Fourth World Conference On Islamic Thought And Civilization (WCIT)

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim.

Assalamu ‘alaykum warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.


Your Excellencies, distinguished scholars, ladies and gentlemen:


  1. It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the Fourth World Conference on Islamic Thought and Civilization. Of all the conferences I am accustomed to, it always brings me great joy to attend this particular one, because for me, it is like a homecoming.  After all, this conference is hosted by none other than the university carrying the name of my father, the 34th Sultan of Perak, Al-Marhum Sultan Azlan Shah, which is certainly most dear to my heart.
  2. I am truly heartened to see, through the hosting of such international conferences like this, the growing reputation of this Islamic university, Jami‘ah Azlaniyah as it is known in Arabic. It is taking its rightful place alongside the other famous Islamic educational institution in the Royal Town of Kuala Kangsar, namely Madrasah Idrisiah, a pioneering Islamic school named after the 28th Sultan of Perak, Al-Marhum Sultan Idris I.  They are most fortunate, for they are celebrating their 100th anniversary of their foundation this year in 2017.  I pray that Azlaniyah too will take its place among the community of luminary institutions in the Muslim world, alongside Jami‘ah al-Azhar and Jami‘ah Qarawiyyin.  May Allah subhanahu wata‘ala continue to shower His blessings on this relatively young institution for the next 100 years and beyond, Amin!


Ladies and gentlemen:


  1. This year, the conference will explore one of the most exciting, challenging and important questions facing our world community today: that of how to achieve global peace. We can look forward to papers by excellent researchers from a wide variety of countries, institutions, and academic fields, on subjects including social conflict and religious extremism; Islamic philosophy and the spiritual tradition; geo-strategies; power, politics and the media; and education and youth.


  1. I want to begin by posing the question, “how peaceful is our world today?” According to the Global Peace Index, an annual measure of peace calculated by an independent, non-profit think-tank based in Sydney, the world is slightly more peaceful in 2017 than it was in the previous year: 0.28 per cent more peaceful, to be exact.[1]  This is the first time that the index has registered any improvement in global peace since the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011.  The figure, 0.28 per cent, represents the global average of 163 separate states and territories, each of which has been individually scored according to a variety of indicators, including Militarization, Domestic and International Conflict, and Societal Safety and Security.  Decreased militarization, and a reduction in violent crime and homicide worldwide, were the main drivers behind the improvement in the 2017 index.[2]  The withdrawal of US and UK troops from Afghanistan, and the ceasefire between armed rebel groups and the Colombian government, were events which contributed significantly to regional improvements.[3]  Overall, the 2017 Global Peace Index represents the cumulative effect of a number of small steps in the right direction.  We may, perhaps, be justified in feeling cautiously optimistic about this figure; but there is still much work to be done.


  1. While the 2017 Global Peace Index registered a small improvement over the previous year, I must, however, draw attention to the report by the Institute for Economics and Peace, pointing out that the overall trend is still a downwards one: the world is less peaceful now than it was 10 years ago. Terrorism represents a substantial and intensifying threat to international harmony, spreading fear and mistrust, and inflicting needless suffering on communities and individuals.  According to the Global Peace Index report for 2017, there has been a 247 per cent increase in the number of deaths caused by terrorism over the past decade, and there are no signs that the problem is diminishing.[4]  For instance, the research period for the 2017 Index report does not even take into account four actual and attempted terror attacks in the UK between May and September of this year, including the Manchester concert arena bombing in which 22 individuals lost their lives, and an incident in which a van was driven into a crowd of Muslims near a London mosque during Ramadan.


  1. Nor does the 2017 Index account for the recent escalation of tensions between the US and North Korea, with nuclear missiles representing a grave and ever-present threat to the global community and, indeed, to the future of our planet. With a ten-year downward trend of 2.14 per cent, we see that a small, one-year increase in the level of global peace is precarious at best.[5]
  2. Another major factor contributing to this overall ten-year decline is the number of severe refugee crises which have developed over the past decade, brought about by domestic conflict, political terror, and religious persecution.[6] Over 11 million people have been displaced from their homes by the war in Syria during the past 6 years.[7]  Not so far from here, in nearby Myanmar, meanwhile, the Rohingya crisis continues to worsen, in what has been described by the United Nations as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.[8]  Shocking satellite images have revealed hundreds of Rohingya villages burned to the ground, and Rohingya Muslim people fleeing targeted military violence in Myanmar in their thousands.  Of those who have been forced to flee, around 58 per cent are children.[9]  It is, surely, hard to reconcile such figures and images with the notion that our world has grown even marginally more peaceful over the past year.


