Marina Mahathir: Blame the Saudis for Malaysia’s ‘Arabisation’ and loss of local culture!

Marina Mahathir speaks her mind: Politicians and ulamas helped create Islamic State…

27 November 2017



Marina ‘admits’ to error over Arabisation, says Saudis more like US

PETALING JAYA: After being criticised by an aide to Prime Minister Najib Razak over her recent “Arabisation of Malaysia” remarks, social activist Marina Mahathir chose to dismiss such criticism, with a twist on her earlier comments.

The daughter of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad took to Twitter to “admit” to her error in commenting on the Arabisation issue previously.

“Actually, I wrongly criticised the Arab culture. Aren’t the Saudis following American culture in bombing the people of another nation relentlessly? #YemenFamine” Marina tweeted – referring to the bombing of Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition since 2015 – to answer her critics.

Marina was especially responding to Fathul Bari Mat Jahaya, a special advisory officer in the Prime Minister’s Department, who had yesterday questioned Marina for highlighting the Arabisation issue but neglected to talk about Malaysians adopting a “yellow culture”.

“There is no need for her to talk about Saudi Arabian culture entering (Malaysia). Nowadays Western culture has come in. Is she talking about that?”

“Why is Marina keeping quiet when the country is also affected by “yellow culture”, such as those found in very bad concerts and festivals,” he said also questioning if Marina was putting Western culture ahead of Islamic culture.

Fathul, who is also an Umno Youth executive council member also defended the Saudis saying it was good that they brought Islam and try to highlight Islamic justice, peace, prosperity, such as in the King Salman Centre.

The King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP) was mooted following a highly-publicised visit by the Saudi ruler to Malaysia in March this year, as well as by Najib’s participation in a summit in Riyadh attended by US President Donald Trump.

In July this year, Najib had announced the government’s decision to earmark a 16ha piece of land in Putrajaya to build the KSCIP.

26 November 2017

Marina: Saudis to blame for Malaysia’s ‘Arabisation’, loss of local culture

November 25, 2017

Asia Times report also says Prime Minister Najib Razak is using his relationship with the Saudi Arabian royalty to boost his political standing among voters and hardline groups.


PETALING JAYA: Marina Mahathir has pinned the deepening trend in Malaysia where hardline Islamic policies and thinking are allowed to take root at various levels of government and society to the influence of Saudi Arabia.

The founding member of Sisters in Islam said the phenomenon was contributing to the disappearance of local cultural elements in place of those from the Middle-East.

“There’s this idea that the more like Arabs you are, the better Muslim you are. That’s the very real obliteration of our cultural heritage,” she was quoted as saying by Asia Times today.

“Arab culture is spreading, and I would lay the blame completely on Saudi Arabia,” said the social activist, who is the eldest daughter of PPBM chairman and former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The Asia Times report said there were indications that Prime Minister Najib Razak was leveraging his relationship with Saudi King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud to boost his Islamic credentials in an attempt to appeal to religious hardliners, far-right Malay groups and conservative rural Muslim voters.

It said critics had accused him of overseeing an “Arabisation” of Malaysia, which included allowing PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang to table the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act (Act 355) in the Dewan Rakyat to intensify shariah criminal punishments.

In a report on her preliminary observations during a visit to Malaysia from Sept 11 to 21, the United Nations’ special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Karima Bennoune had noted a contradiction between the government’s vocal rejection of Islamic fundamentalism and extremism, and “the growing Islamisation of Malaysian society and polity based on an increasingly rigid and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.”

The Asia Times report said Bennoune had alluded to the long reach of Saudi cultural influence made possible by decades of oil-financed proselytisation via mosques and madrassas that promote the Saudi fundamentalist doctrine of Wahhabism.

It also cited the growing role of Saudi-trained Islamic scholars recruited into Malaysia’s civil service and religious establishment.

Nov 19

“There’s this idea that the more like Arabs you are, the better Muslim you are. That’s the very real obliteration of our cultural heritage.” via

Marina Mahathir Is on the Front Lines of Malaysia’s Culture Wars

“There’s this idea that the more like Arabs you are, the better Muslim you are. That’s the very real obliteration of our cultural heritage.”

Kate Walton

zzzfr.jpegIllustration by Dini Lestari


Marina Mahathir is tired of seeing her country change. Marina, the founder of the organization Sisters in Islam and the daughter of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, has spent decades fighting what she calls the “Arabization of Malaysia.”

“Arab culture is spreading, and I would lay the blame completely on Saudi Arabia,” Marina told a crowd at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in October 2017. “There’s a lot of money in there. The Saudis are funding the big cost of it. This is another form of colonization—the McDonalds-ization of Islam. Malay culture is being lost.”

In the West, this kind of complaint could come across Islamophobic, or a just downright racist, but Marina isn’t talking about an influx of Arab immigrants here. She’s concerned with the eroding foundations of her own local Malay Muslim culture in favor of the more conservative Wahhabis strains of Islam found in Saudi Arabia. She believes that Malaysia’s centuries-old culture, and with it the country’s ideals of pluralism and women’s rights, is losing ground in a wider culture war being waged throughout Muslim communities in Southeast Asia.

In Malaysia, Middle Eastern garb like kaftan robes are replacing local attire like the kebaya and the sarong. Child marriages on the rise and more and more young women are choosing the full-face veil—the niqab—over wearing a hijab or no veil at all.

The conservative Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) is now pushing for the institution of what would become the strictest form of Shariah law in the region, one that critics say could open the door to draconian punishments like stoning adulterers and amputating the hands of thieves. The law, if implemented, would mean that there would be “separate laws for Muslims and non-Muslims,” she said. “That would be the end. That would be apartheid.”

“These types of interpretations are less about religion and more about power,” Marina said. “The way to control people is to have the strictest kind of rules… Anyone who talks outside the box is harassed and hounded.”

VICE: I wanted to ask you about what you’ve called the ‘Arabization’ of Malaysia. Where is it coming from? The politicians, the religious figures, or the people themselves?
Marina Mahathir: It’s not particularly driven by the politicians, but it’s kind of a fairly organic thing that’s been going on for a long while. It started in the ’70s, I think, after the Iranian Revolution, people started to take on a more Muslim identity, which usually translated into headscarves. And it’s been gaining ground, and I think now there’s a lot of—maybe with social media and you can see what people wear and all that—there’s more of a trend of wearing abaya and more elaborate scarves. Of course, they conflate everything, because Iranians are not Arabs. And they don’t really know the difference between one Arab and the next, but it is different from our culture.

There isn’t much attempt to localize it—unlike how it’s been done in Indonesia. I think Indonesia attempts to localize it more with you know, batik kaftans or whatever. In Malaysia, it’s more taking on the sort of black stuff. It’s not completely everywhere, like you’re not going to see lots of people in black everywhere. But I noticed it particularly because one Eid, I just could not find any of our traditional clothes anywhere.

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