January 30, 2006

Saudi king’s Malaysia trip targets Muslim concerns

By Jalil Hamid

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - King Abdullah begins on Monday the
first visit by a Saudi monarch to Muslim Malaysia in 36 years,
a trip whose potential could stretch past concerns over trade
and oil to offer ways to reshape the Islamic world.

Analysts said King Abdullah, who is leading a delegation of
300 people, cabinet ministers and businessmen among them, could
draw a lesson from fast industrializing Malaysia, which
champions the view that Islam and modernity are not mutually

"Malaysia's importance stems from the fact that the entire
Muslim world views it as a successful model of a modern Islamic
state," said Abdulaziz Sages, chairman of the Gulf Research
Center, based in Dubai.

"As the leader of the Islamic world that houses the holiest
shrines, Saudi Arabia is grappling with the process of
internalizing the virtues of moderation and modernization under
the leadership of King Abdullah," Sages said in an article
published on Sunday.

"Drawing from the reservoir of Malaysia's experience could
not only prove beneficial to Saudi Arabia, but could chart a
peaceful, progressive and prosperous road map to the entire
Islamic world as well," he wrote.

King Abdullah, who will arrive in Malaysia at 0830 GMT on
an Asian tour that has included China and India, will hold
talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,
current head of the 57-member Organization of Islamic
Conference (OIC).

The summit comes at a time when Muslim nations increasingly
find themselves grappling with problems of poverty,
unemployment, economic instability and a global tide of fear
over militants who claim inspiration from Islamic principles.


Ties between Riyadh and Kuala Lumpur have never been
better. Abdullah, an Islamic scholar by training, has visited
Saudi Arabia at least three times since taking office late in

"I see there are a lot of similarities in the thinking,
especially in the approaches to develop Islam's image by being
open and competitive," said a Malaysian deputy minister,
Zainuddin Maidin, who was in Saudi recently.

Malaysia, whose Muslims make up just over half its
population of 26 million, is similar to an Arab state in many
ways. The Southeast Asian country is a net petroleum exporter,
an OIC member and a U.S. ally in the war against terror but a
vocal critic of U.S. handling of the Israeli-Palestinian

The country is also increasingly a magnet for Arab
tourists, who shun many Western countries since September 11,
2001. This year alone, more than 200,000 Arabs visited
Malaysia, up from just 50,000 a year before September 11.

Malaysia's ties with the Arab world date back to the 13th
century, when Arab traders brought Islam to Southeast Asia.

The Malay language uses both Roman and Arabic scripts and
some Malaysians, such as the Syed clan, trace their roots to
Yemen and other Arab states.

Tens of thousands of Muslim Malaysians travel annually to
Saudi, the birthplace of Islam, for the haj pilgrimage.

As Muslims across the world seek answers on how to re-shape
Islam to fight terrorism, preach tolerance and moderation and
gain respect, Malaysia's Abdullah offers a ready solution.

He calls it Islam Hadhari, or 'civilizational' Islam.

"We in Malaysia would like to show by example that a Muslim
country can be modern, democratic, tolerant and economically
competitive," Abdullah said in a speech. "Islam does not enjoin
us to turn our backs against the rest of the world."