  1. Indeed, a significant problem noted by the Institute for Economics and Peace in their report on the 2017 Global Peace Index is the “growing inequality in peace between the most and least peaceful countries”.[10] Not only are we faced with the longstanding problem of the unequal distribution of wealth between the richest and the poorest in the world, but we are also, it seems, witnessing the increasingly unequal distribution of global peace, between, sadly, those countries that have, and those countries that have not.  I suggested at this conference three years ago that “large swathes of the Muslim world are in great turmoil,” and this is a statement borne out by the country-by-country breakdown in this year’s Global Peace Index.[11]  Of the top 10 most peaceful countries in 2017, 7 are European, with Iceland, New Zealand and Canada representing the other 3.  Over half of the 10 least peaceful countries, meanwhile, are Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen.[12]  The lives of people in these countries have been profoundly damaged, by war and political turmoil, by poverty and loss.  Our goal of achieving global peace – that is, a peace which extends to every citizen, in every country of our world – is clearly still a long way from being realised.


Ladies and gentlemen:


  1. As we reflect on these disparities in, and challenges to, peace across the world, we must also take a moment to ask ourselves, moreover, what is global peace? What should peace look and feel like?  The Global Peace Index represents a complex and comprehensive assessment of the various kinds of conflict taking place throughout the world.  But as many of the world’s leading proponents of peace – including Martin Luther King Jr., and former US president Barack Obama – have argued, peace is not merely the absence of war.[13] I would say that peace is also the absence of want and fear.  Peace is religious freedom and respect for different cultures.  Peace is the acceptance, understanding and celebration of diversity in all its many forms.


  1. In fact, I would further argue that a truly peaceful world is one characterised by two important Islamic values: firstly, trust (amanah; أَمَانَةْ); and secondly, inclusivity, that is, to learn to live together by showing mercy (what the ulama call, ta‘ayush; تَعَايُشْ). In this regard, we must not forget that our Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wassalam taught us that “Whosoever cannot be trusted has no Iman or faith”;[14] and the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wassalam also said, “Those who show mercy have God’s mercy shown to them.  Therefore, have mercy on those here on earth, and those in Heaven will have mercy on you!”[15]


  1. As we pursue our collective goal of global peace, we must keep these two principles always in mind, seeking not only to eradicate conflict, but also to establish a more trusting and inclusive world community, in which each and every individual is valued and respected.


  1. Moreover, I would like to suggest that amanah, “trust”, and ta‘ayush, “inclusivity”, as well as being the ultimate goals of global peace, are also the means by which peace might be achieved. A recent report by the United States Institute of Peace observed that “inclusive peace processes are key to ending violent conflict”.  Peace processes, the report observes, can be critically undermined by societal fragmentation, and the perceived or actual exclusion of certain groups from peace negotiations.  On the other hand, a seemingly precarious peace agreement may be fundamentally strengthened by attempts to “knit together” the “frayed fabric” of a society damaged by internal or external conflict.  Thus, in Nepal, a peace agreement which ended a ten-year civil war in 2006 was secured through a program which brought together the police and local communities, in order to establish trust, and to overcome underlying tensions and prejudices between the different groups.[16]


  1. Indeed, as the Institute of Peace observes, trust is an “essential ingredient in building peace,” vital to ensuring that every citizen of a country or society recovering from conflict is committed to a peace that they believe works for them.[17] Peace processes must therefore work particularly hard to include those individuals whose opinions have traditionally been marginalised or overlooked.  In the Philippines, for example, efforts were made to involve nearly three thousand women, from a variety of social backgrounds, in the Mindanao peace process, which Malaysia has helped to facilitate.  The insights and concerns shared by these women during consultations proved fundamental to the peace process’s development.


Ladies and gentlemen:


  1. I have spoken at this conference in the past about the vital importance of investing in our youth, for it is the younger generation who must become the stewards of our planet. The task of maintaining peace falls, ultimately, to the young, and therefore the young must be included in the process of establishing peace.  In the case following the Nepalese civil war, the active engagement of young people in peace consultations, in the south-eastern district of the country, led to an 80 per cent decrease in violent youth demonstrations.[18]  This is just one small but significant example of the hugely positive impact of inclusivity upon the maintenance of peace.  All peace processes would, I think, do well to follow such models, ensuring that no voices are marginalised in the gradual movement towards a more harmonious, tolerant and conflict-free society.  For, as the Vice-President of South Sudan recently observed, in an address to the United Nations General Assembly, “peace is not a one-day affair or event; it requires our collective effort”.[19]


  1. It is, I think, a testament to the importance of such “collective efforts” that the Nobel Peace Prize this year was won not by an outstanding and inspirational individual, but by an organization, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. ICAN is a global coalition representing over 100 countries, committed to the full prohibition of the most dangerous and destructive weapons on our planet.[20]  If there was ever an area in which trust and inclusivity were essential ingredients of the peace process, it is surely nuclear disarmament.  Nuclear disarmament requires the fostering of trusting relationships not just within a society or country, but between countries, and across continents.  The full achievement of such a goal relies, I think, on the creation of a truly global community, on the “building of bridges” – to invoke a favourite image of mine – which connect governments and citizens throughout the world.  These bridges must be built internally, between our leaders and those they govern, and externally, both among ourselves, and between ourselves and the West. The bridges must all be strong, and should reinforce each other. Together they can contribute to reducing this key area of conflict and ensure a more peaceful future world.[21]  Trust and inclusivity are, I believe, vital to the establishment of global peace, at local, national, and also international levels.


