Thursday, 9 November 2017

Malaysia’s sultans back in political swing

Sidelined since the 1990s, traditional rulers are reasserting their royal authority against rising ethno-religious polarization stirred by divisive politicians

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.”

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