“You would expect it to be a test case for pluralism but for more than 20 years there’s a been a really substantial program of Islamisation in Malaysia pushed by its government,” Peter said.
Then on 3rd February prominent Christian pastor, Raymond Koh Keng Joo was kidnapped in Malaysia:
“There’s been no word, no sign, no demand for ransom from the kidnappers, so his family and the whole Christian community are very concerned,” Peter replied.
This is Professor Peter Riddell, Vice-Principal Academic at the Melbourne School of Theology and an expert on Islam in South-East Asia, who shared his expertise with Vision listeners recently.
Peter’s analyses of Islam in the South East region and the status of Christian Muslim relations have been widely published.
The professor, who’s recently returned from a trip to Malaysia, described why he’s constantly fascinated with the country, saying it represents a meeting point of three great civilisations – the Indians, the Chinese, and the Malaysians.
“You would expect it to be a test case for pluralism but for more than 20 years there’s a been a really substantial program of Islamisation pushed by its government,” Peter said, adding that it’s achieving what he calls a head of steam at the moment.
20Twenty host Neil Johnson questioned the well-being of the minority groups given the Islamic population of Malaysia has a 60 percent majority.
Peter Riddell acknowledged that although it’s not a strong majority there’s been a political tension between the two main Muslim parties over the past 50 years.
“These two parties have been trying to out-Islamise each other. So from the time of Prime Minister Mahathir, he and his government introduced a raft of Islamic legislation back in the 80’s and the 90’s and started a train of Islamisation,” Peter said, saying it’s all coming to a head now.
“Previously there’d been several local state governments that had introduced some Islamic criminal codes. Now there’s a suggestion that across the nation the federal parliament should bring in these Islamic criminal codes with some of the harshest punishments right across the nation and that’s causing quite a stir,” Peter said.
Neil Johnson mentioned Pastor Raymond Koh Keng Joo, a protestant Christian minister who’s been the subject of a kidnapping. That itself gives rise to the types of challenges facing Christians going about their normal every day activities.
Peter confirmed Pastor Koh is a high profile Christian in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and is known throughout the nation.
“He’s a 62-year-old man associated with one of the largest churches in Malaysia with influence across the Christian sector.”
“Christians constitute about 9 percent of the population. But on the 13th February Pastor Koh was kidnapped,” Peter said, describing the abduction as a very professional hit job.
“He was driving along in his car to a private event when he was surrounded by three vans and a couple of other cars and motorbikes. They wedged him in and he hasn’t been seen since,” Peter detailed, saying there’s great concern for Pastor Koh’s welfare.
“There’s been no word, no sign, no demand for ransom from the kidnappers, so his family and the whole Christian community are very concerned.”
On his recent visit to Malaysia Peter recalled when the question of Pastor Koh’s kidnapping came up, nobody really knew who was responsible. And nobody’s ready to point the finger at government or non-government officials.
“But clearly there’s intimidation involved, there’s serious concerns for his welfare, and because it was such a professional job there are sorts of suspicions, but until some more time passes it will be very difficult to say who’s responsible,” Peter said, saying prayer for his release and safety is the only option at this time.
On the topic of Malaysia’s drift towards a stronger form of Islamic ideology, Peter believes world events have motivated this trend. He said Islam emerged from being fairly dormant in the 80’s and 90’s to become the more powerful force it is today.
“It’s often called the Islamic resurgence and communities like Malaysia are caught up in it. And as Muslim communities became more and more aware of their Islamic identity, governments and oppositions tried to capitalize on that,” Peter said.
“So sensing this mood of popular increased Islamic fervour, the opposition party became more Islamic. It proposed more Islamic laws in the states it controlled,” Peter informed, saying the government responded by doing much the same thing.
“What we’ve witnessed over the last 30 years or so is this spiral of increased Islamisation; in legislation, in the bureaucracy, in different forms in society and in the politics. It’s had a major effect and caused major concern among non-Muslims,” Peter said.
Comparisons with Malaysia’s trend to become more Islamised were made with the likes of Pakistan where there’s been a great upheaval. Peter observed that in countries such as Malaysia and Pakistan, there’s been pioneering politicians who’ve decided for whatever reason to initiate a set of Islamic agencies.
“Be they banks, foundations of various forms, or segments within existing departments, before you know it you have an Islamic bureaucracy whose very existence is based on the continuing Islamisation process,” Peter commented, saying if the Islamisation is slowed down the bureaucracy is threatened.
In the past it was the politicians who were in charge in Malaysia, but now it’s The Department of Islamic Development.
“This is a powerful, powerful agency that’s having a profound effect on the direction the country is moving,” Peter stated before mention of how Islam starts with small steps.
“It usually starts in small quantities with assurances that nobody needs to be concerned. These are only a few small steps and they only affect Muslim people.”
“But before you know it, they become more and more profound and more and more prominent and affecting more and more people. So I think creeping Islamisation and creeping Sharia is a very appropriate term to use,” Peter admitted.
One of the major problems is the dual system that’s resulting in an increasing number of clashes.
Malaysia is trying to function with two legal systems that are opposed to one another. Namely the Islamic courts with their Sharia law up against the civil courts and its laws.
In conclusion Peter Riddell added a sobering thought on the attempts now to impose Sharia law in Western countries.
“It poses the same problem. We’ve had this conversation in Australia and Britain as well. That idea of a dual legal system where two systems are existing side by side is problematic at its very heart.”
Peter Riddell serves as Vice Principal (Academic) at the Melbourne School of Theology (an affiliated college of the Australian College of Theology) and as Professorial Research Associate in the Department of History at SOAS, University of London. He previously taught at the Australian National University, the Institut Pertanian Bogor (Indonesia), SOAS and the London School of Theology. He has published widely on the study of Southeast Asia, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations