Malaysia: Rise of ‘Racist’ Strain of Islam

June 10, 2016

Malaysia: Rise of ‘Racist’ Strain of Islam

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

The Lay Preacher and Demagogue Zakir Naik

A recent article comparing the treatment accorded by the Government and the larger Islamic community to two recent Muslim visitors notes that the question as to why preacher Zakir Naik and scholar Abdullahi An-Na’im and their messages are resounding differently with the Malay Muslim community is a crucial one for Malaysians to ask


The contrast in the themes articulated by these two visitors in their lectures and public engagements cannot be more different.

The Scholar Abdullahi An-Na’im

That of the scholar is a vision of a more humanistic and intellectually more rational and defensible Islam. The other by the preacher stems from a conservative and extremist position. Based on advocacy of Islam as a superior religion, Zakir offers simplistic but popular – with the Muslim masses – opinions on topics such as dealing with LGBT’s and other non-Islamic minorities, apostasy, the treatment of other faiths in Islamic states, the evils of secularism, etc.

Similar questions have been asked by others as to why Islam in this country has taken a hard line position and turned its back on its traditionally moderate roots and associated Hindu-Buddhist values and mores. Also why the defence of secularism and secular-oriented positions such as those espoused by G25 group of prominent ex-civil servants have received little traction while, at the same time, rabble rousing groups such as the Red Shirts and ISIS type extremist views have gained ground among the Malays.

Two scholars have recently contributed insights into the rise of a conservative and hard line Islam in the country. Dr. Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hami in his paper “ISIS in Southeast Asia: Internalized Wahhabism is a Major Factor” (ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute Perspective, 16 May 2016) has dissected the impact of the Wahabbi brand of Salafism with its extremist world view from a political development perspective since the 70s.

Dr. Azhar Ibrahim, in his blog article, “Secularism as Imagined in the Malay-Indonesian World: Resistance and its Muted Counter Responses in the Discursive and Public Realms”, using a cultural anthropological cum historical approach has explained the failure of Muslim intellectuals and intelligentsia to engage and contest the anti-secularists.

Race in Malaysia’s Islamic Discourse

While the two papers are useful and timely, what is missing is a discussion of how the factor of race, and the rise of a virulent strain of Malay racism may be a key, and perhaps the major, factor explaining the recent rapid spread of an increasingly conservative and reactionary Islamic ideology and practices in the country.

Although orthodox Islam rejects race and racism, there is mounting evidence that the resurgence in Islam in Malaysia is closely correlated with the rise of anti-non-Malay sentiment, and an ethno-centricism directed at the non-Malay and non-Muslim communities.

Ahmad Fauzi and Ahzar Ibrahim are not the only two scholars who have failed to attach sufficient importance to the racial factor playing a critical role in the most recent phase of Islamic socio-economic and political development in Malaysia. Many other local scholars have chosen to ignore it or have studiously avoided the subject.

This avoidance is possibly because of the belief that Islamic extremism in Malaysia has spread primarily due to externally generated events such as the rise of political Islam in the Middle East. It may also be because of the view that an academic or public discourse on the subject – even from an academic or intellectual perspective – may be opening up a pandora’s box; or is not helpful to one’s academic or professional career; or perhaps reflects poorly on the integrity of the scholar’s own religious and racial community.

Recent events, however, have brought into the forefront the importance of putting the subject under the academic microscope and of engaging in an open and frank exploration of it, even if this discourse may be regarded as treading on sensitive concerns and issues.

The opening of this pandora’s box is also necessary because it appears that both extreme forms of the two ideologies – one religious and the other man-made – are not only converging but are also mutually reinforcing. The fused outcome – a form of Islamofacism – may be displacing, or perhaps may already have displaced, the earlier moderate mainstream forms.

Two examples of the convergence of “Ketuanan Islam” and “Ketuanan Melayu” can be highlighted, although more instances are taking place on a daily basis.

