By Faris Mokhtar
(Bloomberg) — The majority of Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia are in favour of making strict Islamic rules the official law of these multi-religious countries, polling from the Pew Research Centre showed in a sign of the rising influence of religious conservatism.
Some 86% of Malaysians said they are in favour of making Shariah regulations, which applies to Muslims, as the country’s official law. With Indonesia, nearly two out of three people surveyed were in favour of implementing Islamic regulations over the current secular laws.
The strong support for Shariah laws, which include banning alcohol and punishing adultery, reflect a growing dilemma for the leaders of these Muslim-majority nations that also have sizable religious minorities. This in turn is influencing policymaking in Malaysia and Indonesia where incomes and economic growth were checked by the pandemic and a global slowdown.
The Pew findings published on Tuesday found that most of the Malaysian Muslims polled were in favor of religious leaders entering politics, while close to half of the respondents surveyed in Indonesia embrace this.
While the survey was carried out between June and September 2022, national and state elections in Malaysia and political decisions in Indonesia echo the findings and show the rising clout of the Muslim conservatives.
Malaysia’s state elections in August saw a far-right Islamist group strengthen its hold on three of six states up for grabs while wresting more seats in the country’s wealthiest state of Selangor. Last November, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia won most seats of any single party in the national vote and was supporting a conservative candidate to defeat Anwar Ibrahim in the race to become the next prime minister.
Home to the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia enacted a sweeping criminal code that punishes people who have sex outside marriage in the most significant example of conservatives’ power in influencing state policies.
Indonesia’s presidential elections next year could see religion come to the fore as well. One of the candidates, a former governor of Jakarta who is viewed as pro-Muslim, has sought to burnish his credentials by picking the leader of Indonesia’s largest Islamic party as his running mate.
The study also examined the role of Buddhism, the main religion in Cambodia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Among the three, Cambodian respondents were more in favour of religious leaders becoming politics as well as revealing their political leanings and joining protests.
Pew Research polled 13,122 adults across six Asian countries that include Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
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