (ICB) to oversee the implementation of national development programs according to Islamic values.

Mahatir’s ambition to turn Malaysia into a “model Muslim nation” seemed to convince Anwar, then president of the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (ABIM), to join the government. Soon he became a major proponent of the Islamic Banking Act (IBA), and the establishment of Bank Islam Malaysia Berhad (BIMB), in 1983.

However, Islamic banking was slow to catch on until 1993, when Anwar—who had risen to the position of Malaysia’s finance minister—helped to introduce the newly invented “Islamic Banking windows” into conventional banks. This measure, which familiarized clientele with and built confidence in the unknown Islamic banking system, proved central to the development of the global Islamic finance industry.

Anwar often sprinkles his presentations with Arabic phrases from the Quran and other Islamic books while touting the socio-political aspects of Shari’a banking. He claims that Islamic banking and economics, based on “maqasid al-shariah,” i.e., “the objectives of Islamic law,” could help create wealth and eradicate poverty.

Anwar’s noble talks of solving poverty and spreading justice and democracy seems to distract his Western supporters from his commitment to replace Western political, social and economic principles with Islamic laws. However, throughout his political career, Anwar has openly rejected Western values while promoting Islam. In his 1983 speech on “Development and changing political ideas,” at the 50th Anniversary Conference of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, Anwar criticized the “wholesale imitation of Western values and practices” in Malaysia. These should be replaced, he argued, with Islam, which “provides an ideological alternative to the dominant paradigm.”

More recently, speaking at Australian National University, on November 15, 2010, Anwar declared: “Democracy is … presumed [in part] to be defined by the conditions of the free market. And this is where the founding fathers of the French Revolution with their clarion call for liberty, equality, and fraternity missed the mark … this is because a free market is based on competition, and competition, being a zero-sum game, has no truck with equality. On the contrary, free markets engender inequality … Islam enjoins that while society may pursue commerce to the fullest, justice and fairness must remain the chief criterion … in order to establish a humane economy.” Anwar posted this speech, along with most of his others, on his website.

With so much readily available information on Anwar’s advocacy of Islamic supremacy, and his ties to sponsors of violence against the West, it is disconcerting that his Western supporters still consider Anwar a hero, “fighting for international justice, peace and development.” Does it have to be published by Wikileaks for U.S. officials to finally acknowledge Anwar Ibrahim’s Islamic agenda?

Rachel Ehrenfeld, is director of the NY-based American Center for Democracy, and author of Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed—and How to Stop It.

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