THE above set the tone on how I began a most delightful chat with Gamal, ambassador from the Arab Republic of Egypt. He was very candid with his views, particularly on how Islam is practised in his homeland — never judgemental and always guided by moderation.
Asked how the Egyptian model on the practice of Islam can be shared with the rest of the world, he said their Al-Azhar University’s Islamic studies graduates are the best testaments. There are presently 7,000 Malaysians undergoing Islamic studies and another 7,000 with the Medical, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Engineering faculties. English is the medium of instruction.
According to Gamal, Egypt is the third most popular tertiary education destination for Malaysians after Australia and England.
Gamal Abdulrehim Mohamed Metwally Gamal, 52, was posted to Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam (non-resident) on Feb 18, 2018. He came with wife Manal and son Ahmed, 14. Another son Mohamed, 23, and daughter Nesma, 22, are studying in France.
He had planned for an academic career until he spotted a Foreign Ministry press advertisement in 1989. There were over 1,500 applicants in that year. After the written exams it was whittled down to 67, and following the psychological and computer literacy tests, only 54 made it to the acceptance interview. That was a 97 per cent attrition rate!
Gamal qualified as a diplomat in June 1990, after 18 months with the Diplomatic Institute. He is an English Literature graduate with a Bachelor of Law and a Masters in Public International Law.
His overseas assignments to-date have taken him to Mexico City, Abuja, Angola and now, Kuala Lumpur. Before coming here he had a choice of South Korea, Kuwait and Thailand to pick from. Seven months on, he thinks he’s very fortunate he trusted his instincts.
Foremost he got to witness the momentous GE14 and its smooth transition. To Gamal, Malaysia has demonstrated to the world that “if the people really wanted change, it will happen”.
Gamal can trace his ancestry way back to his eighth great grandfather who came from Saudi Arabia and settled in Egypt, and they never left. So, Gamal is a blue-blood 11th generation Arabic/Egyptian.
He’s never been to Malaysia before this posting. The normal stay for ambassadors is four years. So far, he has visited Genting Highlands, Melaka, Port Dickson, Langkawi and a Chinese temple. Yes, the last item is a first for Gamal! He enjoys spicy food and simply loves the way squid is prepared in Tun M’s island constituency.
Do we know Egypt?
Egypt has a civilisation dating back at least some 3,500 years. Who hasn’t heard of their sphinx, mummies, Tutankhamun (King Tut), Cleopatra, Death on the Nile? (by Agatha Christie), Suez Canal, and larger than life personalities Gamal Naser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak? And certainly Omar Shariff!
96 per cent of the country is desert land. Egyptians are firmly settled along the Nile River hence separating their lifestyles and value systems from the nomadic and tribal Bedouins.
There are 20 to 25 per cent Christians, called Copts and they have lived alongside and existed peacefully with the majority Muslims because everyone is identified as Egyptians first and foremost. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the 6th Secretary-General of the United Nations (1992-96), was a Coptic Christian.
Gamal stressed that Islam is a “fantastic theory”, but unfortunately marred by poor implementation by some quarters. The Prophet Muhammad had led such an extraordinary life with practices that are so easy to observe.
Gamal then shared some of the Prophet’s remarkable stories and rounded off with the entrenched Islamic values — tolerance, forgiveness, honesty, transparency, real brotherhood, friendship, moderation and respect for other beliefs …
At no time did I feel being preached.
I am now reminded of the Camp David Accords signed by then president Anwar Sadat and Israeli president Menachem Begin in 1978, witnessed by US president Jimmy Carter. This culminated from 12 days of secret negotiations.
Parting message from ambassador Gamal: (Even) if the whole world is converted to Islam or all Muslims converted to other religions, Islam will not benefit or lose, as Islam is already great!
I’m compelled to add, Tuhan tidak perlu dibela (The almighty needn’t be protected/defended). From Gus Dur (Abdurrahman Wahid), president of Indonesia 1999-01 and once leader of Nahdlatul Ulama (largest independent Islamic organisation in the world).
Datuk Lee Yew Meng is CEO of Genovasi d.school