Malaysia and Islam

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Honolulu–Malaysia is a multicultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious state, where a small majority of the people are Muslim. It was put together into a Protectorate and, then into a Crown Colony of the UK during the Colonial period. The Federation includes the traditional realms (as modern provinces) of the Malay Peninsula plus Sarawak and North Borneo (later renamed the Islamic Sultanate of Sabah) along with Singapore–they all achieved independence from Britain in 1957. In 1963, the Malaysian states formed a federal system. In 1965, the City State of Singapore broke away form the Federation to become an independent self-governing republic.

Kousik Ghosh delivered at the East-West-Center a few months ago, which I attended. Malaysia, he explained, is one of the most vibrant and successful economies in the Muslim world—it is also an ethnically diverse nation, with a population of 50.4% Malay, 23.7% of Chinese background, and about 11% “indigenous” people; people with Indian ancestry are 7.1%, and about 8% are listed as “other” in the census. Looked at a different way, Muslims constitute 60.4%, Buddhists 19.2%, Christians 9.1%, Hindus 6.8%, Confucians (Taoists) are 6.3%. Some are classified as “unknown.”

Islamization is becoming a political issue in one of the most materially advanced states in the Muslim world! Since Malaysia is a multi-cultural federation, Islamists demonize all other demographic groups – including other non-Islamist Muslims. The Islamists call for an Islamist state for all of Malaysia’s people—which challenges the foundation of the Muslim “secular” state.

According Kousik, in the contemporary Islamic world, there are two types of states – Islamist and a “type of Secular Islam.” In Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is hegemonic over its own territory”—There is no conflict between Islam and democracy” there. Yet, Islam and the Malay State are inseparable. The government is well situated to win over the challenge from the Islamists.

Yet, he explains, “Malaysia has the possibility of collapse.” Malaysia…is geographically positioned, and ethnically and religiously diverse…[traditional] property rights have enforced peaceful relations between groups.” Ghose judged that it was the long-established respect of others found in Islam has that made this vibrant Muslim “secular” state possible here in Southeast Asia, and argues that this good quality will guarantee its existence into the future. Such forecasts can only bode well for the religious and ethnic climate of this wonderful Muslim country, with her many peoples..


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