HalaalQuest spoke with Dr. Mujahid Yusof Rawa the Malaysian Minister in the Prime Minster’s Office for Religious Affairs, covering topics from building peace and tolerance based on the Rahmatan lil ‘Alameen framework to trade amongst Muslim countries and the importance of halal certification. Read the highlights of our talk below.
HQ: As the world economy is being globalised, trade between countries is growing rapidly. The exchange between nations is not only economic, but also cultural. From your experience would you say that countries with similar cultural and religious views have stronger trade and political bonds rather than those with diverse views?
Dr. Mujahid: This is a very relevant question in terms of building relations between nations. It’s not just based on the economy or trade, which is of course the interest of many countries, but within that trade there is also a process of cultural trade. This refers to the exchange of cultural understanding during these economic activities.
Within this context, diplomacy plays a major role. It enhances the relationship between countries especially countries that share religious or cultural similarities.
For example during trade dealings amongst Muslim countries, the very fact that there is a shared religious belief and shared historical aspect enhances that bond, making the relationship stronger and building trust between the nations. All of this comes down to the trust between nations and it goes beyond trade.
It’s about respect and fulfilling your friendship to the country you trade with.
HQ: Malaysia – a predominantly Muslim country has very stong bonds with other countries worldwide, what role has your Ministry played in building these relationships and what advice would you give to others in your role?
Dr. Mujahid: Firstly, it’s important to really adhere to the principle of peaceful coexistence.
Peaceful coexistence is the main principal describing how we relate to others, different views, different religions – we must thrive to live peacefully together.
We can only accomplish this by really understanding the need of human values rather than confining to your own ethnic or religious values. If you put yourself in the shoes of others, it gives you the ability to understand others through your own eye. This is the only way we learn to respect others and grow the feeling of compassion and harmony. Nobody likes war, or to live in hatred – human value is essential and the core principal in building strong ties with others.
Secondly, the respect of one’s rights. For example, I may not like what you do, but if it is in the context of your belief I have to respect such beliefs. We should leave some room of tolerance and respect towards others.
Lastly and most importantly, the rule of law. The rule of law should always prevails and when followed, peaceful coexistence is easily attainable.
HQ: You have actively brought about the concept of Islam Rahmatan lil ‘Alameen taking the holistic objectives of Shariah within the Malaysian context as important elements in governance; how can this be replicated globally for others to emulate?
Dr. Mujahid: To elaborate a bit, “Rahmatan lil ‘Alameen” – Mercy to Mankind, is stated in the Qur’an where it is menitoned that Islam was brought to the world through the Prophet s.a.w. as a mercy. And when God mentioned it clearly, we must believe that it is true. I believe it is what we need today (mercy to mankind).
Mercy to Mankind is an idea of peace and tolerance. We live in a world of diversity which is very fragile, it can anytime be exploited for personal agenda. That is why the principle of Mercy to Mankind demands from you to be just and respect for one another.
This principle is actually more important for the policy makers as it is intended for implementation in real life policies.
Many philosophers, scholars, academics talk about this principle but my principle of Rahmataan lil ‘Alameen is not just to be talked about but more importantly, to be implemented in policies and practiced by the law enforcers. As an example: Giving justice or being a just Judge is not just to punish people but also to give the outlaws a chance to reform themselves, give them equal rights to be heard and engage with them etc.
I have 14 agencies under my Ministries and one of which is dealing with the Shariah Court where we have translated this principle into implementation. We have transformed the philosophy of punitive or punishments to the philosophy of mercy and giving the chance to reform and rehabilitate the people instead of just punishing them. This of course depends on the type of offense and individual case basis.
Another example is social economy, taking the Zakat Institution for example: are we going to perform Zakat the same traditional ways, collect Zakat and then pay Zakat? No, in Mercy to Mankind we want other approaches and use the full potential of Zakat as its main aim is to elevate the poor. We aim to empower those who receive Zakat, and give them the opportunity through different programs, such as providing business capital – guidance through their business journey.
Ultimately, they are able to become Zakat givers instead of just being Zakat recepients all their lives.
This is how this principle can be implemented in our systems and easily translated into policies.
