Poll shows 73% think we are Islamic state

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia - Nearly three quarters of Malay Muslims in Peninsular Malaysia believe that Malaysia is an Islamic state, according to a poll.

Seventy-three percent of 1,029 Muslims surveyed in the Muslim Identities Public Opinion Survey, Peninsular Malaysia answered "Yes" to the question "Is Malaysia an Islamic state?", while 25% answered "No" to the question and 2% said they didn't know.

However, 77% said they did not want an Islamic state in Malaysia, like Iran.

Of those polled, 57% wanted hudud laws implemented. However, 60% said non-Muslims should not be subjected to hudud laws while 28% said they should.

The public opinion survey conceptualised and coordinated by Assoc Prof Dr Patricia Martinez of Universiti Malaya's Asia-Europe Institute, polled 1,029 randomly-selected Malaysian Muslims across the peninsula between Dec 15 and 18 last year (2005).

It was administered by the Merdeka Centre and supported by funding from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

It also found that a majority of Malay Muslims in the peninsula say it is acceptable for Malaysian Muslims to live alongside people of other religions.

The majority also believe that Malaysian Muslims should learn about other religions in Malaysia, and that Muslims in Malaysia can participate in interfaith dialogue.

Asked if Islam should be part of an Interfaith Council in Malaysia, if there were one, the majority also said "Yes".

Martinez noted that the survey has mixed findings, some of which dismantle the generalisations and assumptions that are made about Malaysian Muslims.

Ninety-seven percent of those polled said it was acceptable for Malaysian Muslims to live alongside those of other religions, while 76% said that if there were an interfaith council in Malaysia, Islam should be part of that council.

However, even though 77% said Malaysians should be allowed to choose their religion as stipulated in the Constitution's Article 11 which guarantees freedom of religion, 98% said Malaysian Muslims should not be allowed to change their religion.

Of those polled, 64% want the syariah to remain as it is under the Constitution.

At the same time, 77% said current syariah laws in Malaysia were not strict enough, 18% said they were sufficiently strict, and 2% thought they were too strict.

Forty-four percent also believed that the authority to monitor and punish Muslims for immoral behaviour should be state religious authorities, 33% chose family, and 21% chose others.

Martinez said the survey's objective was to get Muslims themselves, instead of those who speak on their behalf, to define their identity, issues and concerns, noting that this was the first such large-scale poll that had been conducted in Malaysia.

"Some of the findings really repudiate some of the claims being made about Muslims, or even what many of us have assumed. For example, the growing orthodoxy, which came through in the survey, does not mean that Peninsular Malaysian Muslims are growing less open to diversity in the country.

"However, one needs to point out that some of those with the power to shape Islam or who make pronouncements in the media or who claim to speak on behalf of, or for Islam, seem to function from the opposite dynamics: making Muslims more exclusive, less able to accept and participate in cultural and religious pluralism," she told theSun.

The poll also asked Muslims which identity they would choose if they could only choose one, and 73% chose Muslim, 14% chose Malaysian, and 13% chose Malay. However, 99% felt they were all three.

Martinez said that if over 70% of more than half of Malaysians identify themselves primarily as Muslims, then national unity policies and programmes, which largely focus on bridging the racial and ethnic gap, do not sufficiently address the fundamental element of religiosity.

"Obviously, we need to build interfaith dialogue in all these policies and programmes, and by that, I mean the ability to know about the religion, and not just the cultural practice, of the other," she said, noting however, that unlike cultural practice, in interfaith dialogue, not everything is up for scrutiny or discussion.

"This is the sort of 'sensitivity' that should be addressed. Not silence and silencing, but knowing boundaries. And here the golden rule, 'do unto others as you would others do to you' suffices.

If you don't want people discussing Jesus in disrespectful terms, then don't talk about the Prophet Muhammad disrespectfully, for example."

Martinez said the government should consider building interfaith dialogue along these lines into national unity programmes and projects so that people could learn to disagree with civility and live with disagreement or difference from fellow citizens.

Majority of Muslims think men and women have equal rights

A majority of Malay Muslims in Peninsular Malaysia believe that in Islam, women and men have equal rights.

According to the December 2005 Muslim Identities Public Opinion Survey, Peninsular Malaysia by Assoc Prof Dr Patricia Martinez of University Malaya's Asia-Europe Institute, up to 76% of the 1,029 polled said both women and men have equal rights.

However, out of those who believed this, 80% were men and only 73% women.

Of the 26% that responded "No" to the question, 26% were women and 19% men.

The survey also found that 57% of those polled believed that if a husband told his wife she should not work, she should obey him. Out of this 57%, an equal number of men and women responded in the affirmative to the question.

"We focus on men as being chauvinistic, but it looks like the women are pretty conservative," Martinez said.

"Or another interpretation could be that Muslim women don't feel equal treatment or equality and so less numbers of women responded 'yes' to the question 'Are men and women equal in Islam'," she said, stressing that there are always a number of ways to interpret statistics.

To another question, only 55% of all respondents agreed that women could be syariah court judges, 38% disagreed, and 7% did not know or gave no response.

Of those who agreed, 60% were women and 51% men. Of those who disagreed, 35% were women and 40% men.