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Johor’s Malays Tilt Towards Conservative Islam – Singapore Survey

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SINGAPORE – A survey commissioned by a Singaporean think tank has found that most Malays in Johor are becoming more conservative in their views, such as preferring Muslims for their leaders and growing support for hudud, the Straits Times reports.

The survey by Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute examined the role of Islam and its governance in Johor, and the results were released on November 10.

It found that most Johor Malays preferred Muslims to occupy key leadership positions, three in four supported the implementation of hudud while 57% wanted to see the Islamic penal code applied to all, regardless of religion.

ISEAS fellow Norshahril Saat said such conservatism was previously associated with Malays living in rural states like Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah, and confirmed that “Islamic revivalist thinking” is rising in Johor.


The study surveyed 2,011 respondents in Johor, comprising 1,104 (55%) Malays, 758 (38%) Chinese and 149 (7%) Indian.

It also found that 94% of Johor Malays agree that the sultan is good guardian of Islam in the state, but do not agree with his views on Arabisation, and the Malaysian Islamic Development Department, and Islamisation.

Ninety per cent of Malays feel that this increased religiosity was a positive development, in contrast to 79% of Chinese and 68 of Indian respondents who disagreed with this statement.

The release of the survey’s results comes after the recent furore over a Muslim-only launderette in Muar, which sparked questions on growing conservatism in the southern state.


Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar of Johor issued a stern rebuke to the business owner, who has since apologised to the ruler.

Sultan Ibrahim had also previously spoke out against what he perceived to be rising Arabisation in Malay culture.

The sultan’s response to the launderette issue allegedly elicited criticism from a government preacher, which prompted the ruler to order Johor’s religious authorities to cease dealing with their federal counterparts.

The ruler has emerged to be a strident defender of multiculturalism in Johor.

“This never ends. If everything is to be prohibited, we might as well live alone in the cave and not live in society,” he had said recently.

Despite the sultan’s views, many Malays in Johor are still tilting towards conservatism.

A housewife who lives near the Muar Muslim-only launderette says she will be questioned in the afterlife about her actions as a Muslim and not as a Malaysian or Johorean.

Sharina Abdullah, 45, told the Straits Times that the business owner was merely giving options to Muslims, and not being racist or discriminatory towards non-Muslims.

A mosque committee chairman in Mersing, Musa Mahat, 50, said “it’s everyone’s right to choose how he wants his clothes cleaned”.

Norshahril of ISEAS said Johorean Malays, the sultan and scholars may perceive Arabisation differently, but it is the exclusive attitude that some people adopt that matters.

“Whether you are a Sufi, Wahabi or Salafi, that doesn’t matter. It’s whether you adopt an exclusivist attitude, that matters,” he said.

“The rise of exclusivism is something that we should not tolerate, particularly selecting leaders based on their religion rather than their merits, attitudes or capabilities.”

Rashaad Ali, an analyst with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), said some Malay-Muslims would support the implementation of hudud “solely on the basis that it is ‘Islamic’ and their identity as a Muslim almost obligates them to lend support”.

The survey is part of the institute’s study on social, economic and political trends in Johor. A previous survey in 2013 did not examine religion but looked into attitudes towards governance and economy, Iskandar Malaysia and Singapore. – November 19, 2017. – The Straits Times Singapore


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