Hardline Malay groups more vocal in Malaysia

Hardline Malay groups more vocal in Malaysia

To Mr Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman, Malaysia's majority Malays are under threat from a grab bag of liberal, Christian and gay rights influences, all of which are threatening to sideline not just Malays but also Islam itself.

"These groups clearly wish to dominate the Malays and this is dangerous for the future of Malaysia," the president of the Malaysian Muslim Solidarity group, or Isma, told The Straits Times in an interview this week.

His views might seem outlandish to many people.

But in today's Malaysia, hardline groups like Isma are gaining support among Malays who feel that mainstream political parties - such as the ruling Umno and the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) - have failed to defend Malay-Muslim privileges in their eagerness to woo non-Malay voters.

"Many members of these groups are inactive members of existing political parties who feel their parties have not been assertive enough on Malay or Islam issues," said Associate Professor Shamsul Adabi Mamat, a political analyst at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Sixty per cent of Malaysia's 29 million people are Malays who are automatically Muslim by law. The rest are Chinese, Indians and non-Muslim natives.

Malays and other natives such as Kadazans and Ibans have bumiputera status, which entitles them to economic perks that include quotas in public universities and property discounts.

But after more than 40 years of affirmative action, many non- Malays - and indeed some Malays - see race-based policies as outdated, and feel it is time for policies that help the poor, rather than a particular race.

That has provoked a backlash from groups like Isma.

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