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Government Religion

Going for Gold in Malaysia

Can glitzy modernity be reconciled with the country’s Islamic legacy? Photo courtesy of Maher Alone/flickr

In a rather widely reported move, PAS, the conservative Islamic opposition party that rules several states in northern Malaysia, recently launched a publicly distributed ‘Islamic currency’ in Kelantan state. The gold and silver coins, worth $180 and $4 respectively, will be used in transactions by 1,000 outlets in the state and will become, so the eager authorities say, an optional means of payment for civil servant salaries and a currency for the payment of Islamic alms, or Zakat. The state government also announced that gold bars would be issued for bigger investments and that coins worth $630,000 had sold out on the first days of trading.

The CEO of Kelantan Golden Trade, the state company in charge of implementing the currency reform stated that: “The arrival of these coins mark the end of 100-year old Darurah [extreme necessity for a Muslim] of tolerating the injustice of paper money, from now on Darurah is over, at least for people in Kelantan.”

Never mind the practicalities of hauling around heavy pieces of gold and silver (a commentary in Malaysia’s most popular daily, The Star, suggested, rather facetiously, that people should start carrying around bags or pouches for the coins), the political implications, particularly the deafening silence on the part of the Malaysian federal government and the central bank, are striking.

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Uncategorized Religion

1 Malaysia No More?

Church in Malacca, Malaysia, photo: HKmPUA /flickr
Church in Malacca, Malaysia, photo: HKmPUA /flickr

After a tense weekend, the Malaysian online news media is teeming with commentaries on the controversy regarding the use of the word ‘Allah’ by Christians in Malaysia and the subsequent arson attacks against Christian churches in and around the capital.

The camps, quite predictably, are divided along the pro-Malay, pro-government camp, made up primarily of pious Malay Muslims, devoted to the concept of a Malay-dominated Malaysia and opposed to the use of ‘Allah’ in non-Muslim contexts, and Malaysians (Muslims, Christians and Hindus) who wish to see historically divisive Malay-dominance dismantled and genuine pluralism embraced in its place.

Although Prime Minister Najib Razak was quick to condemn the attacks, even twitteringIt’s been a difficult weekend for all. I share your outrage. We must stand united & not allow these incidents to break us,” outrage and dismay over the government’s pro-ban stance is boiling over. So far venting from the pluralist camp has been confined to cyberspace, although it is not so clear how long non-Malay calm will last if ethnic rifts continue to deepen.

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ISN Weekly Theme: Islam in Southeast Asia

Muslim girls walking to school in Indonesia, photo: Shreyans Bhansali/flickr
Muslim girls walking to school in Indonesia, photo: Shreyans Bhansali/flickr

Islam, Islamic politics and religiously motivated violence are usually issues associated with the wider Middle East region or South Asia.

Less visible, yet no less significant is the presence of Islamic politics, tensions and political expression in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.

A region marked by immense historical and religious diversity, by painful historical schisms, and in certain cases by an unrivaled dynamism and ability to marry Islam with modernity, Southeast Asia deserves closer inspection and more contextually sensitive analysis.

This week the ISN publishes a Special Report on the issue with a backgrounder on Islam in the region and a case study of the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines.

We have a wealth of further information on the topic in our Digital Library and Current Affairs section- check out:

  • In our Links section, check out the website of the National Bureau of Asian Research which analyzes less visible issues related to Islam and Muslim societies in Asia.