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Anwar Ibrahim >
Defining a Moderate Islamic Activism

Anwar Ibrahim is an action-oriented intellectual. He has played a significant role in conceptualizing and articulating the Islamic revival in Malaysia, but this has been done primarily through speeches and articles and organizational activities rather than through the writing and publication of major scholarly monographs and studies. His contributions to the reconceptualization of Islamic life have been the products of actions in the political and social arenas, in contrast to the more self-conscious rearticulations of the Islamic heritage found in the many books of an intellectual like Hasan Hanafi. An important part of Anwar's evolution as an activist intellectual has been the shift from the role of the “charismatic leader of opposition,” whose intellectual positions were presented through specific activities like the Baling demonstrations, to that of the political leader who gave special attention to defining broad policy principles while a member of the cabinet.

The basic positions taken by Anwar in these two different stages of his career are fundamentally the same. The core of his intellectual activism has been and continues to be a conscious commitment to social justice and equality whose foundation is the faith and teachings of Islam. The changes are in the ways of implementing that commitment and also in the modes of interpreting and understanding the fundamental principles of Islam. It is in this regard that observers have been correct in identifying him as a “fundamentalist.” Local custom and historical habit and tradition, in this perspective, have less importance than careful thought and action based on the believer's understanding of the fundamentals of Islam.

While Anwar has been committed to activist involvement, his positions were moderate rather than extremist. On virtually every significant issue, his positions and actions represented a medial position between extremes. However, his moderate intellectual positions were strongly advocated through direct involvement in affairs. His mode of operation was not passive, nor did he advocate disengagement from issues and events. In general terms, his views represented positions between those of advocates of violent confrontation, like some radical communists or militant jihadists, and of those who, like the Dar al-Arqam movement, advocated pious withdrawal from society: He also stood between the extremes of the secularist Westernizers in Malaysian society and the old-fashioned conservatives who wanted no changes in their “traditional” society.

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