Malaysiakini Opinion

Can IIUM alumni thrive in the cabinet?

Phar Kim Beng  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | IIUM, or the International Islamic University, used to be parodied by the students as "eye-eye-you" Perhaps it still is.

Students of opposite gender were not encouraged by the university authorities to mix around. On seats and long benches, the words "no coupling" of the opposite gender would be prominently displayed.

At least, that was the case in the old SS17 campus, which is now the IIU centre of matriculation.

Invariably, the goal was to prevent any untoward social behaviour on campus. Whether it worked or not, no one knows, since there were random cases of male students donning "burqa" from head to toe to mingle unknowingly with the female student fraternity.

But all that discipline, invariably, ethos, did not normally come to much in the government too, especially when some of the alumni joined the public service.

This is why IIUM need to look back at its hits and misses. An exploration of the latter would be good since some IIUM were close to Najib Razak, only to allow Najib to go wayward. And, some IIUM faculty are now cabinet members too.

Key among the IIUM graduates around Najib was an advisor, who strangely, was prone to crying when Najib and his wife attended his speeches and events. He would wail uncontrollably over their gracious attendance.

This 'advisor,' it should be noted, worked with Najib from 1996 to 2018. While he had ample time to speak truth to power, the IIUM training failed this advisor many times over.

Without the courage to speak honestly and bluntly to Najib directly, the IIUM product was but a pale reflection of what the university had tried to represent.

Of course, to the degree IIUM failed, so did University of Oxford of sort as Khairy Jamaluddin, a graduate from the latter, too admitted to the same failure; an ability to speak up.

More oddly, the same IIUM graduate was allowed to sit in the IIUM senate. The Mara Institute of Technology even had him appointed as a professor, this despite not having any academic publications and books at all.

By virtue of the power he had, he could even introduce his classmate from the same high school to work with Najib, this despite the fact that the latter did not even graduate with a BA degree from IIUM.

Another advisor of Najib was from the Faculty of Law of IIUM. Yet, neither was he able to stem the rot in the Prime Minister's Office. This phenomenon was as odd as it was galling. All that legal intellect trained and honed at IIUM Faculty of Law failed him time and again when in the presence of Najib.

Indeed, anyone who has had the benefit of studying in IIUM would know that the university was strong in moral rectitude. Although the courses were taught in English or Arabic, they were modelled on understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the conventional disciplines based on the tradition of Quran and Hadith.

A typical graduate of IIUM would be conversant not only in English or Arabic but imbued with the deep passion to serve God, country and his or her community. These traits appear to be missing in those IIUM graduates who were parked around Najib.

Maszlee, Syed Saddiq, Rais, Marzuki

In fact, when IIUM was first established in mid-1980s, the partnership of Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim was at their strongest. Both wanted to reposition Islam as a religion of science, arts and impeccable intellect.

Indeed, during the presidency of Anwar Ibrahim in IIUM in the mid-1990s, students at IIUM, within the first decade, had proven themselves adept at getting into University of Cambridge and Harvard University, without the onerous support that one may have received from Permata.

IIUM had also become quite good at International Moot Court Competition and world-class debates. Indeed, one of the faculty members of IIUM, invariably, Ahmet Davutoglu, went on to become the prime minister of Turkey in 2014-2015.

Before that, Ahmet Davutoglu was the chief advisor of then foreign minister of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Other IIUM graduates are doing well in Turkey too, some of whom are advisors to Erdogan.

As things are, some IIUM graduates have become luminaries in the new cabinet of Malaysia. Maszlee Malik, the minister of education, prior to joining Bersatu this year, was a former assistant professor in political science at IIUM. Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, a IIUM debater, is now the minister of youth and sports.

Rais Hussin, the policy strategist of Bersatu, had also hailed from IIUM, with a major in business, negotiation and strategy. His exact background was Bachelors in Economics, Masters in Management and Doctorate in Business Administration. Rais' matriculation was completed at IIUM too, making him a complete product of IIUM. If one cares to look at his background, one will find him having the inner conviction to call a spade a spade.

Marzuki Mohamad, a political scientist at IIUM, is the speech writer of Muhyiddin Yassin. Those IIUM graduates who have joined Pakatan Harapan seem to be doing well and have all their hearts and minds all in the right places. They want to serve the country with distinction.

IIUM is a powerful brand in the Islamic world. But this is only true if the students and graduates stay away from kleptocratic excesses, the likes of which were witnessed in the administration of Najib.

To do well in the new cabinet, IIUM graduates who are now cabinet members, or, policy strategists, have to live up to the expectations to help Muslims and non-Muslims alike, without which they are species that continue to perpetuate discrimination and intolerance. But policy intellectuals like Marzuki Mohamad and Rais Hussin are two powerful characters to contend with. They say what they think, invariably, think deeply about what they say, or about to say.

With the right IIUM values, Bersatu has transformed the planks of Malaysian government once more, not merely with Mahathir but Muhyiddin, whose own father was a pious religious scholar. And these IIUM cabinet members and strategists are working hand in hand with PKR, Amanah and DAP.


PHAR KIM BENG is a Harvard/Cambridge Commonwealth Fellow, a former Monbusho scholar at the University of Tokyo and visiting scholar at Waseda University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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