Islamic Fundamentalism In Southeast Asia Politics Essay

23 Mar 2015

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"The word fundamentalism has come to imply an orientation to the world that is anti-intellectual, bigoted, and intolerant. It is applied to those whose life-style and politics are unacceptable to modern, Western eyes . . . Against such people we lash out with a label that immediately delegitimises them, that immediately says these people are out of the mainstream and therefore deserve to be given ad hominem dismissal."

- Jay M. Harris [1] 

1. Fundamentalism by definition is the strict adherence to a set of beliefs. This term is usually applied when discussing religious beliefs, and most major world religions bear forms of fundamentalism. Presently however, fundamentalism brings with it certain negative connotations, being almost freely interchangeable with extremism, radicalism or even terrorism. This has certainly been the case in the global mainstream media when the term 'Islamic fundamentalism' is used.

2. The 'New World Order' is also in itself an idea which invokes different meanings to different people. The global conspiracy theorists connect it with a secret movement aimed at controlling the world through nefarious means. However, it is more commonly used to denote the prevailing ideological notion of global governance. This term was first used in the Western world upon the establishment of the League of Nations at the conclusion of the First World War. More recently, the former US President, George Bush linked the First Gulf War to the setting up of yet another 'New World Order'.

3. Within the past decade, major acts of terrorism have been committed by Muslim terrorists in Indonesia targeting foreign tourists. In the southern regions of Philippines and Thailand, Muslim separatist groups have been carrying out armed rebellions against their government, with acts of terrorism against citizens of those two nations occurring regularly and blamed on the Muslim rebels. At the same time, a vast number of Muslims in Muslim-majority nations like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei are actively participating in the revival of Islam in all spheres of life including politics, economics and social. Therefore Islamic fundamentalism is playing a prominent and ever growing role in Southeast Asia.



4. This paper seeks to determine the history and role of Southeast Asia's Islamic fundamentalism in the New World Order.


5. To determine the true undistorted attributes of Islamic fundamentalism. To identify the present shape of the New World Order. To investigate the history of Islamic fundamentalism in Southeast Asia. To establish the role of Islamic fundamentalism in Southeast Asia. To analyse the impact of Islamic fundamentalism in Southeast Asia on the New World Order.


6. Islamic fundamentalism will continue to play a major role in Southeast Asia. Islamic fundamentalism in Southeast Asia will give a positive contribution in the evolution of a more peaceful and just world order.


7. The Southeast Asia region is made up of eleven nation states with a total population of 593 million people (8.6% of global population) and total land area of 5 million square kilometres (3.3% of earth's surface). All its constituent nations - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam - enjoy richly varying indigenous cultures. Through the past three millennia this region has been greatly influenced by the major world religions, with Islam currently being dominant in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the southern regions of Thailand and Philippines.

8. Southeast Asia is part of the developing world, and many countries within it have been enjoying dynamic economic growth until the onset of the recent world economic crisis. It is blessed with rich mineral wealth and fertile conditions for agriculture. Its total nominal GDP for 2010 is USD1.8 trillion. Additionally, this region plays a major strategic role as the bridge between the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.

9. Islam is the world's fastest growing religion [2] in spite of, or perhaps even assisted by the adverse publicity generated on this religion post 9/11. Among the world's Muslim-majority nations, Indonesia is the most populous while Malaysia is one of the most developed. India's Muslim population is second in number only to Indonesia's. Therefore there is concern on how the rising influence of Islamic fundamentalism in Southeast Asia will affect the New World Order.


10. This study concentrates on the history and present role of Islamic Fundamentalism in Southeast Asia and its implications on the New World Order.

11. The small Islamic monarchy of Brunei and the significant Muslim minority populations in Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore are influenced by trends and developments affecting Muslims in Malaysia and Indonesia. Therefore for the sake of brevity, this dissertation will focus primarily on the two leading Islamic nations in Southeast Asia which are Indonesia and Malaysia.


12. The data for this dissertation has been collected from a number of books, periodicals, magazines, newspaper and research journals, whether online or in printed form that are available in the Defence Services Staff College library. The Bibliography is attached as Appendix.


13. The subject is proposed to be dealt with in the following parts: -

(a) Chapter II - The true attributes of Islamic Fundamentalism.

(b) Chapter III - The present New World Order.

(c) Chapter IV -The history of Islamic Fundamentalism in Southeast Asia.

(d) Chapter V - The role of Islamic Fundamentalism in Southeast Asia.

(e) Chapter VI - Implications on the New World Order.




14. Oxford Dictionaries Online [3] provides two definitions for fundamentalism as follows:-

(a) A form of Protestant Christianity which upholds belief in the strict and literal interpretation of the Bible.

(b) Strict maintenance of the doctrines of any religion, notably Islam, according to a strict, literal interpretation of scripture.