In September 2015, UMNO Supreme Council member, Tan Sri Annuar Musa, openly admitted that he is a “racist”. In his speech to participants at the “Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu” or “red shirt” rally which its organizers estimated to have attracted a crowd of 250,000, he emphasised that racism was allowed in Islam, so long as other races were not oppressed in the process.

According to him “I am racist but it’s racism based on Islam. Racism is allowed in Islam”. He was also reported to have quoted a hadith (a saying of the Prophet) on ‘assabiyah’ which he interpreted as justifying racism.

The UMNO leader may have been playing to the gallery during his speech. However what he announced reflects not only his understanding – and justification – of Islamic racism a-la its Malaysian variety. It also reveals a similar position held by UMNO’s leadership and most of the ruling party’s rank and file members since there are no reports of anyone from the party expressing dissent with Annuar Musa’s view.

More recently, the open display of the “keris” – commonly seen as the symbol of Malay nationalism – during the recent opening of PAS’s muktamar has led Dr. Mahathir to note that “PAS used to criticise UMNO for being a nationalist party, but now the opposition party is “more nationalist because their keris is longer than Umno’s”.

“We measure nationalism based on the length of the keris, The longer the keris, the more nationalistic. Now they realise that they’re Malays,” he added.

For non-Muslims and non-Malays, these new developments, and the racialism and extremism seeping into the Islamic consciousness of the Malay community, are no laughing matter.

What it means is that they cannot expect PAS, UMNO, or perhaps even Amanah, the latest of the Muslim parties and progressive Islamic NGO’s and conscientious scholars to draw attention to and fight the battle for equal rights within an increasingly Islamic Malaysian nation.

They have only themselves to rely on and should not, as in the boiling frog anecdote, wait too late to respond to the rising heat from this present incarnation of Islamic and racist resurgence in the country.

25 thoughts on “Malaysia: Rise of ‘Racist’ Strain of Islam

  1. Nothing new — it is called “clerico-fascism” and characteristic of
    extremist versions of Christianity e.g. the Iron Guard movement of
    Romania and the Arrow Cross of Hungary around the time of WW2.

  2. I feel it has much to do with inferiority complex. The advances made by non-Malays and their perceived affluence are beig viewed with disdain by Malay Muslims on the whole. And coupled with the views of the robust but minority progressive Malays, the stage is set for yet another confrontation.

    Problems of inequality don’t seem to dissipate despite many affirmative actions. The crutch-and-rent-seeking mentality persists. The situation is further aggravated by a ruling party that is rakyat-unfriendly.

    Today, religion and race are two very explosive subjects that can rip Malaysians apart. And we are not getting any help from our tainted leaders, as they themselves are fighting for their political survival while enriching themselves.

    The contending Islamist parties are a disgrace, pure and simple, and so is the ruling coalition. Is a solution insight? Your guess is as good as mine.

  3. The title is seditious! To be a Malay is not a race as per Constitution. Jika ‘katasayang’ orang Kristian Cina ini mula berpuasa, masuk Islam, saya pun orang Melayu. Mana ada rasis dalam konsep Melayu.

    Yang rasis tu, orang Cina lah. Tak ada jalan masuk Cina. Wait.. after generations being a Chinese, I am still called a ‘penumpang’ in China, not to mention Khek penumpang like descendants of Yap Ah Loy.

    I think we should call current administration as what it is. Desperate, manipulative, tak Melayu, kerana tak Islam. Clueless on how to run their own life.

  4. Islam IS NOT a religion of peace. Period. The phrase was popularised by George Bush for his own agenda. Islam at best only can be a religion of peace. Even in the Quran while it speaks of peace, has violent references. So, it’s time take away the assumptions of what, it can be violent, it can be hateful, and these people are milking it.

  5. There will be, in total, 73 different sects in Islam, before the world ends, and only is the right one. Zakir Naik and scholar Abdullahi An-Na’im, each belongs to a different sect. Whether the former or the latter belongs to the right one, I don’t know.

