Inter-religious harmony in SEA under threat from rigid Islam, says report


KUALA LUMPUR: The relative harmony that has existed between Muslims, Buddhists and Christians in Southeast Asia is in jeopardy, according to a report. reported that the danger came from the spread of rigid and sectarian forms of Islam, including Salafism, which, it said, was being encouraged by the Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia.

It said the emergence of an Islamic State affiliate in the Philippines pointed to the growing impact of this strain of Islam, at the cost of local versions across Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and even countries such as Cambodia.

Minorities and even Shia Muslims are increasingly finding themselves targeted. The more rigid and sectarian forms of Islam, historically out of place in Asia, are being promoted with scholarships and charity.

This, the report said, might further divide communities – fermenting dissatisfaction with liberal society and potentially providing fresh recruits for a new flash point in global radicalism.

The report quoted Krithika Varagur, a Jakarta-based writer who studies Salafism in Southeast Asia, as saying that Saudi Arabia was more directly funding charities and institutions meant to proselytise in Indonesia.

This includes building mosques, funding preachers, performing missionary activity and offering scholarships.

She said this had resulted in increased religious intolerance of minorities, more shariah-inspired laws and the erosion of local Muslim traditions.

“Saudi investments have permanently altered the face of Indonesian Islam by making it more conservative, fundamentalist and intolerant,” Varagur was quoted as saying by

In Malaysia, Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa of the think tank Islamic Renaissance Front said, the problem was imported by students returning from Saudi Arabia. Returning students, including hundreds of civil servants, had brought back a “sectarian attitude” that would “break society apart”, he said.

The report said the expanding threat of imported strains of Islam could engulf entire communities, as the Philippines has discovered. It noted that militants linked to Islamic State had taken control of Marawi City and that the authorities only managed to retake the city in mid-October – after five months of fierce fighting.