Malay Mail Online Coverage

Muslims praying before breaking their Ramadan fast. Stock image selected by the Malay Mail Online. Picture: REUTERS.

My recent op-ed piece in The Conversation was reported in Malaysia today by the Malay Mail Online. In keeping with the Malay Mail‘s interest in Malaysian national affairs, including international assessments of the nation’s political life, it focused on examples I gave to illustrate my point that Muslims themselves debate their own texts. This is an important point in the context of a broader debate around how we should understand Muslim politics, both in Australia and elsewhere, including our close neighbour and important trading partner, Malaysia.

For this reason, I chose examples which demonstrate that there are considerable differences in how Malay Muslims interpret Qur’anic quotes, the way in which these quotes are deployed is shaped by intense political competition in Malaysia. The full text is below, with a link at the end.

Rise in Islamic fundamentalism seen as result of administration unsure of majority support

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 30 — Growing Islamic fundamentalism in Malaysia reflects an attempt by the ruling administration to reassert moral and political control after a divisive general elections, a political observer from the University of South Australia (UniSA) noted today.

According to an article in independent Australia-based news site The Conversation, the recent spate of enforcement by Islamic authorities may seem “comical”, but it points to an administration unsure of majority support.

“Yet political liberals may not understand that they reflect the Malaysian state’s overriding purpose now: to regenerate Malay Muslim majoritarianism, against strong counter-currents,” wrote Amrita Malhi, a research fellow with UniSA’s International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding.

Malhi pointed out that a recent report by Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies showed that 41 per cent of Malay Muslim voters did not support the government.

In addition, federal opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat (PR) won at last 51 per cent of the popular vote across ethnic and religious lines in the 13th general elections, she said.

“Why is this important? For one, it is difficult to be a majoritarian when one cannot be entirely confident that one is in the majority,” Malhi explained.

Malhi also related a recent visit by opposition lawmakers to Australia, ahead of Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy conviction appeal this week.

In a forum in UniSA, Malhi said the PR delegates claimed that Malaysia, a nation of around 20 million Muslims, has 150 jihadist fighters in strife-torn Syria; while Indonesia with more than 200 million Muslims, has almost the same number.

Malhi pointed out that in both countries, Muslims have access to the same Islamic texts and can emphasise quotes to justify violence if they wish to, as proven by the many Islamic groups which take differing stances on the texts.

However, she quoted PKR secretary-general Rafizi Ramli saying that Malaysian authorities’ drive to reassert their leadership is what underpins arguments for Muslim supremacy.

“The contest for the majority in Malaysia is fuelling the deployment of Quranic quotes for competing purposes. For this reason, Malay Muslims and “their” Islam cannot be summed up with reference to texts,” Malhi wrote.

Activists and observers told Malay Mail Online recently that Malays could be next in line after the Chinese to leave the country, in a bid to escape the growing religious fundamentalism and authoritarianism that leaves little room for free thought and dissent.

While Malaysia bills itself as a moderate Muslim nation, recent developments have demonstrated an increasingly conservative and hard-line approach to Islam here that is intolerant of cultures and practices not sanctioned by religious groups and authorities.

Muslims make up 61.3 per cent of the Malaysian population, followed by Buddhists at 19.8 per cent, and Christians at 9.2 per cent, according to the latest census data from 2010.

Originally published by the Malay Mail Online.

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