KUALA LUMPUR (AP) — Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Wednesday an Islamic conference that includes leaders from Iran, Turkey and Qatar is aimed at tackling Islamophobia and finding solutions to challenges facing the Muslim world.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived in Malaysia on Wednesday for the Kuala Lumpur Summit, which will also include the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, a high-level delegation from Indonesia and Islamic scholars.

Mahathir said the three-day conference, which starts Thursday, will bolster Muslim unity and be a platform “to do something to improve the lives of Muslims the world over.”

“We feel that we need to overcome Islamophobia. We need to find a way to address our shortcomings, our dependency on non-Muslims to protect ourselves against the enemies of Islam,” he said at a welcoming dinner, without elaborating.

Saudi Arabia has voiced reservations amid the participation of leaders from the three rival countries. Mahathir said Saudi Arabia refused to join because it believes such meetings should be held under the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation. But Mahathir said the conference is meant to be an avenue for Muslim intellectual discussion and not a rival to the OIC.

Pakistan leader Imran Khan was originally slated to attend but withdrew this week in a move seen to assuage its ally, Saudi Arabia.


In a message on the conference website, Mahathir said the Muslim world has been plagued by endless wars and for too long has “been associated with bad governance, endemic corruption and a breeding place for terrorism.” He said Muslim weakness and disunity has given credence to such anti-Islam propaganda.

“We have always reflected on how great, enriching and powerful the Islamic civilization was. It is a chapter in history and we yearn for its return. It will remain a yearning unless we do something about it,” he added.

In a statement Tuesday, Mahathir’s office also said the conference will also aim to pursue specific measures to help Muslims under oppression, those incarcerated or in detention camps, and millions displaced to non-Muslim countries due to wars.

All the leaders will speak at the conference Thursday. Organizers didn’t spell out specific issues that they would address. The program showed that discussion panels will center on general topics such as national development, good governance and security.

Rouhani leaves Friday for a two-day visit to Japan.