Not Only The Chinese, Malaysia's Growing Extremism Is Forcing The Malays Away Too

While some march on with petitions and open letters, moderate Malays fearing that Malaysia is slowly morphing into Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Pakistan are opting for a plane ride out of the issue.

Cover image via

The South China Morning Post (SMCP) has shared a disconcerting story about Malaysia with the headline 'Malay Muslims Fleeing Country As Fundamentalism Takes Hold'

Image via

The report detailed the story of a 30-year-old Malay woman wanting to leave the country after seven Jais personnel raided her flat on suspicions of allowing a man to enter her home

It was 3am when a 30-year-old female Malay financial researcher was woken up by her flatmate in a middle class suburb in Kuala Lumpur early this year. Six to seven men from the Selangor State Islamic Department (Jais) had entered her apartment in a "morality" raid. An anonymous phone call to the religious department alleging a man was seen entering her flat was all it took for the religious officials to descend on her home.

The researcher, who has been living in the apartment for two years, shares the flat with three other women. "They found cigarette butts on the balcony and said that showed a man was in the house. We told them all of us in the flat smoke," she said. "Then they saw two pairs of boxer shorts which belonged to me and said that must belong to a man. I told them they were mine."

"The men were not accompanied by any woman. They searched all our bedrooms, closets and even looked under the bed as they thought a man could be hiding there," said the researcher who spoke on condition of anonymity. The incident left her angry and helpless and helped compel her to make plans to leave Malaysia in two years.

While in the past it was usually the ethnic Chinese and Indians who emigrated in search of equal opportunity, an increasing number of Malay Muslims are now aspiring to leave Malaysia

The World Bank estimated in 2011 there were 1 million Malaysians who migrated overseas and the real number could be much larger. "I don't feel safe in this country anymore," the researcher said. "It's like you are guilty until proven innocent. Anyone can make a phone call to accuse another person out of malice or vengeance and, without proof or investigation, the religious authorities will come to your place."

Although the Malay community enjoys special rights, their reason for wanting to leave is no different - to escape from the rising religious fundamentalism and authoritarianism that is creeping into the nation

As the majority in the country who enjoys special privileges in education and employment under decades-old affirmative action programmes, it makes their aspiration to migrate more compelling and highlights the growing extremism creeping into modern and moderate Malaysia.

Former law minister Zaid Ibrahim says the religious extremism affects Muslims much more than anyone else in the country

"This fear of extremism drives Malays out of the country," Zaid said. "We (Muslims) are having more and more laws. In the state of Kelantan, a person can be arrested and jailed if he fails to attend Friday prayers three times in a row," said Zaid, adding that a lot of moral issues have been criminalised. "Before, they (religious authorities) tell you gambling is sinful. Now you can be arrested for buying a four-digit lottery."

The government has been silent, but Malays worried of extremist behaviour are voicing up. On 7 December, 25 influential Malays wrote an open letter to the government calling for a rational dialogue on Islamic laws in the country.

"We, a group of concerned citizens of Malaysia, would like to express how disturbed and deeply dismayed we are over the continuing unresolved disputes on the position and application of Islamic laws in this country... These developments undermine Malaysia's commitment to democratic principles and rule of law, breed intolerance and bigotry, and have heightened anxieties over national peace and stability." Full letter.

The 25 signatories included several former secretaries-general of the most powerful ministries, including Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Din (Home Ministry), Tan Sri Ahmad Kamil Jaafar (Foreign Ministry), and Tan Sri Dr Aris Othman (Finance Ministry). Other significant Malays who lent their names to the letter addressed to all Malaysian had previously held the post of director-general in several ministries and government agencies. Former ambassadors, a former Court of Appeal judge, a retired military officer and a co-founder of the National Heart Institute rounded out the illustrious group.

The open letter sparked a debate and received mixed reactions

A total of 93 Malaysian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) today pledged support for the open letter signed by 25 retired high-ranking Malay civil servants who called for an end to extremism and for rational dialogue on Islam. Coordinated by Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM), the NGOs endorsed the joint statement, urging Putrajaya and civil society to widen the space for rational discourse with open minds and progressiveness.

An opposing group of mostly senior Islamic officials and academics meanwhile hit out at the 25 Malay figures, saying any dialogue must address what it said was a marginalisation of Islamic law and administration in the Federal Constitution. The opposing group said in their open letter that the majority of Muslims actually want to live under Syariah law. They slammed the group of 25 for not providing evidence to back allegation that some of Malaysia’s syariah laws were in conflict with Islamic legal principles and constituted a violation of fundamental liberties.

Datuk Ibrahim Ali said the 25 former civil servants and influential leaders who recently signed an open letter calling for a stop to extremism in Malaysia were "cowards" for criticising Malay rights groups like Perkasa and Isma. "They are only attacking the Malays. Why are they not saying anything on the non-Malay groups and the others who have criticised Islam and the Malay rulers?" asked Ibrahim, who is president of Perkasa.

On 17 December, the movement to support the 25 eminent Malays and echo the call for a moderate Malaysia grew with the 'I am #26' petition

Image via

Two days after going online, petition “I am #26” has heated up cyberspace with signatures pouring in to urge the 25 prominent Malays to keep going, and not be discouraged by voices of extremism trying to drown their work. As at 7pm yesterday, the petition had garnered about 2,000 signatures, from mostly Malays who denounced extremism.

Sign the petition here.

The petition that has since gone viral calls for Prime Minister Najib to fulfill five points

1) Review the Syariah Criminal Offences (SCO) laws of Malaysia.

2) Increase awareness of elected members of parliament and the public on the legal jurisdiction and substantive limits of the powers of the religious authorities and administration of Islamic laws in Malaysia.

3) Call for meaningful consultation from the civil society on ways Islam is used as a source of public law and policy in this country.

4) Promote awareness of the rich diversity of interpretive texts and juristic opinions in the Islamic tradition.

5) Assert his personal leadership as well as appoint key leaders who will, in all fairness, champion open and coherent debate and discourse on the administration of Islamic laws in this country to ensure that justice is done.

"Malaysia has become Saudi Arabia but with the Twin Towers. The only difference is, the women here are allowed to drive," Zaid Ibrahim says.

The country's religious authorities' power has grown significantly in recent years with an expanded government budget for their departments where they answer to no one, he said. "The politicians do not rein them in as they do not want to lose votes," Zaid said. "Malaysia has become a Saudi Arabia but with the Twin Towers," he added referring to the iconic Petronas Towers in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. "The only difference is, the women here are allowed to drive."

Former Ambassador to the Netherlands Noor Farida Ariffin also opined that Malaysia is at risk of degenerating into Pakistan, but the open letter was the start of a movement of the moderates

Former Ambassador to the Netherlands Noor Farida Ariffin, who leads the Group 25, has warned that Malaysia is at risk of degenerating into another Pakistan, a failed state, or Afghanistan, where the Taliban is waging war to wrest political power through the sheer force of arms after having been ousted by an international coalition led by Washington. She said the open letter as was a beginning, the genesis of a movement of moderates.

In what seems to be a move to preserve its power, the government had been listening and adhering to the concerns of Malay groups championing for tighter Islamic laws

Now, all eyes are on Najib to see if he would also listen to the voices of the nation's moderates

Image via

More on this issue:

You may be interested in: