On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

No slowing down an extraordinary man

By coincidence, or perhaps the speaker might have
recognised Dr Mahathir among the crowd, he suddenly heaped praises on the
Malaysian leader. Dismissing many politicians who claimed to be Islamic as
fakes, he described Dr Mahathir as one of the few true Muslim leaders.

In a strong commanding voice, he said Dr Mahathir was one of the few "Islamic
leaders with soul" and "certainly one of the great Islamic leaders of our

Not wanting to attract undue attention, Dr Mahathir decided to walk away before
he was pointed out by the speaker, who appeared to have become excited by the
presence of the Malaysian leader.

It was certainly a good start for Dr Mahathir who spoke his heart out on Islam
to a packed crowd at the School of Oriental
and African Studies at the University
of London the following day.

Dr Mahathir had spent hours rewriting the speech, keeping his aides busy until
near midnight on Sunday, to ensure his
words truly reflected his inner thoughts and feelings on Islam and Malaysia.

Using simple language, without the rhetoric often associated with some Islamic
speakers, Dr Mahathir urged Muslims to re-examine the Islam they practised as
contradictory interpretations had divided its followers and led to various

The Prophet, he pointed out, brought Muslims only one religion of Islam but
today there were hundreds of Islam, saying Islam was a perfect religion but
Muslims were not.

The short stop in London was a
nostalgic one in many ways, not just for Dr Mahathir, but for the officials,
journalists and businessmen who accompanied him on his stops in Stockholm
and New York.

On his last leg of his 22-year career as Prime Minister, he took time off in London
to buy books and also DVDs. One of his choices was the classic Ben Hur,
starring Charlton Heston.

Then there was the purchase of tapes in French, an indication that he would be
learning the language, now that he would have time to spend on his own. His
wife, Datin Seri Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamed Ali, is said to be sharpening her
language skills by sending SMS in French.

The London visit, probably his last
as a prime minister, also brought back many fond memories for him. He told his
listeners that his first visit was in 1962 when there were few Indian
restaurants. He remembered one particular shop which he visited daily for his
meals until he realised that the British pound sterling was just too expensive
for him.

But Dr Mahathir had little precious time for himself in London.
There appeared to be no end to the number of people who had appointments with
him at the apartment in Kensington High.

Those who did not have appointments did not mind waiting outside the door. Some
Malaysians, including a former prominent editor now living in London,
just wanted to shake his hand and extend greetings. It was obvious, from his
smiles, that Dr Mahathir was delighted to see some familiar Malaysian

When he arrived in Stockholm, Dr
Mahathir kept the same punishing schedule, meeting Swedish leaders, businessmen
and officials, until midnight. He is
certainly no ordinary man, as all of us realised. Instead of taking a lighter
pace, as most people reaching retirement would have done, Dr Mahathir had a
meeting every hour.

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, visibly touched by Dr Mahathir's visit,
reminded the local press that the latter would be stepping down next month. Dr
Mahathir, he told them, was not just the Malaysian Prime Minister but also the
head of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organisation of Islamic

He insisted that the local press should inform the Swedes about these
accomplishments, saying it was an extraordinary feat for an extraordinary

As the journey in Stockholm came to
an end, Dr Mahathir held his customary press conference for Malaysian
journalists. Still the country's number one salesman, he spoke about the
readiness of some Swedish investors to put money in Malaysia.

But the touching moment for most of us, who have been travelling overseas with
Dr Mahathir over the years, was when he told the newsmen that he wanted to have
individual pictures taken with the journalists as remembrance.

Taking advantage of Dr Mahathir's mood, the staff of the Foreign Ministry and
the security personnel soon made the same request, which he sportingly obliged
despite having only minutes to catch his flight to New

The Malaysian press had thought that the visit to Sweden
was his last official visit, apart from upcoming working visits to Thailand
and Indonesia
to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting and Asean summit
respectively, but his aides said a few possible visits were still being worked
out before he stepped down on Oct 31.