Najib defends record in promoting Islam

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak speaking during the India-Malaysia Business Forum event in New Delhi, on April 3, 2017.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak speaking during the India-Malaysia Business Forum event in New Delhi, on April 3, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

He faces backlash after ruling BN coalition drops backing for controversial Islamic Bill

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday detailed his government's multimillion-dollar spending to "grow" Islam, as he defended himself from a conservative-Muslim backlash for dropping Umno's backing of an Islamic Bill in Parliament.

He said the government will spend RM200 million (S$63 million) on subsidies for haj pilgrims this year compared to RM160 million last year.

The Barisan Nasional (BN) government will also spend RM100 million on both government-aided and private Islamic schools this year, and dish out RM43 million as monthly allowances for mosque officials and Islamic teachers.

The government is also allocating RM30 million to ensure that institutions that promote the learning of the Quran, Islam's holy book, will flourish, he wrote in a blog on his website titled "Islam Under the Barisan Nasional".

"When we look at the overall picture, a lot has been done by the government to ensure that Islam continues to grow and the welfare of Muslims in Malaysia is protected," Datuk Seri Najib said.

WORKING TOGETHER

Sometime ago, Muslims in Malaysia were divided and developments were hindered by certain leaders due to political differences. This has changed. The Muslims in Malaysia are now united to ensure welfare of the Muslims and sanctity of the religion are protected.

MALAYSIA'S PRIME MINISTER NAJIB RAZAK, alluding to Umno-PAS collaboration.

His laying out of what the 13-party Barisan Nasional coalition has done for Islam followed backlash from a section of Malay Muslims after BN recently decided not to back a controversial Bill in Parliament tabled by rival Malay-Muslim party Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

The Bill was meant to raise punishments in Malaysia's Islamic courts for a range of offences, and had found support among conservatives in BN's lead party Umno.

In addition, many Malay Muslim voters like the idea that Umno and PAS - at loggerheads in politics for decades - have at last found a platform that could unite them. Mr Najib and PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang have attended several Islam-related functions together.

Mr Najib alluded to this Umno- PAS collaboration in his blog, writing: "Sometime ago, Muslims in Malaysia were divided and developments were hindered by certain leaders due to political differences. This has changed. The Muslims in Malaysia are now united to ensure welfare of the Muslims and sanctity of the religion are protected."

But BN dropped support for the Islamic Bill on March 31 due to objections from its non-Muslim component parties, and from BN Muslims in Sarawak and Sabah. They feared the push to strengthen Islamic law would scare off non-Muslim voters.

In a sop to non-Muslim Malaysians, Mr Najib, who is promoting his own version of Islam which he billed as "wasatiyah" or "moderation", said this would continue under his leadership.

"I would like to emphasise that the concept of wasatiyah, social justice and equality will continue to be maintained including in political affairs, as long as I am prime minister."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 09, 2017, with the headline 'Najib defends record in promoting Islam'. Print Edition | Subscribe