Islam: Facing Two Ways with Dr Mahathir

By Kershaw, Roger | Contemporary Review, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Islam: Facing Two Ways with Dr Mahathir

Kershaw, Roger, Contemporary Review


AS Dr Mahathir Mohamed of Malaysia was preparing to hand over the premiership to his 'annointed successor', Abdullah Badawi, in the course of 2003--an event fixed with quaint precision for 31st October, as if to pre-empt prevarication!--academic Malaysia-watchers in several countries were being mustered to contribute to collective assessments of a remarkable man after twenty-two remarkable years at the helm. As these collections of essays find their way into print, one recurring theme that can be anticipated is Mahathir's mobilization of religion as a prop for his at-root-secular modernizing mission for the Malays. Slightly by contrast, I myself was signed up for an essay on two quite-overtly-secular confrontations with Britain--those of 1981-83 and 1994, which involved boycotts of British goods and investment respectively. I had nevertheless, in the February 2003 issue of Contemporary Review, indulged a few thoughts on Mahathir's more 'transcendental' armoury.

In that survey, under the title 'Riding the Islamic Tiger in Malaysia', I tried to provide a sufficient background or context of general political history--which means, essentially, inter-communal relations--to make basic sense of the religious dimension. Landmarks were noted such as Independence from Britain in 1957 (when the multiracial population of the Peninsula of Malaya stood at 6.279 m); the inter-ethnic riots of 1969, and consequent rise of the Malay-promoting New Economic Policy (N.E.P.); Mahathir's accession to the premiership in 1981 in the midst of Islamic revival, followed shortly by partnership with the charismatic and ambitious Islamist, Anwar Ibrahim; the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 (in which the preference of Anwar--by now Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister--for the IMF's 'medicine' of higher interest rates pitted him against Mahathir's choice of exchange controls); Anwar's dismissal and orchestrated disgrace in the courts, which gave a much greater electoral boost to the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (known in Malaysia, incidentally, by its Malay acronym PAS, reflecting the 'Jawi' or Arabic-script letters Pa-Alif-Sin) than to the new Justice Party formed by Anwar's wife; but finally, Mahathir's political recovery in time to prepare the way for hand-over to a less impatient successor, thanks to a post-'September 11th' public perception that equated local Islamism with Taleban-style extremism.

It might have been well to add, however, that Dr Mahathir still saw a need to attempt to outflank the Islamist opposition by claiming in October 2001 that Malaysia was already an 'Islamic state'. As non-Muslim political parties declared that they were happy with the existence of an 'Islamic state' if it meant Dr Mahathir's version of one, perhaps we should take this as a purely symbolic pronouncement. Yet there has often been substance in Dr Mahathir's seemingly symbolic activity. For instance, the launching of an International Islamic University back in 1982 had contributed to the growth of an educated, Islamically-minded constituency that sought ever more increments of Islamisation in turn. And these intelligentsia would justify their prescriptions as a moral complement if not antidote to Mahathir's 'Vision 2020', which in February 1991 set Malaysia the materialistic goal (though one that was meant to cosset the Malays less than the N.E.P.) of fully industrialised status within 29 years. Only for few of these intelligentsia could Islam be seen as an actual motivator for realization of Mahathir's secular vision, as he himself partly wished it to be.

The Malaya of 1957 had been in many ways a politically placid colonial economy, notwithstanding the insurrection, yet to be defeated, of the ethnic Chinese-led Malayan Communist Party. Forty years later, Malaysia (thus renamed after enlargement in 1963), was a dynamic player on the Asian scene, both economically and politically, but subject to the contradictory stimuli and restraints of religious engineering for the 'definitive' ethnic community within. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Islam: Facing Two Ways with Dr Mahathir


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.