KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 — Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir has criticised the “Arabisation” of Islam in Malaysia amid the institutionalisation and growing conservatism of the faith here.

The social activist pointed out that that it is very difficult to find traditional “baju Melayu” for women during Hari Raya as Arab attire like kaftans, which are long tunics, became more popular instead over the years.

“This is just Arabisation. Our culture — it’s colonialism, Arab colonialism,” Marina told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview here.

“Kaftans are easy to wear. But what happened to our tradition, culture, everything? It’s lost,” she lamented, pointing out that Malay women below 50 generally do not know how to tie the ‘baju kurung’ skirt so that it falls into pleats and makes it easier to walk in.


The eldest child of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Islam’s biggest problem in Malaysia is the fear of knowledge of the religion itself.

“Islam has a very strong intellectual history, but there’s no intellect at all in the way Islam is taught here. We’re taught rituals; we’re not taught about the great thinkers and differences between them,” she said.

“When you read the history of Islam when it first came down, it was about doing away with tribalism... but you now have this thing where you’re wanting to go to a tribe, or else, the other tribes, even though all are officially Muslim, are not allowed,” she added.


The Sunni denomination is the prevalent ideology in Malaysia and any other Islamic schools of thought, including Shia, are considered deviant.

Marina also criticised the authorities for “inventing new enemies all the time”, questioning a minister for telling Muslims to watch out for “Quranism” shortly after Dr Mahathir said the Quran is supreme and that hadiths, which are sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad, come after the holy book.

“It’s a new ‘ism’. Liberalism, pluralism, communism, feminism, Quranism. But racism, fascism, they don’t include,” she said.

Friday sermons sanctioned by the government have repeatedly warned the predominant Muslim community against philosophies like liberalism and pluralism.

Marina hit out at the government’s repeated calls for Muslims to unite and conform, pointing out that it does not allow room for individuality, while Muslim women are criticised when they go against the norm, citing the K-pop concert controversy where Muslim girls in headscarves hugged the Korean artistes, the female BFM journalist who questioned hudud and women in tudung touching canines at a controversial pet-a-dog event.

“Women always get attacked,” said the women’s rights activist.

“The guys get away because you can’t actually tell, unless they’re in a kopiah and beard and they’re touching a dog,” she added.