In ‘Islamist’ Umno, analysts see a nation torn by religion


By Boo Su-Lyn
The Malay Mail Online
December 10, 2013

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 — Umno’s increasing focus on Islam will likely spark inter and intra-religious tensions here, and even affect the country’s development, analysts have said as they warned of the dangers of placing one religion, or denomination, above another.

The political observers noted that in recent months, Umno appears to have entered a competition to “out-Islamise” Islamist PAS, the one opposition party seen as its biggest competitor for the Malay-Muslim vote, the country’s key voting demographic.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of libertarian think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), even said Umno’s 67th general assembly last week seemed very much like a gathering by PAS two decades ago.

“I must say it’s really disappointing to see the Umno assembly becoming like what PAS was 20 years ago,” Wan Saiful told The Malay Mail Online yesterday.

“PAS has moved on. Umno has suddenly become Muslim again… it’s really sad to see the prime minister outside the assembly talking about progressive, liberal views.

“But, in his own party, at the annual gathering, it’s like attending a PAS gathering 20 years ago,” he added.

Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak declared at the Umno general assembly over the weekend that the party would amend its constitution to define Islam as the Sunni denomination, besides dubbing the Barisan Nasional (BN) lynchpin a defender of Islam.

At the assembly, Umno vice-president and Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi ordered religious authorities to take action against PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu over his alleged links to the Shiah sect, which Putrajaya deems as deviant.

The Home Ministry has also proposed to reword the definition of “Islam” in Article 3 of the Federal Constitution to refer exclusively to the Sunni branch by inserting the words “Sunna wal Jamaah”, in a bid to curb the spread of Shiah ideology.

Currently, Article 3 states plainly that Islam is the religion of the Federation.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan of think tank IDEAS said Umno’s 67th general assembly last week seemed very much like a gathering by PAS two decades ago when the latter has moved on. — file pic
Wan Saiful Wan Jan of think tank IDEAS said Umno’s 67th general assembly last week seemed very much like a gathering by PAS two decades ago when the latter has moved on. — file pic

“The competition to out-Islamise each other is really dangerous…I see definite tensions coming up,” said Wan Saiful, referring to the apparent contest between Umno and PAS in championing Islam.

“If the debate that has been sparked over the weekend leads us to a more conservative type of society, it’ll definitely impact our development,” added the analyst.

Dr Arnold Puyok, senior lecturer of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s (Unimas) faculty of social sciences, said it was inappropriate to mix religion and politics, though preaching religious values per se is acceptable.

“Umno has no choice because it receives strong competition from PAS for Malay support,” Puyok told The Malay Mail Online.

“The contest between Umno and PAS is a contest for power using religion as a tool… The country’s development can be affected if leaders use religion to stay in power,” he added.

Umno improved its performance in Election 2013 by winning 88 federal seats, largely on the back of rural support for the Malay party, while the Chinese and urban electorate generally swung to the opposition pact, Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

Puyok also pointed out that Najib should preach his moderate ideal to his party members first if the prime minister is serious about national reconciliation in the multi-racial and multi-religious country, before exhorting such a vision outside Umno.

“Najib has not done much to mould Umno into a party that can embrace Malaysia’s multi-cultural and multi-religious characters. The way the delegates spoke during the debates also says a lot about where Umno is heading next,” he said.

Dr Lim Teck Ghee of the Centre for Policy Initiatives said he found it objectionable for politicians to legislate religious preferences and to outlaw so-called deviants. — Reuters pic
Dr Lim Teck Ghee of the Centre for Policy Initiatives said he found it objectionable for politicians to legislate religious preferences and to outlaw so-called deviants. — Reuters pic

Dr Lim Teck Ghee, director of Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI), said he found it objectionable for politicians to legislate religious preferences and to outlaw so-called deviants.

“This takes us back to the Middle Ages,” Lim told The Malay Mail Online via email.

“All developed nations — including aspiring Muslim nations — have gone through a path of separation of state and religion. Growing Islamisation of Umno will put at risk the gains in freedoms that Muslims in the country presently enjoy and take for granted.

“I see a heavy price to be paid, especially by the Muslim middle and upper class,” he added, but did not elaborate further.

James Chin, political analyst from Monash University’s Malaysian campus, said that Umno’s embrace of Sunni Islam was tantamount to declaring war on the Shiah community in the country.

“It will have consequences for relations with countries like Iran,” Chin said, referring to the Middle Eastern country with a Shiite-majority population.

Shiah is the second largest denomination in Islam after Sunni, but Shiites comprise only about 15 per cent of Muslims worldwide. There are no official figures on the number of Shiites in Malaysia.

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  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Tuesday, 10 December 2013 - 5:05 pm

    Abusing race and religion is simply acts of Prodigality. Its done to refill empty reserves of political capital.

    Tunku Abdul Rahman feared this more than anything else and on his 80th birthday chose to reaffirm the founding of secular state in this country. Najib cannot claim ambiguity on this given his last name. He can’t even claim lack of appreciation the rewards of secularity. Yet, while Mahathir out-politicize Islam against his opponents, when it came to the line of secularity and religo state, he stood firm. Najib can’t even tell he has caved.

    More than the wastefulness of his wife and corruption, Najibn prodigality on religion is OBCENELY GLARING..

  2. #2 by undertaker888 on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 - 7:57 am

    It is already happen. It is not in the future. 50 years ago China was pretty backwards compared to Bolehland. Now they are doing lunar landing while our goons are still doing lunatic lynchpin-ing.

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