THIS is a complex and sensitive question that has no simple answer. There are many factors that contribute to the conflicts in Muslim countries such as historical, political, economic, social and religious issues.
Some of the possible causes are:
- The Sunni-Shia divide
This is the oldest and most enduring source of tension within Islam, dating back to the death of Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE and the dispute over his succession.
The majority of Muslims are Sunnis who believe that the first four caliphs were the rightful successors of Muhammad.
The minority are the Shias who believe that only Ali – Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law – and his descendants were the legitimate leaders of the Muslim community.
Henceforth, the Sunni-Shia divisions would fuel a long-running civil war in Syria, fighting in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere with terrorist violence on both sides.
- The Saudi-Iran rivalry
This is the modern manifestation of the Sunni-Shia divide as Saudi Arabia and Iran are the leading powers of the two sects respectively. They compete for influence and dominance in the oil-rich Middle East and surrounding regions – often by supporting opposing sides in various conflicts such as in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain.
They also have ideological differences as Saudi Arabia follows a conservative and puritanical version of Islam known as Wahhabism while Iran follows a revolutionary and anti-Western version of Islam known as Khomeinism.
- The Arab-Israeli conflict
This is the longest and most intractable conflict in the region, dating back to the creation of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent wars and disputes over land, borders, refugees and Jerusalem.
The conflict has involved many Arab and Muslim countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran as well as non-Arab and non-Muslim countries such as the US, Russia, France and Britain.
The conflict has also spawned various militant groups, such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda that have carried out attacks against Israel and its allies.
- The legacy of colonialism and imperialism
Many Muslim countries were colonised or influenced by European powers such as Britain, France, Italy and Spain in the 19th and 20th centuries.
These powers often drew arbitrary borders, exploited natural resources, imposed foreign cultures and laws, and supported authoritarian regimes that oppressed the local populations.
The resentment and resistance against colonialism and imperialism led to many nationalist and independence movements such as in Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Iran as well as anti-Western and Islamist movements such as in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan.
- The lack of democracy and development:
Many Muslim countries suffer from political and economic problems such as corruption, nepotism, dictatorship, poverty, inequality, unemployment and illiteracy.
These problems create social and civil unrest as well as fuel radicalisation and extremism among the frustrated and marginalized segments of society. The lack of democracy and development also makes it difficult for Muslim countries to resolve their internal and external conflicts peacefully and cooperatively.
- Need to avoid generalising source of conflict
These are some of the possible causes of conflict in Muslim countries but they are not exhaustive or definitive. Each conflict has its own specific context and dynamics, hence may involve other factors that are not mentioned here.
Therefore, it is important to avoid generalising or stereotyping all Muslim countries or all Muslims as being violent or intolerant. There are also many examples of peaceful and tolerant Muslims and Muslim countries that are working to overcome the challenges and promote harmony and coexistence.
- Why Malaysia is so peaceful unlike so many Muslim countries?
Malaysia is a country that has a diverse and multicultural society with different ethnic, religious and linguistic groups coexisting peacefully. Malaysia’s foreign policy is based on the principles of neutrality, peaceful coexistence, mutual respect and cooperation with all countries, regardless of their ideology or political system.
Malaysia is also an active member of various regional and international organisations such as ASEAN, OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation), NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) and the Commonwealth that promote dialogue, cooperation and solidarity among nations.
Malaysia has also established diplomatic relations with China since 1974 and has maintained friendly ties with other Muslim countries in the Middle East (with the exception of Israel) and Africa. These factors have contributed to Malaysia’s peace and stability as well as its economic and social development. – Nov 7, 2023
Philanthropist and stock punter Koon Yew Yin founded three public-listed construction firms, namely Gamuda Bhd, Mudajaya Group Bhd and IJM Corp Bhd.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Main pic credit: Justin Lane/EPA