Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani
Malaysia has developed its own distinct value system that is accommodative to the country’s rich tapestry of different ethnicities and religions. It is no coincidence that previous Malaysian premiers have actively promoted such system. Leading the way is Mahathir Mohamad, the country’s fourth Prime Minister, who was a vocal advocate of “Asian values,” followed by his successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who championed the idea of Islam Hadhari. These two sets of values are not entirely incompatible to each other but rather share some similarities. The concepts of “Asian values” and Islam Hadhari are premised on several fundamental tenets, which include: promoting Islamic values, championing the Malay agenda, protecting cultural values, and challenging Western cultural imperialism. Their origin can be traced from the aggressive attempt by the ruling power – the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) – Barisan Nasional (BN) to strengthen and consolidate the political supremacy of the alliance. Inevitably, both of these value systems have been subjected to many criticisms, predominantly under the pretext of misguided and ill-properly constructed values by the ruling regime to justify its autocratic rule. The very nature of such value systems has often triggered political debates in terms of defining Malaysia as a nation. The espoused agenda of Islamisation and possibly assimilation have stirred profound uneasiness among the country’s significantly large population of non-Muslims. The value system brought by “Asian values” and Islam Hadhari can lead to one understanding of Mahathir’s and Abdullah’s leadership and administration in governing Islam and politics in Malaysia.