Islamic State Label Sparks Controversy in Malaysia

July 25, 2007

Author: Clarence Fernandez

Source: Yahoo News

Wire Service: Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Bitter debate in Malaysia questioning whether the mainly Muslim nation is an Islamic state has exposed religious and racial faultlines ahead of a widely expected early general election.

As Malaysia prepares to celebrate its 50th year of independence with a nationwide party next month, comments by Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak asserting the country has never been a secular state have upset many non-Muslims.

"Islam is the official religion and we are an Islamic state," state news agency Bernama quoted Najib as saying last week.

"We have never been secular because being secular by Western definition means separation of the Islamic principles in the way we govern a country."

Race and religion are touchy issues in multi-racial Malaysia, where ethnic Malay Muslims form about 60 percent of a population of roughly 26 million, while Hindus, Buddhists and Christians dominate the ethnic Indian and Chinese minorities.