Malaysia seeks review of top Islamic body

Muslims wait for Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Jamek Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, on June 15, 2018.
Muslims wait for Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Jamek Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, on June 15, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

Malaysia's new government wants to review the work and huge RM1.03 billion (S$348 million) annual budget of the country's most powerful Islamic agency, but needs to do so without offending the Malay-Muslim majority.

The Malaysian Islamic Development Department, or Jakim, is seen by Muslims as a key agency protecting their interests. At the same time, there is suspicion within the community that the Pakatan Harapan government intends to water down its rights.

The suspicion grew after government moves appointing a non-Malay finance minister and attorney-general, and social media leaks of the personal expenditure of Malaysia's King - seen as an insolent gesture of disrespect for Malay royalty by the month-old government.

Critics of Jakim, however, want it reined in for being a hotbed of Islamic conservatism and because of its huge budget.

How Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad handles Jakim will be closely watched. He fired the first shot by saying a review is needed as Islam was being portrayed by Jakim as a "cruel, harsh and unreasonable religion".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2018, with the headline 'Malaysia seeks review of top Islamic body'. Print Edition | Subscribe