50 Years of ABIM: Charting The Transition In Islamic Reformism
Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM) or the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia is an Islamic organisation founded on 6 August 1971 during an international trend of Islamic revivalism. Founded by Muslim students, PKPIM (National Union of Malaysian Muslim Students) in particular, the organisation promoted Islam through its charity work and education programs aimed at the poor. Yayasan Anda Akademik, a private school known as the ‘Institute’, served as a centre for its promotion of Islamic education.
The popularity of the organisation was aided by widespread scepticism among the youth towards secularisation and Westernisation. ABIM supported and assisted Islamic students practising Da’wah, the preaching of Islam, and was a crucial organisation in the early stages of the Malaysian da’wah movement.
The group reached its height during the late 1970s with a call to return to the basics and the true teachings of Islam through advocacy channel. In the 1980s decade, ABIM renewed its approach through the concept of ‘partnership in nation building’ with the government. The idea that also was known as ‘the reform from within’ had undergone the highly successful period particularly when the idea of establishing Islamic University and Islamic Banking that derived originally form ABIM’s Annual General Assembly had been realised through the establishment of International Islamic University of Malaysia-IIUM (1982) and Bank Islam Malaysia Berhad (1983).
For an organisation that was nominally not political, ABIM consistently criticised the government particularly in the scope of good governance which is non-compliance with Islamic principle. By 1986, the group had 40,000 members and now reaching 60,000 members and ABIM’s mission continuously received encouraging support from Muslims in Malaysia.
The new ABIM leadership today is entering a significant decade, navigating the Islamic Reformism in the transition era towards its fifty years of establishment. ABIM was established in 1971 and became the earliest Islamic organization in Malaysia carrying the message of the Reformist and Revivalist Imam Hassan Al-Banna- pioneer of Islamic movements in Muslim world history.
At the same time, ABIM had molded a diverse school of thoughts including from local scholars led by Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas, Mohammad Natsir, and Buya Hamka. Syed Naquib’s skills in arts also had a significant influence on ABIM as he was the one who crafted ABIM’s official logo carried by ABIM’s activists until today.
Other renowned scholars like Ismail Raji Faruqi and Al-Qaradhawi also shaped the thoughts of the movement and their works were always referenced and discussed during the weekly usrah. This openness in intellectual persuasions became the catalyst for ABIM to consistently forge ahead in dealing with changes to ensure that the element of Islamic reformism thrives in its ideas and activism.
In December 2020, ABIM held its annual muktamar (general assembly), where its president Muhammad Faisal Abdul Aziz delivered his keynote address entitled: “Cosmopolitan Islam and the Forging of Bangsa Malaysia”. Faisal quoted Amartya Sen and Francis Fukuyama, and spoke eloquently about the concept of cross-cutting identities, noting that it is extremely archaic and old-fashioned to think that we can have only one identity – or a hierarchy of identities that are ranked in some immovable way.
Faisal said: “A Bangsa Malaysia identity does not involve assimilation that dilutes our diverse cultures, but an opportunity to mould an integrated identity that is informed and inspired by the shared values and qualities of all the various ethnicities and cultures in our blessed nation. These shared values are the bases of the middle road that will keep our nation from falling from either the pitfalls of assimilation on one hand, or segregation and division on the other.”
ABIM upholds the agenda of successful models of grassroots activism, the ways in which religion can play a positive role in activism and governance, and the value of personal bonds in a movement.
Since its establishment in 1971, ABIM has contributed financial and food aid to underprivileged communities. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on lives and livelihoods, ABIM has extended their efforts to reach these communities with basic necessities. ABIM president, Faisal Abdul Aziz said: “During this trying period for the nation, we believe it is now more important than ever to stick together and help each other no matter what our backgrounds and beliefs are.”
All in all, as what have been highlighted, the Islamic movement, through the Islah (Reformist) principle, together with engagement efforts and a strong sense of accountability can be uplifted and stay relevant in the eyes of the society. This new transitional way of thinking will enrich the Islamic Reformist cauldron further and can be revisited by next generations in providing solutions for the society in the future.
List of Presidents of ABIM:
Prof. Dr. Razali Nawawi (1971–1974)
YB Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim (1974–1982)
Almarhum Prof. Dato’ Dr. Siddiq Fadzil (1983–1991)
Prof. Dato’ Dr. Muhammad Nur Manuty (1991–1997)
Dato’ Haji Ahmad Azam Ab Rahman (1997–2005)
Ustaz Dr. Haji Yusri Mohamad (2005–2009)
Ustaz Dr. Haji Muhamad Razak Idris (2009–2011)
Dato’ Haji Amidi Abdul Manan (2011–2015)
Haji Mohamad Raimi Ab Rahim (2015–2019)
Muhammad Faisal Abdul Aziz (2019–present)