    Many now, especially Malay Muslims in Malaysia, have different beliefs and they choose them at their own whims and fancies, for some, whatever or whichever bring them the most benefits, wealth in particular, would be their obvious choice, and they do not care whether the wealth that they accumulate are ‘halal’ or ‘haram’. You obviously can see for yourself that this has been happening since Mahathir became the PM of this country. The situation is actually getting worse and it will become a lot more worse in future.

    I belong to one too and I like to believe that the sect I am with is the right one. I regularly check and verify what I believe in with people in the know and those who have the right knowledge and the right information and so far, I am told that I am ok. I am not rich and I have to work very hard for every Ringgit I earn because I always make sure that whatever I earn is halal.

    As time goes by, more and more people like Zakir Naik and scholar Abdullahi An-Na’im will come and every time new ones come, they seem to be better and more knowledgeable than the ones who came before them, of course, one belongs to the right sect and the other belongs to the wrong sect. In between, others will come and all obviously come from the wrong sects but they are all still as convincing as those two people, nonetheless. Many people will be influenced and deceived by them and become members of their sects but no one can tell, only the initiated will. This is already happening now. No point telling them that they are following the wrong sects because they won’t believe you anyway. So, it’s best to mind your own business.

    Future Zakir Naiks and Abdullahi An-Na’ims will come, and those in between too, and more and more people will believe the wrong ones than the right ones.

    It is actually quite easy to tell which is which. Go back to basics, refer to the Al – Quran and the Sunnah, and you will be on the right track and make the right choice.

    Non Muslims need not worry at all about this, if you do good, you will be rewarded and vice-versa, your heaven or your hell is here whilst you are still alive and when you die, it’s all over for you or, some may believe that they will be reincarnated as something else, either as an angel or as some kind of animal depending on how good or how bad they are when they were alive. For us Muslims, our heaven or our hell is in our afterlife, i.e. after we die. So, it’s not a question of ‘inferiority complex’ that some of you may think.

    Best wishes to you all and ‘May God Bless You’!

  6. Without oil, the US would not have been so liberal towards the wahabi/salafist islamo-nazis. All this is happening because the US wanted to control the oil resources of the middle-east, therefore they had to condone what Saudi Arabia is doing. The saudis are trying to promote their kind of Islam to strengthen their grip on people and legitimise their brutality, It is a pity because many good muslims are conned by the saudis into believing that the house of saud is the only legitimate guardian of the religion. Do you think the US will give a shit about Saudi Arabia when the oil runs out and the pumps stop pumping?

  7. I don’t think the Malays are racist. They are just spoilt by the never-ending NEP since 1971 and they have been taught by UMNO that there is no consequence to their actions, whether that be laziness, corruption, child rape, grand theft, treason, murder, etc. After having been spoilt, they will do anything to safeguard their spoils. And the saddest part is, after all those subsidies and special treatment, they have next to nothing to write home about. The biggest Malay company is Petronas but really, that is just an accident of geography and it is nothing compared to Shell and BP. Others like Naza just stamp their names on other people’s products. Proton and MAS, facepalm x1000. The non-Malays have overwhelmingly done better in every respect, even sports, despite having been disadvantaged and abused at every turn in terms of their constitutional rights.

  8. “Non Muslims need not worry at all about this, if you do good, you will be rewarded and vice-versa, your heaven or your hell is here whilst you are still alive and when you die, it’s all over for you or, some may believe that they will be reincarnated as something else, either as an angel or as some kind of animal depending on how good or how bad they are when they were alive.” hak55

    You actually don’t have any inkling of other religions, do you? In that case, better for you to keep your comments on the Quran and Sunnah. To you – your god, to me – mine.

    Tok Cik as a veteran who had served the country well, and has seen the many wondrous aspects of our socio-cultural-religious milieu is correct in his assessment. The enslavement of the Malay identity is a given, with this bunch of ‘angels’.

    Trouble occurs when tunnel vision obscures, while wide field vision enables. Tactics used by the Islamofascists of PASUMNOb (Salafist-Wahabi or Politikus?) does not deter the fact that deep down inside, a religion that supposedly preaches Justice and Peace is instead full of Bigotry, Hatred and Malice.

