PETALING JAYA, Oct 1 — Muslim Sabahan natives who wish to convert themselves into Malays should be given the choice to do so, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today.
The former prime minister seemed to have no problem with the suggestion of the Sabah mufti on Saturday for a programme to make Muslim bumiputera from Sabah Malays, citing unity among the community.
“Up to them to choose. If they want to become Malays, then let them,” Dr Mahathir told reporters here.
“Before this, when Chinese converted into Islam, they said they ‘converted into Malay’. Only now we say ‘convert into Islam’.”
Sabah mufti Bungsu @ Aziz Jaafar, caused a storm last Saturday with his proposal for a programme to “Malaynise” the state’s non-Malay Bumiputera Muslims, citing a need to unite the country’s Muslims.
He told a thousand-strong Muslim symposium in Putrajaya that many of the indigenous Muslims in the north Borneo state still refused to call themselves Malay, unlike ethnic groups like the Javanese and Bugis in Peninsular Malaysia who today identify themselves as belonging to one Malay race.
Bungsu also boasted of a “successful” mass “Islamisation movement” of Sabahans in the 1970s, which according to him, had played a role in making Islam the religion of the state.
Sabah Barisan Nasional (BN) leader Tan Sri Bernard Dompok had warned today that Malaysia could drown in a lethal brew of religious bigotry and racism if Bungsu succeeds with his proposal to make Malay all natives who embrace Islam in the north Borneo state.
Other Sabah politicians have also warned that the Islamic cleric’s suggestion betrays the spirit of Malaysia’s formation in 1963 and may even be part of a bigger conspiracy by Peninsular Malays to dilute the local identity and assert greater control over the resource-rich state.
In the original 20-point agreement drawn up before the formation of Malaysia, it was agreed that there should be no state religion in North Borneo, and the provisions relating to Islam in the present Constitution of Malaya would not apply to North Borneo.
The Sabah Constitution was amended in 1973 by the state government to make Islam the religion of the state of Sabah.
Muslims now make up 65.4 per cent of Sabah’s population according to the latest census in 2010, up from 37.9 per cent based on a North Borneo census in 1960, three years before its independence.