In 1995, the International Seminar on Islam and Confucianism: A Civilizational Dialogue at the University of Malaya marked a pivotal moment in Malaysia’s history, initiating a dialogue that transcended religious and philosophical boundaries.

Now, 28 years later, Al-Ghazali Chair of Islamic Epistemology and Civilisational Studies and Renewal Thought, ISTAC-International Islamic University Malaysia, the Centre of Regional Strategic Studies (CROSS), and the Southeast Asia Research Centre for Humanities (SEARCH) successfully organized the Islam-Confucianism Leadership Dialogue (ICLD2023) at the Renaissance Hotel Kuala Lumpur on November 29, 2023.

Building on the legacy of the 1995 event, the ICLD2023 represents a milestone in the ongoing dialogue between Islam and Confucianism. This renewed effort brings scholars, experts, and practitioners from both traditions together, creating a platform for open and respectful exchanges. The event is a testament to the belief that fostering mutual understanding between civilizations is essential for a harmonious and interconnected world.

The ICLD2023 emerges in a world where intercultural understanding has evolved from a mere ingredient for “peaceful coexistence” to a fundamental pillar for global stability and progress. Recognizing the risk of exacerbating power imbalances and fostering hegemony without meaningful dialogue in the face of globalization, the dialogue aims to contribute to equitable and inclusive international relations.

In the spirit of knowledge, wisdom, and learning encompassed in the word “enlightened,” the ICLD2023 explores the theme “The Idea of Enlightened Leadership: Islamic-Confucian Perspectives.” This theme reflects the commitment to delve into the shared values and beliefs that exist between Islam and Confucianism, paving the way for a world built upon mutual understanding.

The significance of this event extends beyond the dialogue itself. It aligns with Malaysia MADANI‘s spirit of inclusivity and the China Belt & Road Initiative‘s goal of enhancing connectivity and cooperation among diverse nations. The ICLD2023 serves as a catalyst for promoting global understanding and appreciation of shared values.

As we embark on this journey of rediscovery and dialogue, the Islam-Confucianism Leadership Dialogue 2023 promises to be a beacon of enlightenment, guiding us toward a world where diverse civilizations can coexist in harmony.

In his keynote address at the Islam-Confucianism Leadership Dialogue, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim highlighted the significance of fostering a dialogical community, especially as societies become more culturally complex. The Islam-Confucianism dialogue on enlightened leadership, he asserted, is a crucial step towards promoting understanding at both national and international levels.

In an era marked by growing intolerance, Anwar sees civilizational dialogue as a bold act of defiance, affirming dedication to mutual understanding, inclusivity, and the pursuit of peace. He emphasized that discussions on contemporary challenges, such as climate change and artificial intelligence, must be grounded in ethical principles.

Anwar pointed out the shared emphasis on moral empowerment in Confucianism and Islam, highlighting the similarity between “inner cultivation” in Confucianism and the Quran’s concept of “tazkiatun nafs” (purification of the soul). As the world grapples with ethical challenges, he stressed the importance of re-evaluating values.

Drawing on ancient philosophies, Anwar noted that Confucianism and Islam teach about balance, ethical conduct, and the collective good. He positioned Malaysia, with its diverse civilizational interactions, as uniquely positioned to lead in fostering a more inclusive world.

Anwar concluded by urging Malaysia to set an example of a technologically advanced and morally enlightened future. He sees the nation at an inflection point where it can lead in creating a harmonious world amidst diverse races, religions, nationalities, and genders.

During the ceremony, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim and HE Ouyang Yujing launched the Mandarin version of “Islam and Confucianism: A Civilisational Dialogue.” This edition, a translation of the new second edition edited by Professors Osman Bakar and Cheng Gek Nai, carries significant cultural weight as the first edition translated into Mandarin, following the Bosnian version. The importance of this Mandarin translation can hardly be overestimated, as it is expected to reach a significant segment of Mandarin-speaking readers in the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia and China. The Malay translation and edition are still in progress.

The event featured a live conference address by Prof Tu Wei Ming, Chair Professor of Humanities and Founding Director of the Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies at Peking University & Professor Emeritus and Senior Fellow of Asia Center at Harvard University. Following the speech, Prime Minister Anwar engaged in a dialogue with Professor Tu Wei Ming.


PM: Professor TU Weiming, can you hear me?

TU: Yes. 

PM: Good. It’s a real pleasure to speak to you and get back in touch with you. And you look extremely well. And I remember those days. Let me express also at the personal level that not only I admire your tenacity as a scholar, but also as a friend. In those periods of my tribulations, you were there and asked for my welfare. So, my wife is here, and we wish you well and must take this opportunity to thank you for your compassion and caring attitude, particularly those difficult years.

The second point, I must say that you always refer to the issue of understanding and appreciation. The West normally talks about tolerance, religious tolerance, culture tolerance, but you consistently talks about understanding and the appreciation. There must be a big difference. You know we discuss the term “تعارف” (te-allafu) in Islam, that means to understand and learn and appreciate one another. And I think, for a multi-racial, multi-religious, country like Malaysia and the region, I think this inter-religious, inter-civilizational dialogue is important. Confucious talked about the self, family, society, the universe, and Heaven. In Islam, our concept of Prophet, understanding is similar. It’s spiritual, material, it’s family and universal appreciation of values. You have made such an immense contribution. I’m very fortunate because all those years in prison, I’ve asked for all your writings in English for me to go through, so now I’m an avid Tu Weiming leader and I can give a lecture on Tu Weiming and his thoughts.