    I have been to many places in my life, and to me the syncrestic Sufi of India have opened my eyes to the Mystical, Peaceful and Charitable intent of Islam. The Ibadi of Oman too, practice a form that is enlightened to me, but perhaps not so to you. The non-sectarian Muslims in Central Asia up to Tatarstan, wouldn’t pay two hoots to false piety of your august Ulamaks. State-sanctioned Enforcement and Legalistic interpretations are far from their experience and norm – and they seem to be less anxious to inflict on themselves, Medieval Arabic culture and theological lexicon.

    But who am i to question over how the rest of the non-Muslim world view the hard-headed Literalist Interpretation, that Muslims in this country venerate to the exclusion of all else? Even the word ‘Islam’ has been made into an Idol.

  9. Whether Islam, Christianity or Judaism are religions of peace or not depends on who you ask, when you ask it and which parts of their Holy Books are referred to.

    But whatever the arguments are, surely we must all agree that having peaceful Muslims, Christians and Jews is a good thing to strive for? All the more so in a small multi-racial, multi-religious country like Malaysia where all races of all religions must interact on a daily basis?

    On a personal basis I don’t believe any Malaysian, (barring a very very tiny number who would harm even people of their own race & religion), would wish harm to anyone solely on the basis of race and religion.

    What went wrong is of course the big political elephant in the room, and here the issues will never be settled until the End of Days come, and even then I believe people will still be arguing in the presence of God Himself.

  10. Dato Din has been very kind in witholding my previous comment. Not sure of the exact reason. But I think I at least owe myself and Dato Din for his kindness for witholding.

    I have struggled for quite sometime with the notion of ”veil of ignorance” in a postRawlsian world. There was a time when we were truly ignorant of each other. But, in today’s flat world, a lot is known. A lot of biasness still exists. Even if there were no bias, we still have a lot of conflicting truth claim with far reaching implications that we really could not reconcile.

    Is it more loving to put some of those thoughts aside as if it does not exist, or if it is better to be authentic and challenge ourselves to learn the meaning of emphathy.
    Perhaps, it is even better to be oneself. They all seem to be valid truth claims. In many ways, I do really like the tea party voters I know. Quite a lot of them are genuine and loving.

    In other parts of the world, say in China, we ‘using the term we liberally as I am a Chinese’ ignore the existence of Indians. The same applies to how Indians felt about the Chinese. In a big America, a multiverse is very much a reality. In many churches in the West, Muslims are anti-Christ. The same could be said of how the hypocrite Christians appear to the nones.
    Religious aside, just look at how easy it is to spot differences in neighbourhood.

    Malaysia is small. We live together, we work together. I am faced with the reality of being a Malay without having to live as one, without even need to be in Malaysia half my life.

    I am sure those Malays who looked around knows exactly who are the Indians and Chinese.

    I have posted the previous comment thinking out loud from the perspective of a possible card carrying UMNO putera. In some sense, there is some validity with that thought. I do mean it. The Chinese is not that lovely. But, for the sake of your God, love the Chinese. They deserve to know the better side of your God and your people also. They are mostly poor, lonely, and rlejected by their own motherland. As for my Jesus, you already know. We Chriatians do not deserve Jesus. Exactly. Christians do not deserve Jesus is the very core of the good news, the gospel. Once you see the validity to the statement, you already got it.

    For all who hold power in the current administration in Malaysia. Read this, and consider what you are doing. We all only get to do this life once here and now. With God or no God, please contemplate the uniqueness of your position. I chose to live this life with emphathy in my mind. I hope you will get to experience that comes along with that thought. Else, you will only have one reality. Live in constant fear to please your 1PM or be afraid of those around you waiting to get your position. Just look into the depth of your own heart, and you will see how pathetic you are, how pathetic we all are.

  11. The priority of the people is shelter, bread and butter and jobs,. while
    political leaders is getting votes.

    The cheapest and easiest way for the politicians, (here inadvertently the Umno-Pas leaders) is to use race(Malay Supremacy) and religion (Islam) as tools. That eventually will backfire because the values of spirituality (private and personal) in religion and the respect for race have been reduced and often abused on imposition.

