Religious tensions have been high in Malaysia in recent months, but by and large Prime Minister Najib has tried to stay out of the fray. Recent comments by Najib, however, are sure to ratchet up tensions in Malaysia. Apparently, the Prime Minister is worried about “humanism” and “Secularism” and its treat to Islam, the dominant religion in Malaysia.
Unfamiliar with humanism? The term is used to refer to a variety of strains of thoughts, all of which place humanity, not a deity, at the center of their belief systems. While there are numerous humanist thinkers and different belief systems, in general humanists emphasize logic, rationality, and reason over beliefs of faith.
With more and more people rejecting faith and religion in general, humanism has been growing as an increasingly powerful force. Humanism, while distinct from secularism, generally advocates from the removal of religion from government and similar institutions. For Malaysia, whose ruling party has deep Islamic roots, this could certainly be a threat.
Comments nothing short of inflammatory
Despite humanism’s clearly anti-organized religious roots, Prime Minister Najib claims that the belief system is becoming a new form of religion itself. Najib argued this new “religion” is centered on humanism, secularism, and liberalism.”
Najib may have crossed the line, however, when he called such thinking “deviant” because it glorifies man and rejects value systems based on religion. Najib acknowledged that such thinking tends to promote human rights, but added a negative connotation to such thinking.
Najib reiterated that Islam is Malaysia’s national religion. Najib said that he would not tolerate efforts to weaken the country’s shariah courts and will never allow Muslims to engage in “LGBT” activities. He did acknowledge, however, that it is an Islamic duty to uphold the well-being of all people, regardless of their race or religion.
Najib made the comments at the 57th annual Quran Recital Assembly, so the conservative tone of the comments should come as no surprise.
Ruling Party threatened by Humanism
It should come as no surprise that Prime Minister Najib is so steadfast in his opposition to Humanism. Barisan Nasional, the ruling coalition, is dominated by UMNO, an ethnic Malay party. Nearly all Malays, in turn, are Muslims and many Malays from the country’s rural areas are also very conservative.
UMNO relies on support from the hinterlands, having largely lost the vote in Malaysia’s major cities, which are quickly becoming more moderate and secular. Following losses in the last election, UMNO has been shifting towards an increasingly conservative stance. UMNO politicians and groups aligned with the ruling coalition have begun to denounce the Chinese community, which is largely secular.
Najib himself has long been known as a moderate, but the recent losses and likely internal pressure may be forcing the Prime Minister to change his tune. Barisan Nasional tried to emerge as a more moderate party in the last election cycle but failed to stem its losses. Now, the party may be looking to go the other route and position itself as a more conservative party.
With the Chinese minority still controlling a large portion of the economy, and racial tensions only rising, Malaysia may be in for some racial and religious turbulence. It should be noted, however, that Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition coalition, and its secular elements were able to secure the vote in major urban areas, even winning a large share of the Malay vote.
Muslim or not, many Malays are taking a more secular stance and moderate view on religion. This is especially true in regards to urban Malays. The possibility of a growing rift within Malaysia’s Muslim community is only becoming all the more real.