Responses to racism in Malaysia’s Islam

June 15, 2016

Responses to racism in Malaysia’s Islam

by  Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

An article on Malaysia’s strain of ‘racist’ Islam – a subject as contentious as they could possibly come in the super heated cauldron of politics, race and religion in the country – drew a variety of responses.

From the authorities and our political leaders, there was a deafening silence. Perhaps the non-response is for the better as it allows other voices and the rest of society to have their say. We have become so cynical and distrustful of politicians and Putrajaya-appointed officials holding positions in authority that what they say is scarcely believable or has credibility.

The reaction of readers – those who have posted comments in the Malaysiakini and Din Merican blog where the article appeared is interesting.

The article had asked why Islam in this country has taken a hard line position and turned its back on its traditionally moderate roots and associated indigenous and Hindu-Buddhist values and mores.

Also why the defence of secularism and secular-oriented positions such as those espoused by the G-25 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.

When it is convenient and politically expedient, Prime Minister Najib Razak uses Race and Religion to maintain Malay support for his administration. Is he is a responsible  Premier for all Malaysians?–Din Merican

It was argued that the rise of a virulent strain of Malay racism may be 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, evidence is growing that the resurgence in Islam in Malaysia is closely correlated with anti non-Malay sentiment; and a growing ethno-centricism directed at the non-Malay and non-Muslim communities.

Are extreme forms of these two makers and markers of Malay identity converging? Are they mutually reinforcing? If they are, we are in for unprecedented turbulence in our racial and religious relations.

Is the fused outcome – a form of Islamofascism – displacing or has it already displaced the moderate mainstream form? The response of most readers so far is in the affirmative but they appear to hold different views to explain the rise of Islamo-fascism.

Readers’ comments on racism in Malaysia’s Islam

One reader puts it down to the following explanation which gives our colonial masters too much credit for our current malaise:

Unfortunately the British engineered a constitution which had a subtext of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ and ‘Ketuanan Islam’. Look at the State constitutions formulated by the British – a non-Muslim and a non-Malay is not allowed to hold the office of Chief Minister unless the Sultan of the state agrees to waive this caveat. This is a nasty piece of legislation and is a repudiation of democracy. If a party with majority seats and support has a non-Malay as its leader, what justification can there be for his or her disqualification from the post of CM?

There is none, other than downright racism and religious bigotry. To extrapolate and come to the conclusion that it is because Malays are inherently racists and religiously bigoted is wrong. Malays have an animist, Hindu and Buddhist past and the interaction with other races and religions allowed for n evolutionary form of Islamic practice which was accommodating and unique to Malaya.

Another reader has responded to the above explanation in the following way:

Proarte has succinctly captured the fundamental causes for the rise of Islamism.

However, while I agree that the Malays are not “inherently racists and religiously bigoted” the Malays as Muslims today have purged their religious practices of any of the ameliorating vestiges of their animist, Hindu and Buddhist past and sanitized it thoroughly for discourse in the public domain. Additionally their interaction with other races and religions has trundled to a halt. Malays won’t even eat in non-Muslim homes these days. So invitations so crucial to interaction have ceased.

Thus while previous aspects of Malay life and discourse may well have “allowed for an evolutionary form of Islamic practice which was accommodating and unique to Malaya” it didn’t take and ‘moderate Islam’ is a convenient media sound byte to bandy around on the international scene. Our very own far right ‘Islamofascism’ is only on the rise. And as long as Muslim political opportunism prevails there will be no letting up!

A third has argued that:

I feel it has much to do with inferiority complex. The advances made by non-Malays and their perceived affluence are being 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 in sight? Your guess is as good as mine.

As always with any controversial subject there will be those that may want to blow the whistle though for reasons not wholly clear.

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 ike 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.

Perhaps the authorities may think the subject is deserving of censorship. Perhaps our local scholars will engage in self-censorship or denial of reality. And those on the dominant side of the racial and religious divide may think that the subject is inconsequential or unimportant.

But for Malaysians from the minority communities, we can expect that the seeping and entrenchment of racialism and extremism into Islamic consciousness and dogma will have the most dire consequence.

(Disclaimer: The opinions and comments expressed by the writers are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of The Heat Malaysia.)

Also by Lim Teck Ghee:

Two visitors with conflicting visions


4 thoughts on “Responses to racism in Malaysia’s Islam

  1. I think the rise of “radical Islam” ( a word that I am not comfortable with) in Malaysia has to do with the survival of UMNO. These 2 are connected. The government in an effort to consolidate its position in the face of such adverse allegations as corruption, nepotism among others in governance has to ‘DIVERT” attention to the threat of other religions. Over the years we have seen the changes in Malaysia-from a once religiously tolerant nation to that which is becoming an intolerant one. As children grow up in Malaysia, the books they read will pull them away from each other-segregation rather than integration. Recently, university material berated the Hindu and Sikh faiths as an example of what is going on in this country and acquiesced by leadership. The danger that may come from this is Islamic fundamentalism creeping into a multiracial society and then to ISIL type characters-the writings are on the wall-Red Shirts!

  2. Non-Malays , non-Muslims have been made irrelevant -that is where the problem lies….Annuar Ibrahim used Turkey as a great Muslim/democratic country-see what happened…the leader wants to change the constitution to stay in power ( look at the cost in lives). Rosmah flew there on a private jet for some $80 million-how many poor Malay families could have been helped? among other races…..UNLESS Muslims say that this is wrong-nothing is going to happen in Malaysia-we need change, who else but the people in the majority and in power to do the right thing-we dont want a settlement-we need democratic institutions, to prosecute the wrong, and hand out the replenishment-what is wrong with that?
    Country is going to the dogs-Non-Malays have been forewarned 3 decades ago , are resilient have moved family, money and put their roots elsewhere….Malays need to change this multiracial country to ‘what it was’…..I see Malaysia in a bad way soon! When you use intolerance you invite ISIL ! More Muslims ( maybe a few non-Muslims) ) may be beheaded in Malaysia. Am I joking-see the past what happened in Iraq and Syria

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s