From Sect to Security Risk: Malaysia's critical fight against extremist ideologies



30 Apr 2024 11:37am
AI image generated by Sinar Daily.
AI image generated by Sinar Daily.

In multiracial Malaysia, the spectre of extremism, particularly in the form of the Khawarij ideology, poses a significant threat to its harmony and societal fabric.

The Khawarij, an early Islamic sect known for their extreme interpretations of Islam and willingness to declare other Muslims as non-believers and thus legitimate targets of violence, serve as a historical reminder of the dangers inherent in radical ideologies.

While the exact representation of this group in contemporary times is complex and varied, the term has often been invoked to describe modern extremists who exhibit similar disregard for the sanctity of life and diversity. In the context of Malaysia, a country that prides itself on its arguably peaceful coexistence and mutual respect among its citizens, the rise of such ideologies could unravel decades of attempts at social cohesion amid these turbulent times.

It has even attracted the government’s attention that the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs), Datuk Mohd Na’im Mokhtar, had to condemn such ideology–including takfiri, where one easily accuses another of apostasy–in the august house last month.

Khawarij ideologies in Malaysia, though not mainstream, have manifested in various ways over time, reflecting a complex interplay between religious beliefs, cultural contexts, and political influences.

For example, Malaysia has seen the rise and operation of groups influenced by radical ideologies including the influence of broader entities like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. These extremists legitimise violence against those they perceive as against their interpretation of Islam.

Unfortunately, extremist content preaching radical interpretations of Islam has been spread through social media and various websites, targeting young Muslims and others vulnerable to radicalisation. These ideas spilled over to physical violence, including attacks or planned attacks on entertainment venues and places of worship of other religions over the years. These actions are driven by a belief in the legitimacy of violence against those deemed apostates or enemies of Islam.

The recent petrol bomb attacks on three KKMart stores due to the sock incident have further brought this issue to the forefront as these vigilantes believe they are acting in defense of Islam against a perceived enemy.

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The dangers of adopting or sympathising with such an extremist stance are manifold.

At its core, this ideology promotes division, hatred, and violence, directly contradicting the principles of understanding, tolerance, and unity that Malaysia has worked tirelessly to foster, and that Islam teaches its adherents.

It is not just a threat to the security of the nation but also a direct assault on its identity as a multicultural and multi-religious society with Islam, a religion that stands for peace, as the religion of the federation. The emphasis on exclusivity and the rejection of any form of dissent or difference can lead to the marginalisation of communities, fostering environments ripe for sectarianism and conflict.

For Malaysia, the urgency of addressing this threat cannot be overstated.

The government, along with civil society and community leaders, needs to take a proactive stance in intervening and curtailing the spread of such ideologies.

Education plays a critical role in this endeavour. There is a pressing need to reinforce the value of mutual respect in educational curriculums, highlighting the rich diversity of Malaysia as a source of strength rather than division. Initiatives that promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue should be amplified, creating spaces for understanding and empathy among Malaysia's diverse population.

Furthermore, the government must ensure that its security apparatus is equipped to address the threat of extremism without compromising the rights and freedoms of its citizens. The news of an Israeli citizen caught in the country’s capital possessing six guns, and the recent shooting in KLIA due to a domestic dispute, have caused fear that the Home Affairs Ministry is not doing enough.

The government needs to refine our counter-terrorism strategies to not only disrupt potential threats but also address the underlying factors that fuel radicalization, such as social alienation, economic disparity, and political disenchantment.

The battle against extremism is not won on the battlefield alone but in the hearts and minds of the people. It requires a sustained effort from all segments of society—government, religious leaders, educators, and community organisations—to foster an environment where diversity is celebrated, and radical ideologies find no fertile ground to grow.

In conclusion, the spread of Khawarij-inspired extremism in Malaysia represents a clear and present danger to its societal harmony and security. Acknowledging and addressing this threat through comprehensive and inclusive strategies is imperative for the nation's continued prosperity.

Malaysia's strength lies in its diversity, and preserving this unity in the face of extremism is a responsibility that falls on every Malaysian.

Syaza Shukri, PhD, is an associate professor and the current Head at the Department of Political Science, IIUM. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.

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