Seminar: The Politics of National Identity in Malaysia: The Making of Negara Islam



About the Seminar

The government’s move on 26th May 2016 to expedite for parliamentary deliberation the Private Member’s Bill introduced by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang to expand the Syariah court’s jurisdiction surprised and unsettled many. It has been interpreted by its opponents as a step towards the implementation of Islamic penal code. Others in particular the Prime Minister and his party leaders have dismissed this reading and explained that the bill would merely remove any limitations on the type of sentences the Syariah Court is authorised to hand down to Muslims except for the death penalty. A third interpretation regards the incident as nothing more than a ploy to boost the political credentials of UMNO and/or PAS in the face of the two up-coming by-elections in June, and consequently, it would eventually come to nothing.

This presentation argues that the push to enhance the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court has been in the making for some time, not just by PAS politicians but also by other Islamic social and institutional actors. This push, in tandem with the attempts at implementing Islamic penal code, may be understood as part of the broader movement in terms of efforts towards what are regarded as rendering the Malaysian state institutions more in conformity with Islamic teachings. This idea and the multiple policy initiatives of realising the so-called negara Islam, unleashed since the launch of the Islamisation Policy by Dr Mahathir Mohamed as Malaysia’s Prime Minister, have acquired a momentum of its own.

The impact of this process of change is progressively making itself felt, on matters such as the interpretation of Article 3(1) and 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution, the judicial deliberation of inter-religious litigations and the yawning gap in perspectives between advocates of Islamic penal code and their detractors on the constitutional implications of its implementation.

This presentation will examine some of these unfolding dynamics and the social actors involved.  Periodic outbursts of interreligious contentions in the public sphere over issues such as the above-mentioned move are only symptoms sustained by these underlying social dynamics. By way of concluding, I will consider some implications of this development on national identity formation, interethnic relations and national integration in Malaysia.

About the Speaker

Helen Ting Mu Hung (PhD in Political Science, Sciences Po, Paris) is Senior Fellow at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). Her research interests include the politics of national history, multiculturalism, political secularism, identity and agency.

For registration, please fill in this form and email to by 4 July 2016.


Jul 05 2016


3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2