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Report: Intolerance rising in Malaysia, but leadership appears quiet

 | October 13, 2017

Malaysia’s reputation as a moderate and tolerant nation has ebbed under Najib Razak’s leadership as political considerations hold sway, says report in Asia Times.

islamKUALA LUMPUR: There is an increase in Islamic intolerance in pre-election Malaysia and this is causing anxiety and concern among the people, a report in Asia Times said.

However, according to the report, Prime Minister Najib Razak appears to be largely silent about it.

It said despite Najib’s efforts to cultivate a global reputation as a moderate Muslim leader in the fight against Islamic extremism, “Malaysia’s reputation as a moderate and tolerant Islamic country has ebbed under his leadership”.

“Indeed, Najib has been largely silent amid polarising religion-related discord.”

The report quoted “observers” as saying religious moderation had been made untenable by Najib’s administration, “which many see as being dependent on a strategy of appeasing hardliners and far-right Malay groups to consolidate domestic Malay Muslim support ahead of general elections that must be held by August 2018”.

The report noted that Najib had only commented on the self-service laundrette in Johor, which caused a social media uproar when it attempted to ban non-Muslims for hygienic concerns, after the Sultan of Johor expressed displeasure over the action of the laundrette owner.

It quoted “observers and analysts” as saying that although Islam had long been part of the political landscape, its politicisation had increased in recent years.

“Analysts have associated the recent uptick of religion-related controversies with Umno’s attempts to rally the majority Malay community ahead of polls.”

The report said Umno was playing up a siege mentality and fears of the erosion of Islam, the loss of Malay political power and the Muslim community’s position in society to win votes.

It said a string of racial and religious incidents had brought concerns of rising Islamic conservatism to the fore, widening the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims “as the government plays on identity issues ahead of what is expected to be a jarring and contentious election season”.

Among the examples it gave were the cancellation by the authorities of two annual beer festivals, largely due to hardline Muslim pressure.

Religion, the report said, had become increasingly central to Malaysian public life in the past decade, as Islamic religious institutions steadily expanded their jurisdictions “in favour of a narrow interpretation of Islam and Muslim identity”.

It quoted Rashaad Ali, a research analyst at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies as saying: “[Muslim] members of Malaysian society are choosing to wall themselves off from their fellow Malaysians, alienating groups from one another.”

It noted that United Nations Special Rapporteur for cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, after visiting Malaysia last month, had expressed concern over the involvement of religious authorities in policy decisions, which she said was a “significant break with the past”.

Bennoune had warned: “Allowing religion to be homogenised under a hegemonic version of Islam imported from the Arabian Peninsula undermines the cultural rights of Malaysians,” alluding to the rising role of Saudi Arabia-trained Islamic scholars recruited into Malaysia’s civil service and religious establishment.

The Asia Times report also noted the Malay rulers “rare collective statement” airing concern about the erosion of national unity and harmony due to recent religious controversies.

 


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