He (Tun Mahathir) said that if the negative perception of Islam continued, it would adversely affect efforts to spread the religion as "no one would be interested to join a religion whose followers are seen as losers".
"People will only be attracted when there is a successful track record...as such only when Muslims become successful in all spheres or better than others in them can we successfully carry out effective missionary activities," he said.
Excerpts taken from The Malay Ideals (2002)
During the middle ages, people flocked towards Islam because the Muslims were 'the culturally superior', the most advanced of all societies in the world. They held the highest seats in the most distinguished universities. The best universities were in the Muslim states. Europeans and people all across the known world wanted to come to Baghdad and Cordova to seek knowledge. They were impressed with the Islamic Culture and its peoples. Of the Christians of Cordova for example, many * and most of them enlightened * were content to follow the Muslims' examples faithfully. They took "delight in the poems and romances of the Arabs". "The young Christians who were most conspicuous for their talents had no knowledge of any literature or language save Arabic; they read and study with avidity of Arabic books; they amassed whole libraries of them at a vast cost." The Christians of Cordova, as a whole adapted themselves readily to Islamic Civilisation. Under Arab rule, Jewish culture also blossomed and rose to prominence. The non-Muslims' obsession with Muslim Culture and Civilisation meant they regarded the Muslim Civilisation highly and many Christians and Jews converted to Islam as a result. Islam became the preferred faith by virtue of its civilisational achievements. The masses craved to be Muslims because Muslim society were the most civil of societies. The Church in Europe then was still burning academics at the stake imputing that they were practicing knowledge bestowed by the Devil.
Nevertheless, a few centuries later, Muslim dominance of the world had to come to and end. Europe and the West resurfaced from the abyss by utilising Muslim knowledge and by breaking loose from the crippling shackles of the Church and truncating its power. Industrialisation eventually took place and the West built rich and powerful nation states. In the process, the West conquered most Muslim lands and kept their people under subjugation. By the 20th century the Americans were in a clear lead and kept a tight reign on world economics. This was ironically assisted by the rise of Nazism in Europe which led to an influx of intellectuals from the continent. By the middle and end of the century, they became the most powerful force on earth. Thus the American century and civilisation was born. By this time, the Muslims have been in a pit of backwardness. Their once all-domineering influence is no longer extant. In fact, they became one of the most backward peoples on earth by this stage.
The world is still currently under the American fold of civilisation. From Latin America to the Far East, there is no other civilisation that has managed to be most impressive than the American civilisation - in almost every aspect of life. This is exceedingly true with the impressionable young. It is the psychology of humanity that they look up to the successful and the powerful as their idols. It is a veritable truth that prevails throughout the ages. And the last century happened to belong to America more than any other, and still is. What is undertaken by the so called "civilised" society is emulated and copied reverently by other nations and thought to be infallible * even though it could be a completely blunder.
The same situation holds true if there had been a Muslim Civilisation. Only when an Islamic Civilisation has become a fascination to the world, would people flock towards Islam once again because by then Islam would have been perceived to be the religion of the intellectuals and the achievers as witnessed in Cordova, Spain during the reigns of the Umayyads. Muslims therefore have to rise above the quagmire of poverty, ignorance and malaise. Had they failed in this worthy cause, they would have failed in their mission to palpably Islamise Malaysians in order to facilitate adhesions between communities.