Islam in Malaysia: Wikis


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Ubudiah Mosque is well known mosque in Malaysia, located in Kuala Kangsar.
A mosque in Sepang along the highway to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (erroneously identified as the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque)

Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, and the Government actively promotes the spread of Islam in the country and its friendship with other Muslim countries. The Census in 2000 show approximately 60.4 percent of the total population are Muslims in Malaysia.[1] All ethnic Malays are Muslim (100%) as defined by Article 160 of the Constitution of Malaysia.[2][3], there are also substantial numbers of Indian Muslims and a few numbers of ethnic Chinese converts.[4] As required by Malaysian law and defined in the Constitution of Malaysia, a Malay would surrender his ethnic status if he were not Muslim. However the reverse is not legally true; one does not legally become a Bumiputra by converting to Islam. Malaysia is one of the most religious countries in the Muslim world.[5]


Islam forms


Sunni Islam

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Islam by country


The Sunni Islam of the Shafi`i school of thought is the official, legal form in Malaysia, although syncretist Islam with elements of Shamanism is still common in rural areas. Mosques are an ordinary scene throughout the country and adhan (call to prayer) from minarets are heard five times a day. Government bodies and banking institutions are closed for two hours every Friday so Muslims workers can conduct Friday prayer in mosques. However, in certain rural states such as Kelantan and Terengganu the weekends fall on Friday and Saturday instead of Saturday and Sunday. The Malaysian authorities have strict policies against other Islamic sects including Shia Islam.[6] Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has faced persecution in Malaysia.[7] A notable sect that has been outlawed is Al-Arqam.[8]

Manhaj Islam Hadhari

Masjid Putra in, Putrajaya

The term "Manhaj Islam Hadhari" ( "Civilizational Islam") is a type of progressive Islam heavily promoted by former Malaysian prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to emphasize the central role of knowledge in Islam. This doctrine espouses a belief in hard work, honesty, good administration and efficiency are equally valued and appeals to Muslims to be inclusive, tolerant and outward-looking.

Manhaj Islam Hadhari aims to achieve ten main principles:

  1. Faith and piety in God
  2. A just and trustworthy government
  3. A free and independent people
  4. Mastery of knowledge
  5. Balanced and comprehensive economic development
  6. A good quality of life
  7. Protection of the rights of minority groups and women
  8. Cultural and moral integrity
  9. Environment safeguarding
  10. Strong defenses

Abdullah Mohd Zain, a minister in the prime minister's department, says, "It emphasizes wisdom, practicality and harmony."[citation needed] He added that "It encourages moderation or a balanced approach to life. Yet it does not stray from the fundamentals of the Qur'an and the example and sayings of the Prophet."[citation needed]

There are however Muslims in Malaysia that disagree with this concept, as the teachings of Islam are already complete and thus, they feel that Islam does not need a new name or face.


Islam came to Malaysia, some quote as early as 100 hijrah (722 Common Era)from muslim dae'i from middle east as well as the Muslim Indian traders from South India.[citation needed] Islam was adopted peacefully by the coastal trading ports people of Malaysia and Indonesia, absorbing rather than conquering existing beliefs. As in many Muslim countries, Islam in Malaysia has seen a significant revival over the past 10 years or so.[citation needed]

It is commonly held that Islam first exists in Malay peninsular since Sultan Muzaffar Shah I (12th century) of Kedah, the first ruler to be known to convert to Islam after being introduced to it by Rowther and Marakkar.[citation needed] In the 13th century, the Terengganu Stone Monument was found at Kuala Berang, Terengganu where the first Malay state to receive Islam in 1303 Sultan Megat Iskandar Shah, known as Parameswara prior to his conversion, is the first Sultan of Melaka. He converted into Islam after marrying a princess from Pasai, of present day Indonesia. The conversion of the Sultanate of Malacca by Rowther and Marakkar traders from Tamil Nadu into Islam is the milestone of Islamification of Malay people in Malaysia.[citation needed]

Cultural role

An Ustaz during the Akad Nikah ceremony.

Islam is central to and dominant in Malay culture. A significant number of words in the Malay vocabulary can trace their origins to Arabic which is the chosen language of Islam. This is, however, not exclusive and words from other cultures such as Portuguese, Chinese, Dutch, Sanskrit, Tamil, English, and French can also be found in the Malay language. Islam is so ingrained in Malay life that Islamic rituals are practiced as Malay culture. Muslim and Malays are interchangeable in many daily contexts.

Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Eid ul-Fitr) is an important festival celebrated by Malaysian Muslims.

Muslim women generally wear the tudung (hijab or headscarf) over their heads. However,Malay women not wearing any head gear are not reprimanded or penalised. Prominent Malaysian female examples are Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz, International Trade and Industry Minister and Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, wife of former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohammad. However, with the influx of Arabic travellers, foreign Muslim women (Arabs) wearing hijab that leave only their eyes exposed are often spotted in tourist attractions, not the least at the shopping malls. At certain Malaysian institutions such as the International Islamic University, wearing of the tudung is mandatory; however for non-Muslim students this usually amounts to a loosely worn piece of cloth draped over the back of the head.

