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“Emerging dominance” of Islam in M’sia

KUALA LUMPUR, 4 Nov 2009: Malaysia is a country witnessing the “emerging dominance” of Islam even though it was not always a Muslim-majority country, the chair of a United Nations (UN) body on inter-religious relations said.

Gary D Bouma
Gary D Bouma
Professor Emeritus Gary D Bouma¸ who is Unesco Chair in Inter-religious and Intercultural Relations — Asia Pacific, said that historically speaking, a Muslim majority was not always the “lived reality” in Malaysia.

“Younger Malaysians might know Malaysia as a Muslim-majority country, but someone from two generations ago would have lived a reality in which Muslims were not the majority,” he said.

Bouma was speaking to reporters on 29 Oct on the sidelines of the Fifth Regional Interfaith Dialogue, organised by the Australian government in Perth from 28 to 30 Oct 2009, where he was also a keynote speaker.

He said that it was because becoming a Muslim-majority country was a recent phenomenon for the country that Malaysia was now grappling with how to deal with this.

“The state and society in Malaysia are asking what it means to finally be a Muslim majority, and whether to legislate increasingly on matters related to Islam, among other things,” Bouma said.

“Even at the moment, 60% (of Malaysians being Muslims) isn’t much — [there is the fear] that even that could be [reduced],” he said, adding that although Muslims are now the majority, it was still an insecure majority in terms of numbers.

In Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Bouma’s other classifications for country demographics are “one religion dominant” (for example, Catholicism in the Philippines), “no religion dominant” (for example, Singapore), or “waning dominance” (for example, Australia).

He said that on the whole, religious diversity was increasing in the region and that religion was back on the public policy agenda in many states.

“In the late 20th century, many secularist ideologues were predicting that religion was going to die out by the start of the 21st century, but now we see that religion is real and alive in many societies,” he said.

Malaysia’s violations “noteworthy”

Map of malaysia with post-it note remarking on violations
(map of Malaysia public domain; note and pushpin © Jay Lopez /

Separately, the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report 2009 listed Malaysia as a country in which “violations of religious freedom have been noteworthy”.

Malaysia was listed alongside countries such as Afghanistan, China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, during the reporting period of 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009. In the case of Malaysia, the report cited increasing concession of jurisdiction by civil courts to syariah courts on family law disputes, demolition of Hindu temples, and restrictions on Muslims wanting to convert out of Islam as some of the noteworthy violations.

The report, released on 26 Oct 2009, is submitted to the US Congress annually by the State Department in compliance with US legislation on international religious freedom. It supplements other human rights reports by providing additional detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom.

The report states that religious freedom for all persons is a “core objective of US foreign policy”, and it also outlines actions by the US in designated “countries of particular concern”. favicon

Shanon Shah was selected and sponsored by the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as part of its International Media Visits Program, to cover the Fifth Regional Interfaith Dialogue. Four other journalists were also selected, from Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.

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8 Responses to ““Emerging dominance” of Islam in M’sia”

  1. benny says:

    Thanks to some party we are categorised as “a country in which ‘violations of religious freedom have been noteworthy'”, which is so true. Sincere thanks for the article anyway. I had no idea how the world sees religious issues in Malaysia before I read this. Yes, I am soooo yesterday.

  2. Edwin says:

    Much congratulations on the sponsorship, Mr. Shanon!

    I would be interested in your thoughts re: this section of the Constitution of Malaysia:

    More specifically, 1) “Malay citizens who convert out of Islam are no longer considered Malay under the law” and 2) “Likewise, a non-Malay Malaysian who converts to Islam can lay claim Bumiputra privileges, provided he [or she] meets the other conditions.”

    It seems to imply that conversion out of Islam is not only allowed, but does (or at least did) happen.

    What happened?

  3. Farouq Omaro says:

    Alongside North Korea?!

  4. Larry says:

    A country on the verge of becoming another backward Islamic toilet. What a shame.

  5. tkwah says:

    Religion is about [humankind’s] relationship with God.

    When [humankind] enforces its beliefs on others of different faiths, it tantamounts to tyranny, oppression and injustice, for which the ultimate judge will be God Himself.

  6. racist says:

    Damn…even the mighty China having the most Chinese people in the world is on the list… there must be something wrong… again, good Western propaganda…

  7. Merah Silu says:

    Gary de Bouma does not know that before the British became advisors to states in Peninsular Malaysia, there were no other religions known to the people in this country other than Islam. Only under pressure from British for the Malays to grant citizenship to the economic-seeking immigrants of Chinese and Indian [descent], [did] the demographic of people change drastically. Then many of these new people of Malaysia become Christian, and they are successful and as usual became arrogant. They created many problems and very successfully potrayed Malaysia as a bad country in terms of religious harmony.

  8. Gopal Raj Kumar says:

    Prof. Gary D Bouma’s assertions are nothing short of hollow rhetoric. He relies on cliched phrases to describe a phenomenon as he calls it of the emergence of Islam as a dominant part of the Malaysian political and social spectrum.

    Malaysia had a docile and dormant yet majority Muslim population two generations ago. Where he obtains his facts to the contrary to assert otherwise is questionable as are his assertions on the subject.

    What we are witness to in Malaysia and other states with Islamic populations is the Arabisation of Islam. It is the same case in a number of other countries where Islam is not an insignificant part of the population.

    Wahabbism from Saudi Arabia is of itself a creature of US foreign policy. The so-called Imam Wahabbi was never an Islamic scholar in the conventional sense but a ruthless and ultra conservative Orthodox preacher whose impositions on the Saudi way of life suited the US then in their bid to control oil in that state.

    Malaysians adopted the Arabic (Saudi) interpretation of Islam through their visits to Jeddah and Mecca as part of that obligatory trip every Muslim has to make in a life time.

    There has been and continues to be a massive pusch by the Saudis to control Islam worldwide through a blending of their foreign policy with Arabism-influenced theology of Islam. Of course the excuse of Palestine, the cause celebre of every Muslim has been thrown into the equation by the Saudis to justify the unjustifiable: The spread of Wahabbism.

    There is little difference in this position adopted by the US than to that adopted by Robert Gordon Menzies in his alliance with other powers to topple Sukarno.

    Prior to the coup against Sukarno Menzies and his cohorts in that coup created the ground work for Jamaah Islamiah and other right wing extreme Muslim groups, funded and trained them as a bulwark against communism as it were in the 1960’s. Little did they know that that same creature of their foreign policy would come back to harm them and their interests so devastatingly 40 years later.

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