ICC Note: Malaysia’s constitutional monarchs are back in political swing given the recent rise of ethno-religious polarization. Certain religious institutions have steadily expanded their jurisdiction in favor of a narrow interpretation of Islam and Muslim identity. As a result, several religious controversies such as ban of beer festivals and non-Muslims to enter laundromat for ‘hygienic concerns’ have sparked outrage. While Malaysia’s government is obliged to endorse the monarchs’ calls to heed moderation and harmony across racial and religious lines, in practice Prime Minister Najib’s administration is increasingly seen as attempting to fold the hardline religious fringes into a dominant political center.
11/09/2017 Malaysia (Asia Times) – Last month, Malaysia’s constitutional monarchs issued a rare statement expressing their collective concern over rising ethno-religious polarization. A string of religious controversies, which the sultans branded as “excessive actions”, have called the country’s traditionally moderate brand of Islam into question.
Monarchical activism, dormant since being sidelined politically in the early 1990s, is rising again to push back against religious institutions that have steadily expanded their jurisdiction in favor of a narrow interpretation of Islam and Muslim identity.
In October, Malaysian authorities cancelled two annual beer festivals following political objections raised by leaders of the hardline Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), signaling an increased sensitivity towards activities regarded by some as insulting to Islam.
Then, a self-service laundromat in the southern state of Johor caused a social media uproar when it attempted to ban non-Muslims for ‘hygienic’ concerns, prompting a scathing rebuke from Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar in defense of moderation and racial harmony.
“This is not the Johor we want,” said the monarch, demanding that the laundry mat’s owner end the discriminatory practice. “This is not a Taliban state and as the head of Islam in Johor, I find this action to be totally unacceptable as this is extremist in nature.”
Support for a more politicized, conservative brand of Islam has grown in recent years under Prime Minister Najib Razak, especially following the 2013 general election in which the ruling United Malays National Organization’s (UMNO) delivered its worst-ever performance by failing to win the popular vote.