In December 2019, Malaysia hosted the Kuala Lumpur Summit which aimed to shift the political and religious narratives in the Muslim world, counter Islamophobia, unify Muslims and address issues of conflict, extremism and oppression. Far from being a platform for unity, the Malaysian summit drew clear lines between rival alliances that have recently emerged in the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia boycotted the event and issued statements chastising Malaysia for attempting to create another Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). This talk seeks to address the political competition between different state actors for dominance in the Muslim world and Malaysia’s role in this contest. It will examine the domestic drive that has led Malaysia to attempt to play a more prominent role in the Muslim world. Professor Osman will argue that the Malaysian state has not been influenced by Islamic trends in the Middle East, but rather has actively sponsored and supported the export of its own version of Islam to countries in Southeast Asia. The recent summit should be viewed as Malaysia’s attempt to scale up this effort to the international level.
Mohamed Nawab Osman is a Fulbright Visiting Fellow at the Center for Race and Gender at the University of California-Berkeley. He is also Assistant Professor at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He is the author of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia: Identity, Ideology and Religo-Political Mobilisation (Routledge, 2018) and the editor of Contesting Muslim Identities: The Politics of Islam in South and Southeast Asia (Edinburgh University Press, 2020), and Malaysia's 14th General Election and UMNO’s Fall: Intra-Elite Feuding in the Pursuit of Power (Routledge, 2019) (with Edmund Terence Gomez), and Pathways to Contemporary Islam (Amsterdam University Press, 2019). His research interests include Islam and politics in South and Southeast Asia, religion and violence in Asia and religion in the international relations of Asia.