  1. In the light of some of the statistics I shared at the beginning of this address, the creation of a harmonious global community might seem a very long way off – an impossible and unattainable ideal, even. But ladies and gentlemen, we must begin somewhere; so let us all begin by imagining, as John Lennon had: “Imagine all the people, living life in peace”; “Imagine all the people, sharing all the world”.  Let us begin by trusting in one another, and by living together, by having amanah and ta‘ayush.


  1. As this conference brings together many of the world’s greatest Islamic thinkers, as well as non-Muslim writers on Islam, over the next few days, I have the utmost faith that it will initiate productive conversations, inspire insightful questions, and even start to explore some possible answers, in our collective quest for global peace. There may be no overnight solutions, but guided by the core Islamic principles of toleration and inclusivity, I believe that those of you gathered in this room will make real, valuable progress during the course of this conference.


  1. I am privileged as a Malaysian, to have Co-Chaired the UN High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing which forwarded recommendations to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.[22] Those recommendations included utilizing the full potential of Islamic social finance—be it zakat, sukuk, waqf or sadaqah—to reduce the huge financial gap that exists in meeting the needs of people in crises. We saw how insufficient funding can lead to more global instability.  We believe that providing for people in need is not only morally right, as we stressed in the Report, rather we should also see it as an investment in global stability to which we all can contribute.  In my work as Co-Chair, I have learnt that we need the humility to rediscover our sense of purpose.


  1. As eminent scholars on Islam, it will not come as a surprise to any of you to hear that the word “Islam” itself derives from the term “salam”, meaning “peace”; and equally, the Arabic term for “trust”, “amanah” – which is, as I proposed, an essential ingredient in achieving peace – is also derived from another word in Arabic which conveys the meaning of peace, namely “aman”; and as this conference prepares to get underway, it is, I think, a vital and God-given point to emphasize. Islam is a religion rooted in peace, literally as well as spiritually; and I truly believe that this Fourth World Conference on Islamic Thought and Civilization can help to lead the way in the creation of a more trusting, inclusive and, ultimately, peaceful global community.


May God’s peace and mercy be with you all!

Wassalamu ‘alaykum warahmatullah!

Thank you.

[1] Global Peace Index 2017, Institute for Economics and Peace, p. 2.

[2] ibid., p. 9.

[3] “Global Peace Index 2017: World 0.28% more peaceful than last year”, BBC News World (1 June 2017),

[4] Global Peace Index 2017, p. 3 and p. 30.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., p. 65.

[8] “Rohingya crisis: UN sees ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Myanmar”, BBC News World (11 September 2017),

[9] “Myanmar Rohingya: what you need to know about the crisis”, BBC News World (19 October 2017),

[10] Global Peace Index 2017, p. 4.

[11] Sultan Nazrin Shah, “The Rise and Fall of Civilization”, Keynote Address at the Second World Conference on Islamic Thought and Civilization, Ipoh, Malaysia (18 August 2014).

[12] Global Peace Index 2017, pp. 10-11.

[13] Revd. Martin Luther King Jr., “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious”, Sermon at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Alabama (18 March 1956); Barack Obama, Speech at the UN General Assembly (24 September 2014).

[14] Related by Imam Ahmad, with variants.

[15] Related by Imam Ahmad.

[16] Tina Luu and Colette Rausch, “Inclusive Peace Processes are Key to Ending Violent Conflict”, United States Institute of Peace (5 May 2017),

[17] Colette Rausch, “Trust: An Essential Ingredient in Building Peace, Justice and Security”, United States Institute of Peace (5 November 2012),

[18] Tina Luu and Colette Rausch, “Inclusive Peace Processes”.

[19] “Need for Inclusive Peace Efforts in South Sudan: No More ‘Compassion Fatigue’”, Inter Press Service News Agency (4 Oct 2017),

[20] “Anti-nuclear weapons group Ican wins Nobel Peace Prize”, BBC News Europe (6 Oct 2017),

[21] Raja Nazrin Shah, “Bridging the Muslim and Western World for Peace and Development”, The Cordoba Foundation Occasional Papers Series, no. 1 (London: Cordoba Foundation, 2010); cf. Sultan Nazrin Shah, “Opportunities and Challenges for Youth in our Future World”, Keynote Address at the Second World Conference on Islamic Thought and Civilization, Ipoh, Malaysia (18 October 2016).

[22] High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing Report to the Secretary-General, Too Important to Fail: Addressing the Humanitarian Financing Gap (New York: United Nations, 2016), chap. 3.

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