15. Cambridge Dictionaries Online's definition for fundamentalism meanwhile is "the belief in old and traditional forms of religion, or the belief that what is written in a holy book, such as the Christian Bible, is completely true" [4] .

16. In the military world, to become a good tactician, an officer must understand the fundamentals of tactics. Similarly, it is impossible to become a good scientist without mastering the fundamentals of science. Therefore a Muslim who believes in the absolute truth of Islam and aspires to be a good Muslim will strive to master the fundamentals of Islam and hence become a fundamentalist. However, a person who believes that Islam is a fundamentally flawed religion which advocates evil deeds will link Islamic fundamentalism to abhorrent acts such as terrorism.


17. Fundamentalism when referring to religion was first applied to Christianity. The birth of Christian Fundamentalism can be traced to the United States in August 1909 with a sermon by A.C. Dixon in Chicago calling for bringing the Bible's true message to Christians [5] . This sermon was later followed by the publication by oil millionaire Lyman Stewart of twelve paperback books between 1910 and 1915 containing the best teachings of the best Bible teachers. These books which were distributed free of charge to church people across America were eventually known as 'The Fundamentals' However, the term fundamentalism would only become popular beginning from the early 1920s.

18 Christian Fundamentalism has been potrayed to consist of a set of five basic beliefs, which are beliefs in the Bible's infallibility, Christ's divinity, his atonement, resurrection and second coming [6] . These five points were adapted from a 1910 declaration of the Presbyterian General Assembly.


19. As its influence grows, Christian fundamentalism became more prominently seen as a reaction against the political and social liberalism of that era as well as its rejection of the theory of evolution. This eventually led to major conflicts with the secularists, liberalists and Darwinists.

20. In July 1925, the Scopes trial took place in which John Scopes, a teacher in Tennessee was charged with breaking the state law by teaching evolution in public schools. A prominent Protestant fundamentalist who had been touring the United States to lead a crusade against the teaching of Darwinism in schools and colleges, William Jennings Bryan represented the prosecutors. Scopes was eventually convicted, but in the course of the trial, Bryan was exposed as a "bumbling, incompetent anachronism who was out of touch with the modern world" [7] while Scopes' defence attorneys argued brilliantly for the importance of freedom to science.

21. From the fallout of the Scopes trial, the American media began condemning fundamentalism. Fundamentalists were described as the scourge of the nation and the enemies of science and freedom and who have no legitimate place in the world. From that time onwards, fundamentalism is viewed negatively in the media.


22. To properly understand Islamic fundamentalism, it is pertinent to determine the true fundamentals of Islam based on its original sources which are the Holy Quran and the Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad's sayings and examples).

23. Islam is founded on the Five Pillars of Islam as follows [8] :-

(a) To testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and Muhammad is Allah's Messenger.

(b) To perform the five daily prayers.

(c) To give Zakat (obligatory charity).

(d) To fast in Ramadhan.

(e) To perform the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) if able to do so.

24. These five pillars clearly placed the importance of achieving peace at both the social and individual level. The individual level which is between the Muslim and God is highlighted through the first, second and fifth pillars. The fourth pillar is not just to train the Muslim's own self in several virtuous attributes, but also to develop compassion to those in society who are less fortunate. The third pillar is similarly not just to cleanse one's wealth, but also as a form of social contract in which the sharing of wealth will eliminate poverty and promote social equality.


25. Presently, Islam is suffering from several misconceptions regarding its true teachings, with the more common ones being:-

(a) Jihad.

(1) In the global mainstream media, the term 'jihad' has come to be known as something utterly negative. Jihad has been simplistically described as waging a holy war against infidels. Actually, in Islam, jihad consists of two dimensions: the inner jihad that seeks to restrain the self-destructive and negative forces within; and the external jihad which is a struggle against brutality and oppression, by means of actions and words. The former type of jihad in Islam is of more value and thus of more significance to a Muslim.

(2) Based on this true definition of jihad, any Muslim can conduct jihad at any time using any method available or convenient to him or her, hence making that person a 'jihadist'. Regrettably, generalising all 'jihadists' as terrorists or extremists is becoming a more common practice by the media today.

(b) Terrorism.

(1) With many terrorist attacks in the recent past being carried out by Muslims, Islam has regularly been accused of advocating terrorism.

