I had the opportunity to be in Dewan Tunku Canselor, Universiti Malaya to witness its convocation ceremony. How I wish I could be in the list of the graduates, but hey, I was invited to cover the highlight of the event. The limelight of the ceremony went to Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, who was there to receive her Honorary Doctorate in International Relations.
I want to share Rania’s enlightening speech, which carries strong message about international understandings, regardless of politics, policies, and diversity of race, languange or religion. Rania also expressed her hope on how Malaysia can play its part in helping the West to understand Muslim world.
Here is her speech transcript that left everyone in awe. Read lah!
Thank you all for that very warm welcome, and for the honor of this degree. I may not be able to sing like Ayu – but you’ve made me feel like one in a million, and I’m delighted and proud to be here.
I will do my best to live up to the promise of this doctorate – because I believe international relations is an area where our world needs some help! And I am proud to join the University of Malaya in that effort.
Perhaps as children, some of you heard the local folk tale of The Coconut Tree, about the young man who desperately wanted his life to be useful to others.
The young man consulted a village elder, explaining that he wanted to serve people all his life. “Wise father, how can I do this?” He asked. And the old man gave him a magic box, and said, “Don’t open it until you get home.”
But the young man was too eager. He disobeyed, and opened the box on the way home … and was instantly turned into a coconut tree, which serves people to this day.
The moral here, as with so many children’s fables, is the importance of respecting one’s elders. And speaking as the mother of four energetic kids, I really do appreciate that message!
But what strikes me most is how excited the young man was to serve…. and to make a difference in people’s lives. He literally couldn’t wait.
And that reminds me of so many of the people I’ve met around the world – young women and men who see the challenges around them not as inevitable or insurmountable… but rather as invitations to do their part to change things for the better.
Personally speaking, I think our world needs more of that youthful energy and idealism.
That is why I wanted so much to be with you today.
Because both Malaysia and Jordan are overwhelmingly youthful populations. The vast majority of our populations are under the age of 30. And your generation has a special kind of wisdom your parents and grandparents may never acquire. How many of you can post a video on YouTube? How many of you can download a podcast? How many of you have a Facebook account? How many of you blog?
You are empowered by new technology and unburdened by old habits.
And more than ever, you are using those tools to build networks of common cause – from student and civic organizations… to politics and popular culture.
Not only that, but you don’t need to ask for a magic box. You’ve earned your magic box, here at UM. Your education will unlock your potential.
And it won’t turn you into a coconut tree — but it will help you stand tall and serve others… as poets and politicians… business leaders and engineers… and the many other endeavors in which UM graduates have excelled.
Yet, as you embark on your future career… as you aspire to make your mark on the world… I hope you will think more broadly than just the confines of your field of study.
Because whatever path you ultimately follow … whatever profession you choose… each of you shares an opportunity to make an outsized difference – and not only as graduates of UM, but as citizens of Malaysia .
You have something precious to offer, just by being your own best selves. And that is to serve as positive proof that people of different cultures can live together.
I am convinced we need this kind of outlook more than ever. Because in a world where borders have blurred, where interdependence is a fact of life, it’s clear that in order to get ahead, we have to figure out a way to get along.
That’s true whether we’re talking about making the most of the global economy… or halting the warming that endangers our planet… or ensuring a new baby’s chance for survival isn’t determined by where she is born.
Because as the famous English poet, John Donne said: No man is an island. We are connected to one another – by commerce… culture… communication… and by common challenges as well.
And yet, even as our world has grown smaller, we are not yet a global community. Many people feel thrown off balance as the landscape around them shifts.
Suddenly, we seem to be living side by side – yet we’re not sure we’re prepared to be neighbors.
And while, deep down, we may know how enriching diversity can be, too often, the instinctive response to such change is to pull back instead of reach out… to fear that the few things that make us different from one another are more important than our common humanity.
We’ve seen this in the chasm of mistrust that has opened between the West and the Muslim world.
