International Conference on Poverty in the Muslim World and Communities: Causes and Solutions
Legend Hotel and International Islamic University Malaysia,
14-15 December 2004
Kazi Shahdat Kabir
Department of Political Science
International Islamic University Malaysia
This highly successful international conference on “Poverty in the Muslim World and Communities: Causes and Solutions” both in content and participant was organised by the International Institute for Muslim Unity (IIMU). Paper presented were an interesting diverse as they were intellectually stimulating. The participants also came from far and near, giving the conference a truly international character. It was held in the Legend Hotel, Kuala Lumpur as well as the campus of the International Islamic University Malaysia, Gombak, Kuala Lumpur from 14 to 15 December 2004. Six keynotes addresses (three English and three Arabic); sixty nine papers on poverty in English and Arabic were presented. The conference was attended by fluctuating audiences of 150 to 300 individuals.
The conference was declared open with the opening address by YB Tan Sri Dato’ Nor Mohammed Yakob, the Second Finance Minister of Malaysia, who represented Y A B Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Tan Sri Nor Mohammad Yakob read out the speech of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmed Badawi. The conference was also attended by Minister of Higher Education Datuk Dr. Shafie Mohd. Saleh and Grand Mufti of Oman Samahat Al-Sheikh Ahmad Hamad Al-Khalili.
According to Datuk Seri Abdullah, the theme of this conference in well chosen and particularly appropriate given the present dire situation faced by the Muslim Ummah today. He also said he is disheartened to note that Muslim countries are often perceived to be synonymous with poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, corruption, oppression and even tyranny. In his speech, Datuk Seri also mentioned that according to Human Development Index last year showed that only five of the Muslim majority countries have high human development standard, 24 countries medium and 17 countries low human development standard. He noted that Malaysia had been able to reduce poverty significantly from just over 50% to 5% within 30 years. He said successful anti-poverty measures must adopt a comprehensive approach that does not neglect any social group.
In his welcoming remarks Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Sanusi Bin Junid, President, International Islamic University Malaysia cum Chairman, International Institute for Muslim Unity said the government under YAB Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s leadership is now focusing on poverty eradication, and YAB Datuk Seri Abdullah is also the Chairman and therefore the leader of the OIC, this conference on the subject of the poverty is very timely indeed. According to Tan Sri Sanusi “poverty, as love, pain and suffering is a realm of the experience, which can not be described accurately.” Malaysia has experienced poverty as one of its national problems. Despite the great success that we have achieved in our effort at poverty eradication, the experience of poverty is still in our living memory, Tan Sri Sanusi added.
Prof. Shukor Kassim, Prof. Chamhuri Siwar and Prof. Amer Al-Roubaie gave the keynote address after opening ceremony and tea break, Prof. Abdul Rashid Moten chaired the session. Prof. Shukor spoke on the background, early history, its performance and showed same successful case studies of Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia (AIM), the organization has been working restlessly for last 17 years in Malaysia to assist the poor in improving their livelihood through Ikhtiar Loan Scheme, “that are described to those who are willing to help themselves and with viable project, irrespective of ethnicity, religion, gender or political affiliation.” Prof. Shukor highlighted female members’ more Bankable and Creditworthy attitude which shows their 95% repayment rate compared to 75% among male members. Prof. Shukor’s discussion attacked most of the participants in the conference, since; it was based on his practical experience. In his discussion he frequently quoted Prof. Younus, the founder of the Grameen Bank Bangladesh and inventor of micro credit program in Bangladesh that have been followed by 35 countries in the world including Malaysia. AIM program is the replica of Grameen Bank model. Prof. Amer al Roubaie stress that poverty is a complex phenomena, it has different kinds. It has been staying with us and it will not be solved.
