Prof Anies Baswiedan added that 17 of the 48 least developed countries have Islam as the state religion and up to 39 per cent of Muslims across the world live below the poverty line.
Hence, he said, in order to overcome this inequality, Muslim people have to change their mindset and upgrade the knowledge of their children, especially in terms of science and technology, so they can face future challenges and become more accepted in the global stage.
Baswiedan was speaking at a seminar held as part of 72nd anniversary celebrations of the Misbahudeen Islamic School at Impact Arena Muang Thong Thani yesterday under the theme “Bridge for Muslim Thais towards the Asean Community”.
The event was presided over by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and attended by more than 3,000 Thai Muslims and representatives from other Asean countries.
“The Asean Economic Community is coming up and since up to 300 million out of 600 million people in Asean are Muslim, we have to prepare for changes,” Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said.
Surin is a key patron of the school, which is also known as Pondok Bantan, and his family is involved in its sustenance, operations and future direction.
He said most Islamic schools focused on religious teachings rather than science, math, technology and the English language, which is why students from these schools lagged behind others.
“Better education will make Muslim children more competitive on the global stage so they will be accepted and respected,” he said. “Peace comes through equality and understanding, and education is the answer for this.”
Surin explained that the image of Islam needs to be changed and in order to do this, Muslims in Asean need to unite.
“If we can unite, we will be at the centre of the Muslim community. Reconciliation with the West runs through Asean. We can help improve our children and create a new profile of Islam on the global stage.
“Half of the Asean population should produce half of Asean’s combined GDP, which now stands at US$2.4 trillion [Bt76.1 trillion].”
In her opening speech, Princess Maha Chakri spoke about the support her foundation provides to Islamic schools in Thailand and also expressed concerns about what can be done to help students effectively prepare for AEC. She said what was being done at present was not effective enough.
She added that she had called on state agencies to provide technology to enhance students’ learning as well introduce a system of cooperatives among schools and help teachers at these schools provide vocational courses, including cooking, mechanical and electrical courses to equip all children with skills. The Princess also sponsors scholarships.