History

The International Conference on Islam and Development in Southeast Asia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, September 25-26 I991

The International Conference on Islam and Development in Southeast Asia was held during September 25-26, 1991, at the Equatorial Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The conference was jointly organized by the Academy of Malay Studies (University of Malaya), the Islamic Academy (University of Malaya), and the Information and Resource Center (Singapore) and was sponsored by the Hanns-Seidel Foundation. The conference’s stated aim was to demonstrate the differences in programs for cooperation between Islamic countries, the integration attempts of developing countries, and the actual economic and political situations of Southeast Asian countries.

There were four main panels in the program: a) Islam and Development in Southeast Asia: A Historical Perspective; b) Islam and the Political Process; c) Islam and Economic Development; and 4) Islam and the Future of the Region.

In the first panel, Khoo Kay Kim (professor of Malaysian history, University of Malaya) pointed out that Muslims have historically emphasized education, while in modem times they have tended to allow education to be shaped by outside rather than inside influences. In addition, Muslim education in Southeast Asia has lagged behind national development. At present, the education system in Malaysia continues to produce students who memorize what is written in textbooks and then simply repeat what others have said. They rarely think critically, are reluctant to produce original writing, and expect to be given easy-to-swallow answers to any political, social, and economic phenomenon. They then repeat these same simplistic answers when faced with important questions.

Despite efforts to Islamize the curriculum, this situation still exists. However, it has now changed from a situation where important issues are inadequately addressed by secularists to a situation where important issues are inadequately addressed by Islamists. The Malaysian education system has become too prescriptive and restrictive; students are just given all the answers, particularly the “right” answers, and they are not taught how to think.

Also, intellectuals in general are considered a nuisance by politicians, businessmen, and social leaders. According to Kim, Islam has to come to terms with Western ideas, otherwise Islam will lose out. A confrontational attitude is dangerous and counterproductive. . .discretion is the better part of valor.

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