chapter  9
Actually existing religious pluralism in Kuala Lumpur
Pages 20

Malaysia is no stranger to mutating religious diversity and cultural pluralism. For centuries, given its strategic geopolitical position along the commercial trade routes between China and India (and beyond), an array of travellers to the peninsula – inter alia merchants, imperialists and missionaries – have left their imprints, both singular and hybrid, on belief systems, social practices and material cultures that make up the societal fabric of modern-day Malaysia. Together with its diverse and finely balanced Asian populace who are adherents of some of the major world religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, and Daoism – the Malaysian Tourism Board was emboldened to make the claim of ‘Malaysia [being] Truly Asia’ not so long ago. Notwithstanding the allure of magical religious pluralism and multicultural-

ism, it has been increasingly commonplace for many Malaysians to lament the deteriorating health of inter-ethnic and inter-faith relations in the public sphere over the past three decades in contrast to a nostalgic golden and cosmopolitan past (e.g. Lee 1988; Ahmad Fauzi 2000; Riddell 2005; Tan and Lee 2008). The specific reasons for this prognosis vary according to the different standpoints and emphases given by their respective interlocutors. Nevertheless, a common recurring trope that stands out can be characterized as an over-zealous and bureaucratic ‘Islamization of Malaysian society’ by a diverse and competing spectrum of local Islamic dakwah (missionary) groups and state agencies since the advent of Islamic revivalism in the 1970s.1