Polls show, for example, that 39 percent of Americans admit to feeling at least some prejudice against Muslims. Over one in five say they wouldn’t want a Muslim as a neighbor.
And Americans don’t have the monopoly when it comes to mistrust of Islam — as recent tensions in a number of European countries have made clear.
I am convinced that many of these attitudes stem from ignorance. In fact, many Westerners will freely admit this reality themselves.
When asked last year how much they knew about the opinions and beliefs of people who live in Muslim-majority countries, 57 percent of Americans replied “not much” or “not at all”.
And when asked what they admire most about the Muslim world, more than half of Americans surveyed said “nothing” or “no opinion”.
This is tragic to me – and not just as a practicing Muslim myself, but as someone who feels so enriched every day by humanity’s dazzling diversity.
Because every country, every culture, and every tradition has something of value to teach us. The more we learn about others’ lives, the more dimensions we add to our own. And when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes… and view the world from his or her vantage point… it enhances our ability to empathize… compromise… collaborate… and move forward together.
I believe that if more people from the West could actually come to know the Muslim world… they might find their preconceptions melt away… and their perspectives enhanced and improved.
But how will that happen? Clearly, the West needs to do more to reach across the East-West divide. But we in the East must do more to make clear what it is they are reaching for.
And I hope Malaysia will be a leading force in that endeavor – because your example is a powerful contradiction to so many of the negative stereotypes.
Some believe, for example, that Islam is incompatible with economic dynamism. But here in Malaysia , a Muslim-majority nation, you’ve had surging growth rates for years… and you’ve built yourselves into one of the world’s most competitive trading powers.
Some believe that women in Muslim societies are oppressed. But here in Malaysia , women are making strides in every sector – from politics and government… to business and banking… to university vice chancellor!
And some are convinced that Islam is intolerant and inward-looking. But here in Malaysia , a host of varied cultures have come together… weaving different traditions, flavors, and faiths into a tapestry all of your own.
This is a place where Eid… Chinese New Year… Diwali… and Christmas… are shared celebrations. Where performing arts range from shadow puppets… to Chinese opera… to Akademi Fantasia.
Where the world’s young people come to study – including the nearly 30 Jordanians enrolled here at UM – and from which thousands more venture out into the world – including the more than 650 Malaysians studying in Jordan today. Malaysia may be truly Asia… but it is also truly multi-cultural. And we in Jordan salute your achievements – and share your forward-looking perspective.
For centuries, my country has been a place that brings East and West together…as an historic trade route… a meeting place for travelers… and a home to many ancient civilizations. Jordan is a leading voice for tolerance and moderation – proud of our past… confident in our future… and open to the world.
In this respect, though our countries are half a world apart, Jordan and Malaysia are natural partners. And all of you here have a role to play in extending this partnership worldwide.
As students of UM, you see more cultures in your classrooms than some people see in a lifetime. You’re already fluent in multiple languages… familiar with multiple traditions.
You know that a clash of civilizations is not preordained. That our best future lies in unity, not division. And you know that when people exchange ideas, both end up with more than when they started.
Perhaps you’ve read the wonderful poem, “si tenggang’s homecoming” by Muhammad Haji Salleh, about a young man who returns to his village after traveling overseas.
His family is skeptical of his new ways – but he knows he has changed for the better. And “seasoned by confidence / broadened by land and languages /… no longer afraid of the oceans / or the differences between people,” he tells them that the contents of his boats are theirs too, because he has returned.
For he has learned that embracing the world does not demand that we relinquish what we cherish at home, but, rather, that it adds to and enriches the journey of life.
As young Malaysians, setting out on your own voyages, you have already learned many of the lessons Si Tenggang brought home. I hope you will share the wisdom of your experience – and enrich our global village. And know the people of Jordan will be there with you, every step of the way. Thank you very much, and selamat sejahtera – may peace be with you