The Malaysian Moderation Obsession

Thoughts of a young Aussie on a Malaysia cultural exchange...we made it into the paper! Check out my first reflection on the trip so far here.

The 'Global Movement of Moderation Foundation', or the GMMF for short, is symptomatic of an contradictory obsession with moderation in the Malaysian political sphere.

This contradiction has been demonstrated over the course of the Australia-Malaysia Institute's current program, an initiative pitched as a cultural exchange between the youth of the two nations. The Malaysian Government's Ministry of Foreign Affair's determination to include the GMMF along the way has led to the 'moderation' agenda dictating the terms and language around the program and it is clear that this is coming from the top. Why? What is this all achieving?

A more fundamental question to ask is 'What exactly does it mean to be part of the moderate movement?'

In essence, what does 'moderate' actually mean?

This is a question we have been asking as a group for the last few days and have yet to receive a comprehensive answer. It seems that the concept of 'moderation' is something along the lines of 'the middle path', or more boldly, the opposite of extremism. How such an amorphous concept can be a goal however - especially when so poorly defined - is difficult to understand.

What is concerning is the use of the word 'moderate' when it is a word that quite clearly comes with baggage.

It means various things to various people and as a Muslim, the use of the phrase 'moderate Muslim' is slightly...uncomfortable.

Rather than moderate, some Muslims prefer words such as 'mainstream', if we have to give ourselves a label.

'Moderate Muslims' however, to me seems to just imply a Muslim that is lukewarm, or just 'moderately' interested and engaged in the religion. It makes me think - if I am a 'moderate Muslim', does that mean I am not a 'good Muslim'?

It almost insinuates that it's neither here, nor there. Just a bit, well, meh?

Different Muslims have different preferences, but it should be recognised that the word 'moderate' does have that connotation to many.

So clearly, the use of phrases such as the 'movement of moderation' when that is so poorly defined and in fact insinuates a dilution of [religious] belief is concerning and confusing.

In addition, the second issue of note is the corresponding and contradictory moves in Malaysia to politisice Islam. This has been demonstrated by the tightening of particular laws excessively and against the principles of Islam, an attitude which flies in the face of 'moderation'.

The most recent case is naturally that of banning the use of the word 'Allah' by other religions and various cases in family court that are said to terribly disadvantage women. This disadvantage is due to procedural issues and poor implementation of the law rather than of the word of the law itself.

It would seem that even one of the most outwardly progressive Muslim majority nations in the world suffers from the deep politicisation of religion, evidenced in the adoption of the word 'moderate'. It is a word that the West love, as it is nice and not-extremist-scary. A nation that adopts this position will be internationally favoured.

Domestically however, the opposite is true. Political leaders use the religion to justify their actions in order to try gain the domestic Muslim internal support they desire.

It is an interesting situation indeed...


Politicisation of religion is difficult to fight without true, just, fair education, and that includes proper religious eduation that focuses not on the rituals of a religion but the spirit behind the words.

When Muslims are properly educated themselves as to their rights, responsibilities and duties as good Muslims, the true spirit of Islam - which is like any religion, lauding peace, mercy, forgiveness, et. al. - will shine through.

After all, Muslims are told to walk the 'middle path'...

Ironic, la?