The tudung is very commonly worn by Malay women.

The tudung, or the hijab, is a symbol of a Muslim woman. This is such because it represents the modesty of a woman's way, as described by the religion.

Some find the tudung to be an indication of Arabic influence in Malay Muslim culture, and point to other incidents such as the banning of the traditional Malay wayang kulit in the state of Kelantan (which is ruled by the Islamist PAS) for being "un-Islamic".[9]

Also, principles of modesty apply not only to accepted dress codes but public behavior in general. Similar to the expectations in most muslim nations, males and females are dicouraged from meeting in social situations without a chaperone unless the meeting conforms to proper Islamic pre-marital arrangements that culminate in marriage. This injunction not only precludes "small talk" or other seemingly innocent behaviors that Western nations often tolerate between the sexes: it also precludes ostentatious behavior such as PDA(Public Displayes of Affection) and egregious flirtation. In conservative states where PAS has more influence, such as Kelantan, different genders are at least theoretically segregated in public places like the cinema and supermarket.

Malaysia's top Islamic body, the National Fatwa Council has ruled against Muslims practicing yoga, saying it had elements of other religions that could corrupt Muslims.[10] The same body has ruled against ghosts and other supernatural beings. [11]

Political position

UMNO's committee in mosque

Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, the 14th chief minister of the state of Selangor said "We want mosques to carry out more activities for the Muslims. Unfortunately, UMNO (political party) only want to put their men in the administration of mosques. This is absurd,". He said he wants to replace mosque committees to reduce political interference. "We must remember, the Sultan of Selangor in his every speech has stressed against using mosques for political purposes and His Highness has been consistent in stating his views" [2]

Politics and religion is mixed together

Political aspects of Islam are derived from the Quran, the Sunna, Muslim history and sometimes elements of political movements outside Islam.

Traditional political concepts in Islam include leadership by successors to the Prophet known as Caliphs, (Imamate for Shia); the importance of following Islamic law or Sharia; the duty of rulers to seek Shura or consultation from their subjects; and the importance of rebuking unjust rulers but not encouraging rebellion against them.A sea change in the Islamic world was the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924, which some believed meant an end to the Islamic state both in "symbolic and practice terms".

Definition of Malay

As defined by the constitution of Malaysia, Malays must be Muslim, regardless of their ethnic heritage; otherwise, legally, they are not Malay. Consequently, apostate Malays would have to forfeit all their constitutional privileges, including their Bumiputra status, which entitles them to affirmative action policies in university admissions, discounts on purchases of vehicles or real estate, etc. It is legally possible to become a Malay if a non-Malay citizen with a Malaysian parent converts to Islam and thus claim all the Bumiputra privileges granted by Article 153 of the Constitution and the New Economic Policy (NEP), etc. However, the convert must "habitually speak the Malay language" and adhere to Malay culture. A textbook for tertiary Malaysian studies following the government-approved syllabus states: "This explains the fact that when a non-Malay embraces Islam, he is said to masuk Melayu (become a Malay). That person is automatically assumed to be fluent in the Malay language and to be living like a Malay as a result of his close association with the Malays." [12]

Islam in Malaysia is thus closely associated with the Malay people, something an Islamic scholar has criticised, saying that Malaysian Islam is "still clothed in communal garb; that Muslims in Malaysia have yet to understand what the universal spirit of Islam means in reality."[13]

Sharia legal system

Parallel to the civil courts, there are Sharia courts which conduct legal matters related to religious (Islam) and (Muslim) family issues. Legal issues like Muslim divorce and Muslim apostasy are conducted in the Syariah Court. Non-Muslims are not affected by this.

Official religion

Masjid Jamek is one of the most recognizable mosques in Malaysia.

Nine of the Malaysian states, namely Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Kedah, Perak, Perlis, Selangor, Johor and Negeri Sembilan have constitutional Malay monarchs (most of them styled as Sultans). These Malay rulers still maintain authority over religious affairs in states. The states of Penang, Malacca, Sarawak and Sabah do not have any sultan, but the king (Yang di-Pertuan Agong) plays the role of head of Islam in each of those states as well as in each of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya.

Originally, the draft Constitution of Malaysia did not specify any official religion for the state. This move was supported by the rulers of the nine Malay states, who felt that it was sufficient that Islam was the official religion of each of their individual states. However, Justice Abdul Hamid of the Reid Commission which drafted the Constitution came out strongly in favour of making Islam the official religion, and as a result the final Constitution named Islam as the official religion of Malaysia.[14]

As the religion embraced by the most populous ethnic class of Malaysia, Islam plays an important part in Malaysian politics. Islam is seen by the Malay as a subject which can not be challenged conventionally or constitutionally.

The newest format of the Malaysian Identity Card (MyKad) divides Malaysians into various religious groups, i.e. Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist. The introduction of this card caused an uproar in Malaysian politics and is deemed discriminative by non-Muslims. This issue has, however, since abated and been accepted (although unwillingly) by non-Muslims.

