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The 4 basic social and policy reforms that Pakistan must learn from Malaysia

Pakistan with its new democratic government is striving hard to introduce strategic reforms to take the country out of its problems in order to ensure hope and security for its present and future generations. In my view here are 4 basic social and policy reforms that Pakistan must learn from Malaysia.

1. Harnessing the power of faith as a positive motivating force

In 1961-62 the Malaysian government conducted a policy reform study known as Royal Professor Ungko Abdul Aziz study. The study was conducted to identify why the Malaysian Muslims in 1961-62 were relatively underdeveloped as compared to the Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indians?

The study concluded the main cause was differences in motivation of life and also differences in the nexus of this motivation with the markets. The study found that Malaysian Muslims were saving money with one motivation only, and that was to go to Makkah for Hajj and be considered as the luckiest Muslim to have this honor. Since money was saved for the holy purpose of Hajj, it was kept it away under pillows to protect it from the dust of Riba in the banking system. Remember it was 1961-62 just after independent from colonialism.

Religious Motivation forced the people to save but on the other hand, forced them to stay away from markets. In other words the markets were not catering to consumer preferences.

Instead of feeling the need to find fault in people's faith, the Malaysian government took up the challenge and the government encouraged the innovation of Islamic financial products to arrange a marriage of commitment and understanding between faith and markets. Today's Malaysia is a good example to understand how faith is utilized as a positive motivating force to achieve inclusive economic development.

2. Strengthening the institution of the family

Like faith being a positive as well as negative motivation in economic development of societies, the family as a primary social unit also carries positive and negative implications for social development. If the positive implications are not worked upon as a target of government policies, over the time, the negative implications will prevail and the Civilization will inevitably implode. We see rising trends of suicide among youth including girls, increasing number of divorces having devastating implications for their children, negative population growth and old age societies in some regions and population explosion in other parts of the world.

We need a balanced family, a balanced society and responsible future generations. About 20 years back inside the largest mosque in Shah Alam Kuala Lumpur, we were introduced to a unique training course participated by young men and women. We were told that after the training the young people must qualify an intellectual and psychological test and obtain an official certification showing their understanding, commitment and mental readiness about marital responsibilities. The certificates were then produced before the marriage registration official as a mandatory requirement for completing and officially signing the marriage contract.

To me this is an excellent example of the policy makers' sensitivity about the values, aspirations and institutions that frames the fabric of the society. Not only policy makers in the Muslim countries but in all other countries too can benefit from such a basic but fundamental and positive policy intervention to ensure that the family becomes a balanced basic unit of the society and the future generations become more responsible and sustainable.

3. Faith leaders as agents of social enterprise development

The family is the most important universal institution indeed and in any society where God exists in the hearts and minds of the people, after the family, centers of prayers play second tier most important role in determining the positive or negative direction of the society. You visit any of the old European or North American cities, like Cambridge Massachusetts or Tubingen Germany for example; you will find dominant structures of Churches at every corner but literally deserted. You visit any old places in Thailand or Myanmar you will find similar structures of Buddhist Temples.

In the same way you visit Istanbul or Cairo for example, you will be mesmerized by the structures of Mosques. Without any doubt mosques are the most attended and the most built structures in the world today. In countries like Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Egypt etc., mosques play the most dominant role in the evolution of the society as well.

The leaders of mosques could have most effective positive or negative influence on the direction of the society. Malaysia understood the social power of this leadership immediate after independence and managed it well to enhance its positive role and to transform it as an important factor facilitating nation building.

The Langkawi Island on the north of Malaysia bordering Thailand comprises several villages and is a famous and a well favored touristic resort. Some 15 years ago we were introduced to a training workshop where the leaders of local mosques were being trained on how to think, plan and implement socially impact-full small businesses. These leaders of positive change will than go and talk in their respective mosques about the importance of socially impact-full businesses and how each person should use his/her mind to have a positive impact on business development an overall inclusive economic development of the society.

Strategic management is about transforming a challenge into a most valuable asset. Great and visionary leaders like Mahathir Mohammad paid attention to basic challenges of their nations like a massive campaign through mosque leaders to prepare a national mindset that promotes businesses and benefits the society in the most positive sense. In this example, there is a great lesson indeed for today's Pakistan and its leaders at national, provincial and district levels.

4. Harnessing the power of charity

As I said it above, in a Godly society, faith, family, and leaders of religious centers of various faiths must play a positive role in uplifting the society. Charity is another vital institution where the motivation is primarily religious in nature. Its positive role could be immense in enhancing empowerment and promoting inclusive development. In the Muslim societies, historically charity was mostly organized as Waqf, which in the past did play a very positive role in the society. However, at the present times the institution of Waqf has unfortunately become either a symbol of the gold platted doors and pillars of Shrines, or exists in the form of the dead real estate and has thus stagnated. A more general form of charity mobilized in most Muslim societies including Pakistan is to finance religious education.

Some estimates show that in Pakistan charity financed religious schools offer free education to about 2 million poorest of the poor students which indeed is a tremendous positive contribution. However, these students are not empowered enough to participate in the markets and are not well integrated into the development process. Moreover, in Pakistan the overall educational system is deeply polarized – on one hand public schools with a large curriculum content that is built on the rigid viewpoints about Islam and its heroes and on the other hand education based on curriculum as if faith is not relevant in our modern age.

Countries like Pakistan must learn how Malaysia has addressed this tremendously important policy issue amicably. Their Curriculum is based on the tolerant, moderate, pluralistic and inclusive ideals of our heroes and our Civilization. All educational service providers should encourage the relevance of faith in the learning process. With such an enlightened approach to faith in the educational context and the power of charity are highly constructive in nation building. The approach if adapted in Pakistan will work as the most effective and sustainable healer of the society.

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