ANALYSIS-Worries about Malaysia’s ‘Arabisation’ grow as Saudi ties strengthen

Kuala Lumpur, Dec 21 (Reuters) – Malaysia’s growing ties to Saudi Arabia – and its puritan Salafi-Wahhabi Islamic doctrines – are coming under new scrutiny as concerns grow over an erosion of traditional religious practices and culture in the multi-ethnic nation.

A string of recent events has fuelled the concern. Hostility toward atheists, non-believers and the gay community has risen. Two annual beer festivals were cancelled after Islamic leaders objected. A hardline preacher, accused of spreading hatred in India, has received official patronage.

The government has backed a parliamentary bill that would allow the shariah court wider criminal jurisdiction over Muslims in the state of Kelantan. And after religious officials supported a Muslim-only laundromat, Malaysia’s mostly ceremonial royalty made a rare public intervention, calling for religious harmony.

Marina Mahathir, the daughter of Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, publicly lashed out at the government for allowing the “Arabisation” of Malaysia.

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Marina, who heads the civil rights group Sisters in Islam, told Reuters Saudi influence on Islam in Malaysia “has come at the expense of traditional Malay culture”. Her father, 93, now heads the opposition alliance.

Saudi Arabia´s fundamentalist Wahhabi beliefs have strongly influenced Malaysia – and neighbouring Indonesia – for decades, but have strengthened considerably since Najib became prime minister in 2009 and began cosying up to the kingdom.

The relationship came under a harsh spotlight when nearly $700 million wound up in Najib’s bank account in 2013. Najib said it was a donation from the Saudi Royal family, rebutting allegations it was money siphoned from the 1MDB state investment fund he had founded and overseen. Malaysia’s attorney-general cleared him of any wrongdoing.

The trend toward a politicised brand of Islam in Malaysia, a middle-income emerging market, has alarmed Malaysia´s non-Muslims, including ethnic Chinese who comprise a quarter of the population and dominate private sector commerce. It is also a concern for foreign investors, who account for nearly half the local bond market and have invested $8.95 billion in project investments in the first nine months of this year.

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The government denies actively promoting Wahhabi-style Islamic conservatism.

Najib has been largely silent about the recent religious controversies. Critics have accused the prime minister, whose governing coalition lost the popular vote in the last general election but retained a simple majority in parliament, of playing on fears that Islam and Malay political power will be eroded should the opposition win. An election is due by mid-2018.

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Source Credit: Daily Mail

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