Therefore, after discussion somebody asked if problem will not been than why are we here? According to World Bank report, Prof. Roubaie said there are about 1.5 billion people who live on less then US $ 1 a day, the majority of them in developing countries. Prof. Roubaie lamented that worldwide Muslims are more familiar with poverty then anybody else. On average, a Muslim earns about US $ 1,200 per year compared to US $ 5,200 for world’s average and US$ 25,000 in high-income countries. About 500 million or close to 40% of Muslims is classified in the low-income category by the United Nations. Prof. Chamhuri Siwar views that there is no universal way of analyzing poverty across the countries. Poverty reduction strategies are also different in different countries depending on the specific context of the countries.
In the panel discussion Prof. Ataul Haque argued that in the 50s and 60s the colonial master controlled our destiny. They gave lot of money for family planning and asked for industrial development. After that we depended on their technology, asked for aid and became aid dependent as well. Some countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia succeeded due to the strong government system, political will and positive intervention. Prof. Abdullahi Barise said, alleviation of poverty is good deeds; so it is the moral responsibility of all people. The morning sessions of the second day of the conference was marked for the presentation by 28 scholars in the English and Arabic parallel session. Besides, there were 17 English and 19 Arabic papers presented in the evening session. On Bangladesh issue there were four paper presented by Dr. Mohammad Abdul Mohit, Br. Kazi Shahdat Kabir and Sis. A. M. Sultana. Dr. Mohit’s presentation was the description of Grameen bank’s activities in Bangladesh towards poverty alleviation and women empowerment. Sis. A. M. Sultana sees the high rate of population growth and women’s illiteracy are most important factor for rural poverty in Bangladesh.
Most of the rural women are illiterate; because of illiteracy they are not aware about family planning. By increasing literacy rate, population growth could be decreased. Sultana sees education has the power to reduce family size leads poverty reduction. Br. Kazi focused on the conflicts between the liberals-NGOs and Islamic forces in rural Bangladesh, since ulamas sees NGOs in Bangladesh are anti-Islamic, secular and hostile to the indigenous values, similarly, NGOs sees Islamic forces are anti-modern, anti-development and against NGOs activities in general, which becomes one of the main obstacles for NGOs development activities in Bangladesh. He particularly looked at the reason of this conflict and proposed some solutions.
Br. Ibrahim looked at the abuse of political power by both military and civilian administration has lead to collective loss of Nigerian society. Institutionalizing the Sadaqah, Zakah, Mirath and Madrassah systems and other socio-economic measures in Islam can only eradicate the poverty in the midst of the most Nigerians according to Br. Ibrahim. Br. Nosiru sees poverty alleviation in Nigeria through education through the Arabic/Islamic school in Nigeria. Sudan as a case study discussed by Prof. Dr. Kamal Saleh, Prof. Chamhuri Siwar & Sis. Samia Elsheikh and Dr. Garoot Suleiman & Br. Muawya Elmaboul. Dr. Garoot lamented that the most important explanatory variable behind the perpetuation of poverty and underdevelopment in the Muslim world is the prevailing international economic and political system imposed by Western countries based on legacies of colonialism and imperialism. The Islamic countries should work towards more political and economic integration, for that they will have to set up customs unions and common markets so that they start producing capital goods and ships airplanes and advanced technology to stop dependency on the West for these kinds of strategic products, Dr. Garoot stressed. Prof. Chamhuri has mentioned in his paper that according to the human development report, Sudan ranks 139 out of 173 countries and is third in the category of low human development countries.
A unique study was done by Dato’ Prof. Dr. Jamil Osman on Malay-Cham community in Cambodia. Since the Muslim community in Cambodia consists mainly of Cham, descendents of the kingdom of Champa whose existence has been recorded in Chinese documents at 192 AD and Malays who came over through centuries from the Malay Archipelago. He concluded by saying that there are several steps and changes need to be implemented for the sake of economic and educational development of the Muslim community in Cambodia, since they have been suffering from poverty and weak education. In the closing session Tan Sri Sanusi urged all to join the battle against common enemy that is poverty.