A right-wing Malay Muslim group has kick-started a controversial campaign for Malaysia to be recognised as an "Islamic state" by aiming to get one million signatures to be presented to the King, in what could be a new headache for the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.
Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Malaysian Muslim Solidarity), known by its Malay acronym Isma, wants Malays to reject the notion that Malaysia is a secular nation.
It also wants the Malays to back the idea that Malaysia is "Tanah Melayu", literally "land of the Malays", a move that could unravel the country's multiracial compact, which includes the East Malaysia states of Sabah and Sarawak with their significant non-Muslim populations.
The five-month Isma campaign named "Malaysia Negara Islam" - or Malaysia is an Islamic state - also calls for a stronger role for the Islamic legal system.
In its petition on Change.org website, Isma said: "Malaysia is an Islamic state based on its history, culture, constitution and Islamic principles." It rejected past statements by PH leaders and officials, who have said that Malaysia is not "an Islamic state".
Some 19,000 people had signed the petition by late evening yesterday, two days after the campaign was launched on Dec 26.
While often seen to the right of Malaysian politics, Isma received widespread approval from the Malay community in December last year when its campaign forced the Najib Razak government to drop a controversial project to impose new fees for Muslims heading to Saudi Arabia for umrah (minor pilgrimages). That plan was launched just a day earlier.
Isma's new campaign was launched amid views among a section of Malays that the seven-month-old PH government is weak in protecting their rights, and comes just three weeks after a huge street rally. Some 50,000 Malays peacefully protested in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month against a plan by the Mahathir Mohamad administration to ratify a United Nations convention, claiming doing so would weaken Malay and Muslim rights.
Other race and religion issues are at play that have allowed Isma and the main opposition parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) to wade into. PAS has been pushing for harsher punishments to be meted out by amending an Islamic criminal Act known by its Malay acronym RUU355.
Meanwhile, there is anger among Malays today over the death of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim, who was killed last week during a fracas at a Hindu temple in Selangor. Four suspects have been arrested and released on bail.
With PH winning only some 30 per cent of the Malay vote in the May general election, officials are wary of moves that chip away at this important base.
Malaysia's federal Constitution accepts Islam as the official religion, with the country administered by secular laws.
"The call for an Islamic state needs to be defined clearly. Islam is already the official religion of Malaysia and the state," said political observer Johan Ariffin Samad from the G25 group of prominent Malays.
"If Islamic state (means) the imposition of strict syariah laws like RUU355, I would say East Malaysians, especially, are totally against it," he told The Straits Times.