HQ: How do you place the Islam Rahmatan Lil ‘Alameen model in a multi cultural and multi religious country such as Malaysia?
Dr. Mujahid: When you have a clear vision and you believe in it, it is not hard to explain. If I sit down with a non-Muslim, I talk to them in ways they understand. They may not understand the word ”Rahmah” but they know the word Mercy. The way we convey the message is very important. My agencies are trying to enliven this idea that is not segmentised towards Muslims only, but shared amongst all.
We do this through different programs and platforms such as interfaith dialogues where we share our ideas. During dialogue sessions we can explain what peacefulness means. While communication is key, platforms and programs are also important in congragating people. These programs and platforms are designed to encourage understanding between different people of all races and beliefs.
HQ: We have seen your Ministry taking different initiatives to build stronger ties with other governments, especially in trade, for instance the Malaysia Bosnia Trade Cooperation Association which was recently launched. What is it that you hope to obtain from such initiatives?
Dr. Mujahid: Our relationships with some countries, in this case with Bosnia goes way back. Malaysia has stood with Bosnia during hard times and also after those times passed. Our role didn’t stop after you have gone through one of the roughest stages a country can go through but we want to stand beside Bosnia in the process of rising, so that they can become independent economically.
Malaysia is not a big country, but our heart is big towards the one in need such as Bosnia during hard times. I always say we were there while you suffered and we will be here while you prosper. Tun Dr. Mahathir has a close relationship with the Bosnian people, we have always nurtured the relationship with Bosnia and other muslim countries as well.
Tun Dr. Mahathir has delegated me to nurture this relationship with Bosnia under which we have come up with the Malaysia Bosnia Trade Cooperation Association in the hope that it will serve as a platform for business people, education and other entities to exchange ideas and propositions. We hope that this platform will enable business matching to help businesses to grow and expand. Few agreements have been made already, purchase of land, farms setups, hospitals, exchange of students and knowledge, goods, etc.
These types of agreements not only with Bosnia but other countries as well, help to boost the bond we have with these countries and this in turn brings prosperity and growth to all parties involved in such agreements. Our biggest aim from such initiatives is to strengthen the ties and bonds between respective countries not only economically but on a more supporting level.
HQ: Malaysia seen as the leader in the Halal industry globally, we must ask what impact does halal certification have in the global trade? What advice would you give to traders who want to venture into the Malaysian halal market?
Dr. Mujahid: Halal is the future, the market for Halal is huge and it is growing every year. We are talking about billions, and the need for halal products and services is enormous. It is not only the need for food and beverages, but cosmetics, pharmaceutical, services etc. and it is not only in the Muslim countries but others as well. All these needs have been addressed under our agency – JAKIM, and we have been in the forefront since 1970s. We are proud to be considered as the strongest Halal certification nation worldwide, of course this is due to our strong auditing and regulations we have implemented.
Our halal regulations impact greatly the local trade, because being certified under JAKIM does not only ensure if the product is halal, but it also ensures people that the product is hygienic and safe to consume. Thus the confidence of the consumers into our certification causes impacts into trading and consumption patterns locally and globally too.
In accordance to this we can see the importance of platforms such as the Malaysian Bosnian Trade Cooperation Association where we advise traders from Bosnia on our local market needs as well as our local traders who would want to venture into Bosnia.
I would advise traders to make use of such platforms where we can help them penetrate new markets. We also have programs that train Halal Executives to ensure that JAKIM regulations are implemented and with that we can rectify issues that might arise when venturing into our local market.
HQ: What’s your plan in taking Malaysia to the next level when it comes to the Halal industry?
Dr. Mujahid: I am very, very ambitious when it comes to Malaysia and Halal Industry. We are also concerned about the quality of our Halal Certification – offering it to the world without losing credibility. Because when you want to standardize, you want to make it quick and easy but at the same time to do these without compromising quality.
There is also an OIC agenda to unify Halal Certification globally which we are currently pursuing. It’s not easy because every country wants to preserve their own identity.
We hope we can contribute in coming up with this unified global Halal standard based on our experience and strength in the Malaysian Halal framework
HalaalQuest would like to thank Dr. Mujahid Yusof Rawa for devoting his time and effort in sharing his thoughts
Copyright by HalaalQuest 2019