    Quran said there is no compulsion in religion. Man cannot choose to what and whom they are born.

    While brnging religion and or race for open discussions is healthy, it must be done in absolute peaceful,rational and non-violence manner privately sponored, without mixing them with politics, where respect for disagreement and difference of opinion must be observed. Then, SUSTAINED benefits and progress in terms of political maturity, benefits for the nationan and its people can be achieved.

  12. ……thus, leaders energy and effort productively directed to satisfy the priority of people is, understandably, the better solution for getting elected. Racialist political Islam or any religion or form should be curtailed and discouraged, moving forward.

  13. C.L.Familiaris: Reading your comments, I can infer that you obviously are one of those people with ‘tunnel vision’, and you are incapable of looking at the bigger picture. You are also clearly anti-Malay and anti-Islam.

    If I want to write in detail about other religions here, I am afraid , there won’t be enough space and it’s sufficient, I believe, to say that we Malay/Muslims are not trying to challenge the nons nor are we trying to make life difficult for them. We will always remain peaceful.

  14. Fair and logic solution is that no single race and religion should be the winner or in control over another. Can the BN government stay on this solution?.
    I thought the answer to your question is pretty obvious. It is not. Maybe CLF, Tok Cik, Conrad, Abnizar, Semper Fi can give you a more eloquent answer.–Din Merican

  15. “You are also clearly anti-Malay and anti-Islam.”

    This is clearly the most ridiculous thing ever written about CLF. No wait actually this is – ” I can infer that you obviously are one of those people with ‘tunnel vision’, and you are incapable of looking at the bigger picture.”

    How you managed to work in two of the most ridiculous things ever written about CLF in one paragraph, is not worth considering.

    That’s the problem with folks like you. You have no problem having an opinion about the Other’s faith but are hostile to the idea of discourse about your own faith. In my experience most Muslims have this problem. The charge of anti-Malay is purely a local product and for that you have to take some pride in.

    However hostility and defensiveness is the easiest but worse foundation to base faith on.
    The great thing about our bro CLF is that he can take as much as he can give. Like you, he is a very smart and enlightened Malaysian. I thank both of you for your contributions to reasoned discourse in this blog. –Din Merican

  16. Sadly, to disagreed with you hak55. Your definition of Malay/Muslims applies to you and to some extent others. In reality it’s a menace to others especially non- Muslims. At present Muslims portrayed insecurity and are often used by politicians to achieve their quest for power and hide their wrong doings.

    I believe C.L. Familiaris can write in detail about your religion here and I am also afraid there wont be enough space.

  17. No worries friends, as i seldom take offence to how other folks view me. Actually, i did it to illustrate a point. Most folk will accuse others but not themselves.

    Pigeon holing is what i expect, as it shows the depth of hypocrisy in even the most informed, intellectualized and educated. When we voice out any thing that is contrary to how folks see themselves, we shall invite the basest of responses.

    I’m sure hak55 himself considers himself as an enlightened ‘Muslim-Malay’ in the traditional sense – and must defend what he dogmatizes. No problem with that. Except that truth is actually extremely antagonistic to sense of ‘Self’.

    Tok Cik brought up a pertinent point – the sense of ontological angst that the modern Malay feels – but is unable to articulate. I defend his proposition because the ‘Malay’ culture has a non-Islamic feel to their traditions that have been derived from an Animist-Hindu-Buddhist past. Resolution must come at a price. Even at the price of a songkok or songket. The recent PAS keris-ening and reaffirmation of the baju Melayu instead of the jubah, applies.

    To be a ‘true Malay’ would then run counter to the Arab Salafist concept of a true Muslim, does it not? After all, many of the rich traditional dances and art-forms have been extinguished by some fatwa or other. Yet amoking and community derived hysteria is never far below the surface. Who then is a ‘Malay’?

