The Muslim world must practice interreligious understanding if it is to sustain democracy, said president of the People’s Justice Party Anwar Ibrahim, expected Malaysian prime minister, at an event Tuesday.

Ibrahim is a senior fellow at the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and served as a Georgetown professor of Islam in Southeast Asia from August 2005 to December 2006.

After more than a decade in prison, Ibrahim and former Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad joined together to oust former Prime Minister Najib Razak. The Mahathir-Ibrahim coalition took control of the government, with Mahathir assuming the role of prime minister. At 93 years old, Mahathir has promised to pass down the prime ministership to Ibrahim within two years, according to The Washington Post.

@ARABIAANALYST/TWITTER | President of the People’s Justice Party Anwar Ibrahim, right, expected Malaysian prime minister, urged cooperation among communities of different faiths at an event Tuesday.

The event was hosted by the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Copley Formal Lounge and was moderated by John Esposito, founding director of the ACMCU.

Although Malaysia is a majority Muslim country, 38.7 percent of Malaysians practice other religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity. The Muslim communities in Malaysia and across the world must embrace interreligious cooperation to fight issues of corruption, Ibrahim said.

“Unlike a more exclusive view about Islam, or Islamic movements or Islamic parties, Muslims in Malaysia realize that we must work as a community of Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists with a clear agenda,”  Ibrahim said. “We want democracy, we want justice, we want to rid the country of corruption, we want then to make sure that no one community will be marginalized or ignored. I hope we can share this with many of our friends in the Muslim world and also the West.”

Ibrahim’s rise in the political ranks of Malaysia as a founder and leading figure in the People’s Justice Party comes after two separate terms in prison, according to The Washington Post. As deputy prime minister and finance minister during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Ibrahim had a falling out with Mohamad. Shortly after, Ibrahim was jailed on charges of corruption and sodomy, which he has claimed were fabricated.

Ibrahim was found guilty of corruption in 1999 and of sodomy in 2000 for a cumulative sentence of 15 years, according to The Guardian. However, he was released in 2004 after six years in solitary confinement because of a lack of credible evidence.

Ibrahim re-entered politics in 2008 and lost the popular vote to Razak after the opposition party, led by Ibrahim, failed to gain the majority of seats in Parliament in the general election of 2013, according to The Guardian. Following the election, Razak sentenced Ibrahim to a second jail term on new charges of sodomy.

Ibrahim, who was released from prison after receiving a formal royal pardon from Sultan Muhammad V in March 2018, thanked University President John J. DeGioia for his support during the time he spent in prison. DeGioia attempted to persuade then-Secretary of State John Kerry to allow Ibrahim to receive medical treatment in a U.S. hospital while he was jailed, according to Ibrahim.

Interreligious dialogue depends on Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist studies programs in Islamic institutions as well as strong Islamic studies programs in western institutions like Georgetown, according to Ibrahim.

“I come here to a Jesuit university and I have a sense that we have a university encouraging these sessions; professors attending and showing their respect and support to the students,” Ibrahim said. “This is to me a great tradition that we can also do towards the Christians or the Hindus or the Buddhists in Malaysia.”

In October 2018, Ibrahim won a parliamentary seat that prepared him to assume the role of prime minister. He won with 71 percent of the votes in the town of Port Dickson, defeating six other candidates.

As a practicing Muslim and expected prime minister of a pluralistic country, Ibrahim highlighted the importance of ruling without bias toward one’s own faith.

“I’m not saying that in order to be a Malaysian I must disregard Islamic values, no; but in order to serve as a Malaysian this is my campaign slogan: To me, to be an effective leader you must be able to rise above and say ‘a Malaise child is my child, a Christian child is my child, a Hindu child is my child.’” Ibrahim said. “Then you past the test, the litmus test, of being Malaysian. If you have any bias, if you ignore the poor of any race, then that is not acceptable.”

Ibrahim’s appearance at Georgetown is symbolic of the kind of interreligious unity that he based his political campaign on in Malaysia, Ibrahim said.

“And also of course because I am a Muslim, and this is a Jesuit university, to some it may be a contradiction,” Ibrahim said. “I think this speaks volumes, more than books or lectures, by sheer commitment and passion for justice and concern for the welfare of humanity.”

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