Is Malaysia turning Arabic? The answer from the Sultan of Johor Bahru

Over the last decade, many travellers and visitors outside to Malaysia probably wonder why the country was turning increasingly strict regarding traditional customs and islam practice. Local media are today full of stories about perpetual polemics over ways Malay and other races must behave in relation to the religion; polemics which did not exist a couple of years ago.

It seems that an increasingly number of educated people in Malaysia now starts to voice their concern about Malaysia’s recent evolution. One of the most recent statements on that subject was published on Thursday by Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, the ruler of Johor Bahru, the Southern Malaysian state across Singapore. Here are extracts from the exclusive interview that the Sultan gave to Malaysian newspaper the Star, reflecting an opinion that many observers are seeing today in Malaysia…

The Sultan of Johor has called on Malays not to discard their unique culture, saying he was disturbed by those who want to stop Muslims from the salam practice despite it being a traditional way of greeting each other.

Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar said he was sticking to “my customs and traditions as a Malay because I’m born Malay.”

“If there are some of you who wish to be an Arab and practise Arab culture, and do not wish to follow our Malay customs and traditions, that is up to you […] but I believe there are Malays who are proud of the Malay culture,” he said.

He referred preferring to use terms like Hari Raya instead of Eid al-Fitr, or buka puasa instead of iftar. “I have been using these Malay terms since I was a child and speaking to my late father for the past 50 years,” he said.

His Royal Highness said religious faith was not based on external criteria such as clothing to display one’s relationship with God, saying “what is in the heart and mind is more important.”

He stressed that it was wrong to judge someone.

Recently, Crown Prince Tunku Ismail was at the centre of a polemics on social media for shaking hands with the wife of a Johor Bahru local soccer player. Sultan Ibrahim  indicated that during his annual Kembara Mahkota, he shook the hands of thousands of people including women.

“Why must I change? You do not have to be fanatic. If they (women) are not sure, I ask if they want to shake my hands. If they do not want to shake my hands, there is no problem,” he added.

Sultan Ibrahim said that this was the Johor way and his message to those who did not want to shake his hands is to simply stay away.

The Sultan also expressed his displeasure at the Batu Pahat Public Works Department (JKR) for recently putting up a notice reminding Muslim women about the sin of not covering their hair, which was mounted on a signboard along a road here. “This is wrong. This is not their role[…] Their main job is to make sure the roads are properly maintained and not worry about women’s hair,” he asked.

The Sultan said he had confidence and faith in Malaysians because the majority of them were decent and religious people.

Likewise, he said that “it is not the business of government departments to worry about people’s dressing. Just do what you are paid to do and mind your own business”.

(Source: The Star 24/03/16)