TU: Thank you very much. And I do appreciate it. And also, I think from the Islamic point of view, in addition to fairness and justice, in terms of mutual understanding – compassion, and love turned out to be also outstanding. It is the ability to think in terms of others. It’s the ability to do things in the spirit of benefiting, not only oneself, but the one’s community and humanity as a whole, that we cherish this notion about compassion. Even more so than the idea of justice and the idea of the others. Thank you for your comment.

PM:  The final, final words, Prof. Tu Weiming, you know, in this world, where there is so much discord and identity politics and the growing fascism. It is, of course, very concerning. We need people like you to continue this mission, to get people to understand and appreciate and not to sow the seed of disaccord. You have to advise us now. And we need your remarks. What else do we need to do? At least in Malaysia, I’m in a position to influence a bit the direction. What we can do, and also for the ASEAN and the region, and what’s your advice?

TU:I think the Asian spirit of collaboration, of communication, of mutual understanding and mutual appreciation, that’s the basis for building the community. Do not do unto others what you would not like others to do unto you. To be able to know yourself, so you’ll be able to understand yourself in the eyes of others. And also, in the eyes of others, how you, as a co-member of the human community would be able to continue to open yourself up, broaden your scope as a human being, but also as a direct participant in the ongoing enterprise of mutual appreciation. As the world becomes modernized, it also becomes complicated and controversial. This particularly important, not only to be able to develop dialogue, but it’s a mutually beneficial dialogue to try to understand the others in terms of the those oneself to establish one’s own subjectivity, one’s own inner-conscious direction, not just as a way of personal appreciation, but also as a way of harmonizing relationships among others. This continuous process of self-understanding, reciprocity towards others, and how, through self-understanding, one’s appreciation of others becomes greatly enhanced.

It’s the notion of forming one body with Heaven and Earth as myriad things. Heaven is my father, earth is my mother. All things are my companions, and all people are my brothers and sisters. It is sense of sanguinity. People of mutual penetrating, mutual understanding is the basis of the dialogue. And the basis of dialogue is the basis of mutual harmony in the world. And in a world where we confronted with all kinds of controversy, confronting with all kinds of extremism. This notion that is rooted in the Confucian tradition of reciprocity, the Confucian tradition of humanity. That is the notion when Confucius’s disciples said, that the human burden is heavy, and human road is long, because burden of humanity is I, as a person, regard humanity as my burden. And the road is long, because I struggle to feel this road until I passed away. This lifelong commitment to self-understanding and other understanding is really the basis of a dialogue and communication. Thank you.

PM: Thank you, Professor TU Weiming. It’s been an honor not (only) for me, but the entire delegates here. And I’m sure this will be widely circulated, viral in Malaysia and also in the international community. I am reminded about the principle of reciprocity, of Confucian ethics, and also the issue of rahma (رحمة) and compassion, which is strongly expounded both in Islam and in Confucian ethics. We are trying in our Madani concept in Malaysia to put this issue of trust of amanah (أمانة) of rahma (رحمة) or compassion, and take responsibility in terms of reciprocity. So thank you again, xie xie ge wei.

TU: Thank you. Thank you. Please send great regards to your wife and your students. Thank you.

The above content was organized based on the on-site dialogue and is excerpted from

Topic: The Philosopher-King in Islamic and Confucian Political Thought: Comparative Notes

Speaker: Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr. Osman Bakar, Al-Ghazali Chair of Islamic Epistemology and Civilisational Studies and Renewal, ISTAC-International Islamic University Malaysia

 Moderator: Mr. Mohd Shazani Masri (ISTAC PhD student, Malaysia)

Topic: Islam-Confucianism Dialogue: Towards a New Creative Phase

Panel Speakers:

  1. Professor Nevad Kahteran
  2. Professor Dr Wen Haiming
  3. Professor Dr. Lasiyo

Moderator: Dr Nurul Ain Norman (Research Fellow, ISTAC, Malaysia)

Panel One: Tradition and Modernization

Panel Speakers:

  1. Professor Mohd Hazim Shah Murad (Universiti Utara Malaysia)
  2. Professor Dato Mohamad Abu Bakar (University of Malaya)
  3. Dr. Peter T. C. Chang (University of Malaya)

Moderator: Dr Tee Boon Chuan (Associate Professor, UTAR, Malaysia)

Panel Two: Governance and Culture

Panel Speakers:

  1. Ms. Chen Yuanfen (Executive Chairman of the Global SME Alliance Confucian Business Culture Promotion Association)
  2. Dr Tan Chee Seng (Universiti Sains Malaysia)
  3. Mr Mohd Yusmadi Mohd Yusoff (Senior Partner at Fahda Nur & Yusmadi and founder of the RIGHTS Group)

Moderator: Mr. Yong Hee Kong (Senior Advisor, ASEAN Pte Ltd, Malaysia)

Panel Three: Economics, Business, and World Order

Panel Speakers:

  1. Professor Dato’ Saadiah Mohamad (Universiti Selangor UNISEL)
  2. Dr Wang Lizong ( Member of the national committee of CPPCC)
  3. Dr Phar Kim Beng (CEO of Strategic Pan Indo Pacific Arena (SPIPA))

Moderator: Mr. Arief S. Arman (MA Religion in Global Politics, SOAS, University of London)

Panel Four: Globalisation, Youth and Cultural Exchanges

Panel Speakers:

  1. Ms. Fan Xinheng (South China University of Technology)
  2. Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Azizan Baharuddin (Director of the University Malaya Centre for Civilisational Dialogue and Holder of the UKM-YSD Chair for Sustainability)
  3. Mr Muhammad Faisal bin Abdul Aziz (Presidency of the Muslim Youth Movement Malaysia (ABIM) from 2019 to 2023)

Moderator:  Mr. Nathaniel Tan (Columnist, Malaysia)

ICLD 2023 Event Highlight Video

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