Towards Consensus

In 2006, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, published a collection of speeches under the title, “Islam Hadhari: A Model Approach for Development and Progress”. In his third chapter, “Islam, Malaysia, and the Wider World”, he declares that civilizational dialogue cannot succeed without conflict resolution, which is at the forefront of the Malaysian government’s efforts.

In addition to issues requiring conflict-resolution within Malaysia, Abdullah expressed his intention to work with conflict resolution centers in the West, to learn their methodologies as well as to resolve outstanding issues that affect Muslims.

We applaud the Prime Minister’s “problem-solving” approach, and we support all further application of social science research and development to the issues of inter-faith dialogue that have become so important in today’s world. We are keenly aware that the younger generation has little patience or respect for ideological formulations that do not actually and visibly solve problems.

There are several mediation techniques that we in Malaysia are now studying and trying to apply to resolution of some of our most recent inter-religious conflicts. Indeed, the present Malaysian Prime Minister’s national campaign and slogan, “One Malaysia, People First, Performance Now” cannot possibly be implemented without an expansion of the government’s present repertoire of problem-solving skills, although a noble effort is being made.

But before addressing these various issues themselves, we must familiarize ourselves with various mediation methods that have been developed in many other countries as part of any modern commitment to actually solving problems.

As committed Muslims, we are so keenly aware that the principle of “consensus” (or “shura”) as mandated by Al Qur’an is the correct method of Islamic social and political progress, that we urge all of our fellow Muslims to develop methodologies of consensus immediately, especially taking into account developments in high technology that are changing the face of governance. With a world population approaching seven billion souls, we will need every technological resource to sustain formats for consensus.

If we believe our Prophet’s tradition that we are all like one body, in which the distress of one part must influence us all, we would like to point out that recently, it seems that the poorest of our human communities, such as in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, North China, and now Haiti, are bearing the brunt of unprecedented natural disasters. And these disasters do not even touch what MIT’s Noam Chomsky (in his recent “What We Say Goes”) warns as the ever-increasing likelihood of nuclear conflict.

If, then, our human social body is becoming truly ill, then the weakest and most vulnerable portions are our poorest people. This is why these poor innocents are taking the brunt of early phases in the collapse of the earth’s eco-system. However, it may be only a matter of time before our modern plague of natural disasters moves into the more advanced societies, such as our own. Mother Earth may indeed be warning us, and purifying herself of our mis-management.

Social Scientists who have studied the phenomenon of human happiness have discovered that the average index of happiness in countries is correlated with the diminution of the gap between the rich and poor of that country (see Ingelhart, R., and Klingermann, H.D.: “Genes, Culture, Democracy, and Happiness”, in Diner and Sukh (ed.), “Culture and subjective Well-Being”, Cambridge, 2000).

A corollary of what they have discovered is that happiness does NOT correlate with wealth. For example, Myers and Diener (Psychological Science 6: 10-19, 1995) report that, in spite of the fact that average purchasing power in America has increased enormously in the past fifty years, the proportion of the population that describes itself as happy remains stubbornly at 33 percent.

If human happiness correlates with effective wealth distribution, then our Islamic economic system assumes primary importance in providing such happiness worldwide, and we Muslims have a clear duty to further develop these systems as quickly as possible.

The previous Protestant/Capitalist interest-based banking system will inevitably widen the gap between rich and poor, as more and more money is made by people who already have money. This capitalist “riba” system cannot, then, produce happiness, even for the successfully rich among the capitalists, since unhappiness is now seen to increase at all levels along with the gap between rich and poor.

The number of young people no longer willing to sacrifice their personal happiness on the altar of this or that economic or religious ideology are increasing. That is why they are becoming alienated from us, their elders, in ever greater numbers, and resorting to drugs and sex to restore the feelings of happiness which they perceive us as robbing from them, through our incompetence and hypocrisy.

We pray that Allah swt will enlighten us all, and guide us, in securing human life in a viably happy form on this fragile earth, insofar as it may be His Pleasure to do so.

Jakarta 27 January 2010, Post-Indonesia/ US Interfaith Cooperation Meeting

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