• Dr Zain Ali is head of the Islamic studies research unit at the University of Auckland.

I am an optimist, I believe that things can turn out for the best.

My optimism has been falsified on a number of occasions. I was optimistic about the Arab spring in 2011, and for a while it did look like a change for the better across the Middle East. There was the overthrow of the Government in Egypt and then the uprising in Syria.

These two events did not bring about more stability, rather, it was like opening Pandora's box of chaos.


There remains some light on the horizon for the Arab spring, and it is the case of Tunisia. The Arab spring began in Tunisia and it is perhaps the only country to emerge as a functioning democracy from the 2011 uprisings. In 2015 the Nobel Peace prize was awarded to four large groupings of Tunisians who were seen to have worked toward building a pluralistic democracy.

There are a number of other Muslim majority countries who are also doing well, Qatar is case in point - the recent trial of the longest commercial flight from Doha to Auckland is testament to its business acumen. There are, however, some Muslim majority nations that are clearly broken; we may include Syria, Somalia and Yemen in this list.

I had the opportunity at the beginning of this year to spend some time in Malaysia. The architecture, food and people are wonderful, Malaysia also happens to be a Muslim majority country.

We visited a very old and ornate mosque in the coastal city of Melakka. Parts of the city have been declared World Heritage sites by the UN. As we prayed in the mosque, a group of Korean tourists walked in, quickly taking a number of selfies, the mosque was part of the tourist trail.

All the major mosques in Malaysia make a point of welcoming visitors, and this was good to see. On the other hand, Malaysia has worrying restrictions in place on non-Muslims' using the word Allah (the Arabic word for God). The authorities fear that Muslims in Malaysia may get mislead if other communities also use the word Allah.

There is then a disconnect between the friendly openness of everyday Malaysians and the narrow conservatism of the ruling elite

I experienced a similar disconnect when visiting the US. My visit was some months before the primaries, however, the proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US was just making headlines.

My hosts were a group of academics, and in my very first meeting with them, I was offered an apology for the anti-Muslim rhetoric. I hadn't taken the rhetoric to heart and advised them the apology was not necessary.


The group of academics were from a staunchly Catholic university, and I was deeply humbled by their warm and welcoming hospitality. I enjoyed my short stay at the university, and I especially enjoyed visiting the quaint chapel at the heart of the campus.

As it happens, the university had adopted the concept of "radical hospitality" as part of its philosophical outlook. In broad terms, radical hospitality describes a willingness to invite all people into your house as if they were Christ.

This required more than just treating people in the way you would want to be treated, rather - you should treat people in the way you would treat someone whom you deeply loved and adored. There was a disconnect between my experience of the warm hospitality of everyday Americans and the hawkishness of some of the political elites

The ruling elites across the world have much to answer for. I remain optimistic, and that is because hospitality is still very much part of our cultures. The challenge is whether we can move toward the ideal of radical hospitality; can we both welcome and love the other, especially the most vulnerable. Can we welcome and love the homeless, the destitute, the orphan, and the sick?

Our political elites occupy the headlines, but let's our make hospitality great again, let's be radical in our hospitality toward one another.