Follow us on our Malay and English WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram, Tiktok and Youtube channels.

farishThe real result of five decades of
Umno-led rule is the creation of a more narrowly-defined, racialised
society where inter-racial and inter-religious dialogue  has dwindled. To expect ‘Islam Hadari’ to correct the
mistakes of Umno’s ethnocentric communitarian politics is a
contradiction in terms, writes Farish Noor.

It would seem rather odd, not least for
Malaysia-watchers overseas, that despite the talk of the ‘moderate
and progressive’ brand of normative Islam that has been bandied
about in Malaysia under the general theme of ‘Islam Hadari’
(Civilisational Islam) that the practice of normative Islam in
Malaysia seems anything but moderate and progressive. Among the
latest instances of normalised abnormality were the seizure of Bibles
from a Malaysian Christian returning from the Philippines, on the
grounds that the Bibles had to be checked by the Home Affairs
Ministry for security reasons; the demolition of Hindu temples that
were said to have been built illegally; and the furore over the
conversion of Malaysians from one religion to another.

Recently, a loose coalition of Muslim
NGOs have also put forward their demands to the Malaysian government
and all the parties contesting the 12th General Elections of
Malaysia, calling on them to defend the status of Islam and to
explicitly reject the idea that Malaysia is a secular state. The
Islamist NGOs also voiced their concern about the very notion of
religious pluralism in the country, and called for the stricter
implementation of Islamic rules and laws that already exist in

Yet while these exclusive demands are
being voiced in the public domain, the Malaysian government under the
leadership of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi maintains that
Malaysia is a progressive and moderate Muslim country. How does
Malaysia qualify as a moderate country when books are routinely
vetted and banned by the authorities, when the moral police are
allowed to conduct raids into people’s homes, and when even the
discussion of religious pluralism is seen as anathema for so many?

READ MORE:  The Imam Nawawi's 40 Hadiths issue in education

The present impasse that Malaysia faces
would suggest that the much-lauded ‘Islam Hadari’ project of the
Badawi administration has not made an impact and remains at best a
discourse of the state that has not been accepted and internalised by
the populace, in particular the Malay-Muslim majority. It also
demonstrates that the attempts by the Umno-led government to open up
the minds of the Malay-Muslims has not really succeeded and that the
long-awaited renaissance of Muslim intellectual thought is a long way
off. Why?

The primary reason for this failure
lies in the dynamics of the Malaysian governmental system and the
politics of the ruling Umno party itself.

Umno was and remains primarily a
Malay-Muslim party that sees the Malay-Muslim majority as its primary
vote bank. From the outset Umno presented itself as the ‘defender’
and ‘protector’ of Malay communal interests, and was seen as the
patron-master of the Malay community. Umno’s only rival was the
Islamic party Pas, and since the 1980s both Umno and Pas have been
eyeing the Malay community with a view of gaining political power and
leverage by securing the Malay-Muslim vote.

This however requires that both parties
maintain the notion that the Malay-Muslim community is a fixed and
homogenous constituency. Furthermore, since the 1980s, Umno and Pas
have both tried to gain the upper hand against each other by
demonstrating their Islamic credentials and adopting a
‘holier-than-thou’ approach, thus sparking off what has come to
be known as the ‘Islamisation race’ in Malaysia.

The nature of Umno’s leadership of
the Malays, however, remains unchanged. It is based on a strong
patron-client bond that sees the Malays as perpetually in need of
protection, leadership and representation. In the process,
Malay-Muslim identity has been foregrounded at the expense of a wider
sense of national belonging, on the basis of citizenship. Thus,
Umno’s patronage and control of the Malays has not only rendered
them weak and dependent on Umno’s goodwill and patronage, but also
has kept them confined within the narrow essentialised parameters of
fixed ethnic-religious identity.

READ MORE:  Mahathir, the troublemaking, troublesome 'Malay' politician!

Over the past three decades, it was
Umno’s cultivation of the Malay-Muslim community, couched in terms
of a protectionist politics of patronage, that crippled the Malays
and kept the Malay intellectual community bound to its patronage
machinery. Yet despite the opportunities given to them, the Umno
leadership has never really tried to use this as a means of opening
up the minds of the Malays, to challenge them intellectually and to
present the Malays with an alternative (and genuinely progressive)
understanding of Islam: Progressive Muslim authors have been banned
by the government, their books taken off the shelves, debates on
issues like religious pluralism and inter-faith dialogue scuttled.

The net result is the Malay-Muslim
community that we see in Malaysia today, which has grown more
defensive, reactionary, conservative and narrow in their worldview,
thanks to the debilitating effects of this form of suffocating
patronage. Umno’s leaders have also complicated things further for
themselves by occasionally jumping on the communal bandwagon, and
Malaysians have witnessed – time and again – the spectacle of
Umno leaders brandishing weapons in public and talking on and on
about the special rights and privileges of the Malays. 

Thus, is it a surprise if the liberal
and progressive ideals of the ‘Islam Hadari’ project have never
taken root in Malaysia ? How can any government – Umno-led or
otherwise – hope to inculcate the progressive and modern values of
a universal religion if, at the same time, it has also helped to
create a community that is narrow-minded, conservative and not
receptive to such ideas? Here lies the trap that the Umno leadership
has dug for itself: While promoting a vision of Islam that is plural,
modern and liberal, it has also cultivated a community that is
narrow, reactionary and conservative. The real result of five decades
of Umno-led rule is the creation of a more narrowly-defined,
racialised and sectarian society where inter-racial and
inter-religious dialogue and contact has dwindled. To expect ‘Islam
Hadari’ to correct the mistakes of Umno’s own ethnocentric
communitarian politics is a contradiction in terms. A party that
perpetuates the divisive politics of racial and religious
communitarianism cannot preach universal love and respect, not even
among its own members and supporters.


READ MORE:  Politik Islam membina hubungan baik dan buat kebajikan untuk semua, bukan menghina dan bermusuhan

Dr. Farish A. Noor is a senior fellow
at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang
Technological University of Singapore; and one of the founders of the research site.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
Support our work by making a donation. Tap to download the QR code below and scan this QR code from Gallery by using TnG e-wallet or most banking apps:
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x