Malaysia election

How Mahathir is poised to change Islam in Malaysia, after bigotry under Najib

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 4:42pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 4:42pm

There is optimism in Malaysia about new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad bringing about change to the administration of Islam. Such optimism could not have come at a better time, with a Malay ethnocentrism conflated with religious bigotry being the modus operandi of rule under former prime minister Najib Razak. 

As the May 9 general election showed, (Salafi) Islam was not the trump card used to nullify 61 years of Barisan Nasional rule. It was social justice: be it in the espousal of reducing economic inequality or in the championing of religious harmony. 

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Education as a key constituent in upholding social justice will play a major role in promoting religious harmony where the Shia minority would have greater freedom in practising their Islamic faith or where the Christian symbol of the cross would not send shock waves through conservative Muslim quarters. 

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Academic Lily Zubaidah Rahim, in her recent book, highlights “the tenacious pockets of Muslim resistance that refused to be silenced by the state ulama (religious scholars) or subjugated by archaic interpretations of Islam that deny Malaysians their constitutional and citizenship rights”.

Embracing differences between and within religions would be the norm for Malaysia henceforth. This would be the goal of rolling back the influence of Salafism at the societal and elite political level.

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There would need to be a marriage in vision between the education ministry and the various civil society groups. Curricula to do with religious education should ideally be devised in such a way that the diversity of Malaysia’s inter and intra-faith diversity is emphasised. 

The confetti has yet to settle, but immense challenges loom. Making predictions on Malaysia’s future religious landscape would be premature, but that need not preclude optimism. 

Syed Imad Alatas, Singapore