Will Malaysia Become An Islamic State?

Multatuli says that young Malays are asking serious questions about their religion and their nation.

Dennis Ignatius (ex-diplomat) said that Malaysia is fast becoming an Islamic State and that it may be irrevisible. On the surface it may look that way. Underneath there are many forces at work and the outcome is not certain.

First of all to change from a secular state to an Islamic State requires a change in our constitution which in turn requires a two third majority in parliament. This is unlikely because Sarawak and Sabah which have a substantial non- Muslim population will not allow it. (Until ‘Project M’ Sabah had a Christian majority).  The Muslims in those two states are generally more tolerant and liberal. Needless to say, the non-Muslims in West Malaysia will have none of it.

Secondly  you have to factor in the Sultans. In the constitution Islam comes under their purview.  Do the sultans really want a more virulent Islam? A Talibanist Islam will not tolerate corruption and a Western lifestyle. How will this sit with the sultans? Political Islam would want to move from a Muslim majority country to an Islamic State and a Caliphate. It could mean the end of the sultanates.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

To assume that ALL Malays hold the same views on Islam is wrong. As in other religions, Malays too hold diverse views on their religion. Many question the doctrines, if not of Islam itself, then of the official Islam in Malaysia – the doctrines they preach and how they practise it. Many Muslims find it unacceptable that the religious authorities have a double standard for punishment of offenders. A young Muslim girl caught  drinking beer is caned in public yet the sons of important politicians who drink and is surrounded by scantily clad girls get away. And what about leaders who steal from the public and those who steal from Tabung Haji?

Yet someone who steals pittance is thrown in jail for a long time without pardon. Those with cables to pull will probably get a royal pardon even if they have stolen billions.

You can see why the official Islam pushed by the state has no credibility.

In Malaysia we often conflate Islam, a set of ideology and rituals with race which is flesh and blood, because of the political contrivition that a Malay must be a Muslim; a definition of race unsupported anywhere else in the world.

For this reason we assume All Malays are of one mind concerning Islam. This is inherently false because each individual is unique and has different ideas even if on the surface they seem to conform.

The conflation of race and religion makes it difficult to be critical of one without seeming to be critical of the other.

Among the Malays, any questioning of Islam however constructive, is seen as a betrayal of race and culture.

The non-Muslims of course dare not question, however onerous the rules are because of the severe consequences which befall them.

The religious authorities are aware of the rumblings beneath the apparent calm and conformity of Muslims in Malaysia – especially of the young. They are worried by what they see.

Many young Malays are no longer prepared to accept the concretised doctrines pushed by the government. Doctrines riddled with dogmas of another age. Selective doctrines which the authorities use as a convenient tool of control and hence will not allow to evolve. They insist on the infallibility of the Quran as interpreted by them – every letter, every punctuation to remain and to be obeyed.

But young Malays are beginning to ask questions.

Why is it that interfaith marriage between Muslims and Chrisitians and Jews is not allowed here when it is allowed in Indonesia and many other countries?

Is it not true that this interfaith marriage is allowed as per the Asthtiname of Mohammed a treaty between Muslims and Christians recorded between Mohammed and Saint Catherine’s Monastry. By what Koranic rule do our religious authorities interpret interfaith marriage.

What about “There is no force in religion” as pronounced by prophet Mohammed (pbuh)?  Why is there so much force to conform particularly to the type of Islam dictated by the government. Christians can choose what sect they want to belong to likewise Buddhist; why are Muslims in Malaysia not allowed a broad discourse on Islam. Why not let ideas contend?

These are legitimate questions of an enquiring mind. Our religious authorities should welcome the search for the truth   rather than demand blind obeisance.

Many Malays are questioning the mental contortions  by the authorities to interpret Koranic scripture to suit their agenda. You can’t  talk about honesty and yet condone corruption. You can’t talk about tolerance and freedom of religion yet reject the search for answers by other Muslims. You cannot punish those who choose another interprestion of the Koran without losing your credibility.

You cannot restrict and control other religions as this government has threatened to do, as it is unconstitutional.

Young Malays are asking questions; they approach and process information with sceptism, empirical analysis and critical thinking; no longer willing to accept blindly what is preached in the mosques or the official line of the government on Islam.  They are asking questions which the religious authorities find uncomfortable.

But the fact still remains that many if not most Malays do not know a lot about Islam. They are born into Muslim families and from young are taught to recite the Quran – parroting but not really understanding it and certainly not allowed to question. When they go to school they are given another dose of religion and on Friday the same script is repeated. No alternative views are allowed. Thinking aloud is dangerous.

But rest assured young Malays and liberal Muslims are having a conversation; not quite openly yet because of the dangers, but talking they are.Whether the conservative and fundamentalist Muslims like it or not there is a conversation going on within the wider Muslim world. Soon the whispers will become a roar and that scares the government and their fundamentalist cohorts.

Islam will evolve; maybe a little late but it will evolve. This is the inevitability of life – everything changes.

Nothing remains the same. Today Reformed Jews outnumber Orthodox Jews, the Torah is not rejected just reinterpreted. The Catholic Church despite the Spanish Inquisition and other dark deeds had to accept that others are allowed an opinion on Christianity too. So why not Islam in Malaysia?

I have attempted above to show that Malaysia becoming an Islamic State is not a foregone conclusion. The government (read fundamentlist Muslims) are worried by the liberal voices within the Malay community – especially the young. They are not as sure as Dennis Ignatius of the outcome; hence their coming down like a ton of bricks on dissidents.

Whether Malaysia will become an Islamic State is a battle between the fundamentalist and liberal Malays.

The non-Muslims can only insist on their rights as guaranteed by the constitution but that itself is a great help to those who want an Islam which takes in other perspectives, a more tolerant and inclusive Islam – a big tent Islam.

Liberal Muslims do not want to replace the state religion, They don’t want out, but they also do not want an Islamic State. They want freedom of worship within Islam for themselves and freedom of worship for the non-Muslims.

Will Malaysia become an Islamic State?

The jury is still out on this.

Inshallah not!

(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)

10 October 2021

Multatuli Murtadi,


Three Malaysians – Malay, Chinese, Indian – in hot soup.
Rebuilding Malaysia

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