The factors driving islamisation in Malaysia

Bob Olivier

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


This chapter examines many factors that the author argues have contributed directly or indirectly to Malaysia’s Islamisation Phenomenon. Historical factors which laid the groundwork include: the relatively conservative nature of Islam that was imported into the country; the organisation of Malay society that inculcated a culture of compliance, and deference to authority; and the extended period of colonisation by the British, with the accompanying rapid modernisation that unsettled traditional Malay society, and dramatic demographic change which threatened the Malay’s position both economically and politically. The Constitution, in whose creation the Malays had a major influence, contained a number of ambiguous points which easily became the subject of future arguments between the Malays and the other ethnic groups. Post-Independence, student activism, fuelled by dissatisfaction with the government, overseas exposure and imported ideologies, began the Islamisation Phenomenon in the early 1970s, manifested particularly by the dakwah movement. Seeing this as a political opportunity, the Mahathir administration oversaw the institutionalisation of Islam, and its politicisation, which included an ever-increasing competition between UMNO and PAS to determine who was the most Islamic in order to win the Malay vote. Throughout, an increasingly conservative version of Islam was, and continues to be, pushed, and accepted. Of great significance is the fact that Islam in Malaysia became codified, with laws and the institutions in place that enforce them. The state therefore controls religion, and hence is able to exert a great deal of control over the Muslim population. Adding to the mix is the Malay Supremacy movement, which seeks to affirm Malays’ right to favoured treatment. Significant peer pressure, combined with draconian sanctions by the government, mean that few people dare to question what is happening, so that the Islamisation trend continues unopposed. These factors, and undoubtedly others, have combined to create and drive the phenomenon.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIslamic Revivalism and Politics in Malaysia
Subtitle of host publicationProblems in Nation Building
EditorsBob Olivier
Place of PublicationSingapore
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages34
ISBN (Electronic)978-981-15-0882-0
ISBN (Print)978-981-15-0881-3
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameCritical Studies of the Asia-Pacific
ISSN (Print)2662-222X
ISSN (Electronic)2662-2238


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