Friday, 24 November 2017

Malaysia’s ‘Arabization’ owes to ties with Saudi regime

Prime Minister Najib Razak has taken cues and cash from Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to push the Southeast Asian nation in a more Islamist direction

The deepening politicization of conservative Islam and concerns over the erosion of traditional religious practices and culture in Malaysia have brought the traditionally moderate multicultural nation’s ties to Saudi Arabia under new scrutiny.

Karima Bennoune, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for cultural rights, noted during a September visit deepening involvement of religious authorities in policy decisions, developments she said were influenced by “a hegemonic version of Islam imported from the Arabian Peninsula” that was “at odds with local forms of practice.”

The rapporteur’s statement alludes to the long reach of Saudi cultural influence made possible by decades of oil-financed proselytization via mosques and madrassas that promote Wahhabism, a puritanical interpretation of Islam, and the growing role of Saudi-trained Islamic scholars recruited into Malaysia’s civil service and religious establishment.

Wider public support for an interpretation of Islam and Muslim identity influenced by Saudi-sponsored ultra-conservatism has grown under the tenure of Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose office funds an Islamic bureaucracy promoting an exclusivist interpretation of the faith through various religious organizations.

This drift toward Islamism and its stranglehold on Sunni religious discourse has complicated communal relations in the country and galvanized pushback from Malaysia’s constitutional monarchs, who last month issued a rare statement expressing their collective concern over rising ethno-religious polarization.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at