KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim is to host an international conference aimed at tackling global challenges faced by Muslims.
This week's meeting comes in the wake of Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad's controversial Kuala Lumpur Summit in December, which was criticized by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) over its list of invitees.
Anwar, who is president of the People's Justice Party, along with his politician daughter, Nurul Izzah, will gather together a high-profile panel of global Islamic experts for the Unity in Diversity (UID) Conference 2020 being held in the capital on Jan. 8.
News portal Free Malaysia Today said that the event would include "celebrity Muslim scholars" that were "theologically aligned."
Speakers are expected to include American Muslim scholar Omar Suleiman, the founder of a Texas-based Islamic think tank, Nuruddin Lemu, the son of Nigerian Grand Mufti Ahmed Lemu, and Yasir Qadhi, a Saudi-educated Pakistani American scholar.
A spokesperson for the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) and the Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF) said the idea for the conference first came about in July last year when Anwar had met with Suleiman while they were both performing Hajj, adding that it was "mischievous" to suggest it had been staged as a follow-up rival to Mahathir's gathering.
Ali Salman, CEO of the Islam and Liberty Network Foundation, told Arab News that Anwar's UID conference could not be compared to the Kuala Lumpur Summit because the level of engagement with world leaders was quite different.
He said both events "should be taken only as a start, as large parts of the Muslim community still live under conditions of authoritarianism, poverty and bigotry."
Anwar has been widely tipped to succeed Mahathir as PM of Malaysia, but no date has been set for any transition of power.
"In any event, the domestic political struggle in Malaysia should not overshadow larger questions and issues faced by the Muslim world," Salman added.
Prof. James Chin, an Australia-based Malaysia expert and director at the Asia Institute, told Arab News that the UID conference would likely be of little significance to the Islamic world.
"This conference consists of people friendly to the leadership of the Islamic world in contrast to the KL Kuala Lumpur Summit. Outside the Islamic world, it will have little appeal to the rest of the world.
"Of course, Anwar will be the main beneficiary of this event as he will reinforce his international brand as a progressive Islamic leader," Chin added.