30 December 2016
A controversial move by Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), an ultra-conservative party in Malaysia, to push through legislative changes that will empower Syariah courts to pass heavier sentences is now under way.
The ruling party Umno, which is led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, is backing the plan – giving a lot more weight to the proposed Bill.
In neighbouring Indonesia, hard- line Muslims in the hundreds of thousands have been rallying against a Chinese Christian politician, demanding his arrest over allegations of insulting Islam.
These recent incidents in two of South-east Asia’s largest Muslim-majority countries, which historically practise a moderate form of Islam, have prompted observers to question if Muslims in the region are growing intolerant.
There are also concerns that the religionisation of politics would not just hurt the moderate image of both countries but also inflame relations with their close neighbours.
Veteran diplomat Barry Desker highlighted that the ethno-religious furore could have a spillover effect beyond Indonesia and Malaysia, and across the Asean grouping.
“In Myanmar, the plight of Rohingya Muslims has galvanised opposition in Muslim-majority states in the region such as Malaysia and could undermine support for a delicate ongoing peace process in the country,” said Mr Desker, a distinguished fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).
His comments came against the backdrop of recent efforts by Indonesia to offer aid to the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group within a predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, and Mr Najib’s accusation of the Aung San Suu Kyi government, an Asean neighbour, of genocide.
Ms Saleena Saleem, an associate research fellow at RSIS, noted a growing religiosity among Malays in Malaysia. This, she said, has led to more Malays identifying themselves by religion and calling for wider implementation of Islamic laws.
She added that these laws serve as ominous harbingers of how secularity is being eroded within the Malaysian polity.
RSIS inter-faith analyst Nursheila Muez said the protests against Basuki demonstrated how religion, in its decontextualised form, was employed for politics. “What is at stake crucially is how religious rationalisation, that stems from a decontextualised reading of the Quran that is unfriendly towards Christians and other non-Muslims, can become encrusted into the tradition of Islam in Indonesia.”
Similarly, Dr Norshahril expects political temperatures to rise in Malaysia at the next parliamentary sitting in March, with conservative Muslim groups holding that those rejecting Act 355 are undermining Islam’s rightful position.
IDSS / RSIS / SRP / Online / Print
Last updated on 30/12/2016