    Brainwashing comes in many forms. We actually discard, or at least relegate into our subconsciousness 99.9% of what we actually sense, otherwise our central nervous system will be swamped with ‘irrelevant’ input. It is the same with concepts and ideas. It is called hard-wiring, because or ‘freewill’ can only do so much. We choose what we want to hear.

    Those of us who can accept reasoning out of our senses, experience and ‘environment’ and take criticism, will be much better by it. Dogma, at it’s worst, is ossified literalness and insulates one from understanding and empathizing.

    Generalizations and labeling others are as useful as prejudices against god and self.

  18. For any discussion of religions, I am always reminded of these quotes:

    “If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in quite a different world.” – Christopher Hitchens

    “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” – Steven Weinburg

  19. Ha…ha…, the Arabic is a great ‘spiritual’ language,…..equally, English reaches its zenith via the scientific…..
    Because Arabic is ‘difficult ‘ ( I am no expert ) , my approach is to be Punctilious in use of words , often directly , with their strict meanings , never to use the ‘pun’ or the clever use of English in order to obfuscate and trounce other opinions or views. ( ie : avoidance of ‘ truth ‘ ) – in the Arabic way, there are matters that can be disclosed , and many things are really ‘forbidden’ , because human knowledge consist of both the ‘latent ‘ and the patent meanings ( tersurat & tersirat ) ,

    In Arabic , its called ‘Muttashabih ” ( parables, allegories , Malays call it Kiasan, Sindiran or Gurindam ) – because it may be to do with hidden treasures, and none can ‘open’ the gate, except by the set of ‘ golden keys ‘ in Man’s secret possession to unravel the ‘hidden treasures ‘…..

    Ok, this one is great by the legendary Muhammad Ali , when throngs of crowd follow him , and called him ‘ you are the greatest , you are Number one …” he retorts ” No I am , I am Number two, and Allah is the Greatest…..” see, he’s so punctilious…..because to obfuscate is the art of ” Mischief – making ‘ , not to indulge in ” Truth ” ……

    (that’s introductory to me….) – I wish I could also find time, to indulge in the Comparative studies of ‘ religion ‘ , but the first thing I would avoid , by the CLEVER use of the English language , is to poke fun, insinuate via demeaning words etc, so as to create mischief , and thus confuse readers about things which truly matters concerning TRUTH !

    I could sincerely indulge in the Comparative , say for example on Hinduism/Buddhism , which, when Gautama was alive , it merited human scrutiny to try and reach ‘ Truth ‘ (there were merits) , BUT it was after his death , that Asoka The Great , litlerally ‘deviated ‘ from the original pristine purity of the Great Teacher , and brought in the idea of ‘ PANTHEISM ” – the followers claim (to the effect ) , that ‘ since God The Creator created the entire physical Universe , THEREFORE , all things manifested , human lives, plant lives, animal lives, MUST therefore have been in ‘ the Image of God ‘ , because of His Attributes of Plurality, Multiplicity encompanying His ‘ Infinitude ” , therefore , Hindus are permitted to pray at Images : hence, Islam came to ban Idol Worship in all forms……

    ( insya’Allah…could try to also indulge in Christianity, or the teachings of Guru Nanak, the great Guru , if I am not ; banned ‘ here…..Peace

  20. HAK55, CLF has been writing on Din’s blog for maybe 8 years or more. Before you say that he has tunnel vision you should read all or most of his comments over the years especially those pertaining to religion and comparative theology. CLF is a very enlightened person, widely read and has tremendous knowledge about Islam and other majorbreligion. Over the years he has never put down Islam except the actions of certain Mullahs and Islamic leaders that go against the teaching of Islam. You need to know CLF better and maybe one day get to meet him in person.

  21. Malay/Muslim politics of religion is a HUGE and DANGEROUS problem.

    With threat of Communism or Indonesia Confrontation, all races of various religions united to fight to protect the country.

    Now with the threat of Malay/Muslim extremist and misguided political Islam, some Malay/Muslim ‘ leaders ‘/ career politicians are saying it does not concern Non Muslim and they should not interfere.

    In the present environment, Islam is NOT is religion of PEACE… promotes VIOLENCE.

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