chapter  3
23 Pages

Comparative studies: Malaysia and Lebanon

Malaysia: complexity emerging? Malaysia received its official status as a state after gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1957. It continued to define its borders with the inclusion of Sarawak and Sabah in 1963 plus separation from Singapore in 1965. It possesses an ethnically mixed population currently consisting of Malays and other indigenous people (commonly referred to as Bumiputera) at 60.5 per cent, Chinese at 22.8 per cent, Indian at 6.8 per cent and others (including internationals) at 9.8 per cent (Department of Statistics, Malaysia, 2011b: 9). This ethnic mix has influenced political and socioeconomic schisms within society, which have also been exacerbated by Malay adherence to Islamic norms. For example, the National Cultural Policy of 1971 established Islam as a symbol of Malay culture (Guan, 2000: 4), while more recently attempts to embed Islam within the legal system (via the Attorney General’s Office) through the creation of three new units – Islamic Family Law and Shari’a Judicial System Development Unit, Islamic Banking and Finance Unit, and Unit of Interaction and Harmonization – have caused a debate within society regarding the civil aspects of law (see Abbott and Gregorios-Pippas, 2010: 145). From a political perspective the escalation of ‘Islamisation’ over the past three decades can also be attributed to competing political groups, or more specifically the role of the more secular UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) in responding to the rise of the Islamic opposition party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) (see Liow, 2004: 184-205). Nevertheless, the Malaysian government have also realised the benefit of promoting inclusivity, particularly for economic gains, and therefore despite ethnic and political differences there is evidence of flexibility and healthy complexity emerging.