Currently, one of the Malaysia's states, Kelantan, is governed by PAS which is a conservative Islamic political party, with a proclaimed goal of establishing an Islamic state. Terengganu was briefly ruled by PAS from 1999 to 2004, but the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition has since won back the state. To counter Islamic fundamentalism as supported by PAS, the head of the Barisan Nasional, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, has proposed Islam Hadhari.

There is also an Islamic university in Malaysia called the International Islamic University Malaysia, and a government institution in charge of organizing pilgrimages to Mecca called Tabung Haji (Pilgrim Fund Board of Malaysia). In addition to this, the government also funds the construction of mosques and suraus.[15]

Although the constitution declares Malaysia to be a secular state, there is much confusion on this subject. Several Muslims have argued, especially after former Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad's declaration that Malaysia is an Islamic state, that Malaysia is in fact an Islamic state. One Member of Parliament (MP), Badruddin bin Amiruldin, has stated in the Dewan Rakyat house of Parliament that "Malaysia ini negara Islam" ("Malaysia is an Islamic state") and that "you tidak suka, you keluar dari Malaysia!" ("You don't like it, you get out of Malaysia!") Badruddin refused to retract his statement, and a motion to refer him to the House Committee of Privileges was rejected by a voice vote.[16] However, the first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, contradicted this stance in the 1980s, saying, "All talk on Islamic States is just an empty dream. No man in his right sense would accept a nation which bases its political administration on religion, and in a country like Malaysia with its multiracial and multireligious people, there is no room for an Islamic State." [15] In 1988, the courts rejected the argument that Malaysia was a theocratic state.[17]

Masjid Negara, the National Mosque of Malaysia.

Despite the Federal Government's denial that Malaysia is an Islamic state, the present Badawi Administration have gradually furthered the agenda of Islamic supremacy at the expense of other religions. The spread of Christianity is a particular sore point for the Muslim majority, and as such, the Government (despite being of a plural composition, but the Malay component, UMNO, always has the final say) typically drags its feet when it comes to approving Churches, and often they will disapprove the setting up of Churches outright. In some cases, they have even resorted to demolishing churches in Muslim-majority areas, and setting up mosques in Muslim-minority areas. The Malaysian government has also persecuted Christian groups who were perceived to be attempting to proselytize to Muslim audiences[18].

In 2004 and 2005, the government caused an uproar within the Chinese community by closing down and demolishing some ancient Chinese temples in Chinese-majority areas. In as recent as June 2006[19], the government has demolished more than 30 Hindu temples (in Hindu majority areas) that it said were built illegally. Indian leaders pointed out, however, that many of the temples dated back to British colonial rule, and the Malay government failed to legalize those temples after independence in 1957. While the non-Muslim public suspects that there is a behind the scene systematic elimination of non-Muslim religious rights in Malaysia by Islamic supremacists within the Government, the Government itself has repeatedly denied this. In 2007, the Malyasian government, in a move to ease ethnic tensions, unveiled an initiative to protect the remaining Hindu temples [20].

There is a National Fatwa Council, as part of the Department of Islamic Advancement of Malaysia (Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia, JAKIM).

See also


  1. ^ [1] Census : Department of Statistics Malaysia
  2. ^ Article 160 (2). Constitution of Malaysia.
  3. ^ Malay of Malaysia
  4. ^
  5. ^ Malaysia gears up for religion vs riches battle ABC News. Feb 6, 2008. Retrieved on 2009-06-07.
  6. ^ "Rights Group Says Six Malaysians Detained For Being Shia Muslims", Islam Online. Accessed August 13, 2007.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Morgan, Adrian. "Malaysia: Heretical Islamic cult returns", SperoNews. Accessed August 13, 2007.
  9. ^ Kent, Jonathan (Aug. 6, 2005). "Malaysia's clash of cultures". BBC.
  10. ^ Top Islamic body: Yoga is not for Muslims - CNN
  11. ^ Malaysia issues fatwa on ghosts - Aljazeera English
  12. ^ Shuid, Mahdi & Yunus, Mohd. Fauzi (2001). Malaysian Studies, p. 55. Longman. ISBN 983-74-2024-3.
  13. ^ Wu, Min Aun & Hickling, R. H. (2003). Hickling's Malaysian Public Law, p. 98. Petaling Jaya: Pearson Malaysia. ISBN 983-74-2518-0.
  14. ^ Wu & Hickling, pp. 19, 75.
  15. ^ a b Putra, Tunku Abdul Rahman (1986). Political Awakening, p. 105. Pelanduk Publications. ISBN 967-978-136-4.
  16. ^ "Dewan Rakyat Hansard for 11 July 2005".
  17. ^ Wu & Hickling, p. 35.
  18. ^ Report by the Special Rapporteur on the
  19. ^ Tensions grow over Hindu temple demolitions
  20. ^ Malaysia to Protect Hindu Temples - RealTime

External links

Original source of this information in Malay [3]


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