(2) The Islamic Rules of Warfare. Being a comprehensive way of life, Islam has laid down a strict set of rules and ethics for Muslims participating in war. These rules have been in existence since the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, more than twelve centuries before the birth of the Geneva Convention. Adherence to these rules would clearly preclude Muslims from committing acts of terrorism. A few of these rules are as follows:-

aa. Innocent people or civilians are not to be killed. The Holy Quran (5:32) states that "Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind".

ab. Children, women and the elderly are not to be harmed.

ac. Trees or fields yielding crops are not to be cut down while homes are not to be demolished. Prophet Mohammad said during the battle of Mu'tah in Sep 629: "Neither plunder nor conceal booty, kill no children, or women, nor an ageing man or a hermit be killed, moreover neither trees should be cut down nor homes demolished."

ad. Places of worship such as mosques, temples or churches are not to be attacked.

ae. Dead bodies are not to be deformed or mutilated. Prophet Muhammad said: "Invade but do not exaggerate nor commit treachery. Never deform the corpse of a dead person or kill an infant child."

af. Wounded persons or captives are not to be killed.

(3) The profiling of terrorists based on religions is considered by the United Nations to be a form of discrimination and is viewed by the world body with serious concern [9] .

(c) Suicide Bombing.

(1) An act of terrorism which is now made to be synonymous with Islamic fundamentalists is suicide bombing.

(2) However, research on all suicide terrorist attacks around the world between 1980 and 2005 has shown that over half of all those attacks are carried out by non-Muslims [10] .

(3 The data also show that the presence of foreign combat forces account for about 95 percent of all suicide bombing attacks across all religions. Therefore the primary motivation behind this type of attack is not religion but to cause armed forces belonging to modern democracies to withdraw from the territory that the terrorists perceive as their homeland.

(4) The most number of attacks were found to be carried out by the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, which, if they declare their allegiance to any religion at all, it would certainly not be to Islam.


26. It is clear that in spite of its recent near-monopoly of the term fundamentalism in the global mass media, Islam did not give birth to this term. Rather, it was popularised by the American Protestants to identify themselves as separate from the mainstream Christians. This Christian revivalist movement subsequently gained infamy and found themselves out of the mainstream. All the negative connotations carried by this term was later heaped upon persons who uphold the fundamentals of Islam.

27. Nevertheless, the objections of Muslims the use of the 'fundamentalist' label is not because of its intimate connection to another religion. In Islam, Prophet Muhammad is deemed as the ultimate fundamentalist [11] whose traditions and examples are to be studied and emulated. Hence it is the aspiration of most Muslims to be as fundamentalist as he or she possibly can. Muslims object to this term only because of its derogatory inference when it is applied in the Western context of religious extremism, and not because of its meaning.

28. Therefore in subsequent discussions within this dissertation, Islamic fundamentalism will be used to denote the movement that calls for a return to the fundamentals of Islam in all spheres of life. Islamic fundamentalism does not at all equal extremism or radicalism in the name of Islam.




29. Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines the 'New World Order' as "a political situation in which the countries of the world are no longer divided because of their support for either the United States or the Soviet Union and instead work together to solve international problems" [12] .

30. Oxford Dictionaries Online does not have any definition for the New World Order. However, it defines 'world order' as "a system controlling events in the world, especially a set of arrangements established internationally for preserving global political stability" [13] .

31. The 'New World Order' also refers to a long-running conspiracy theory in which a small group of people are said to be secretly plotting to rule the world politically and economically. Coincidentally, this theory is also partly based on Protestant fundamentalism in its speculation about the end of the world and the coming of the Antichrist [14] .

32. For the purpose of this dissertation, the 'New World Order' will denote the latest prevailing ideological notion of global governance.


33. The term 'New World Order' was first formally used by the former United States President Woodrow Wilson when referring to the establishment of the League of Nations at the conclusion of the First World War. Wilson called for a 'New World Order' which is "sustained by procedures for the arbitration of disputes between nations, general disarmament, self-determination, and collective security" [15] .

34. The outbreak of the Second World War signified the failure of the League of Nations. In its wake, the United Nations was established, again with the aim to achieve international peace and stability. The United Nations Charter outlined the principles of that new world order - national sovereignty, non-intervention and international cooperation.

35. The era of the Cold War then brought in a new bi-polar world order in which the nations of the world can be considered to be either a part of the American liberal democratic camp or the Russian communist camp. Except for a number of local wars fought by opposing factions backed by the two super powers, a condition of global 'cold war' prevailed due to the nuclear arsenal of both nations that can cause mutually-assured destructions.

36. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s caused the emergence of the uni-polar world order which is dominated by the United States as the single super power. In March 1991, United States President George Bush in his State of the Union Address to the Congress celebrated the the conclusion of the First Gulf War by saying, "The world can therefore seize this opportunity to fulfill the long-held promise of a new world order - where brutality will go unrewarded, and aggression will meet collective resistance". [16] 

37. This United States global hegemony is set to remain at least for the near future. China's economy however is set to overake the United States as early as 2020 [17] . Additionally, Brazil, India and Russia which together with China make up the the informal group BRIC are all emerging economy powerhouses.


38. The United States is able to exercise its hegemonic power to oversee and orchestrate world order due to the following factors:-

(a) They maintain the largest and most technologically advanced military.

(b) They are economically ahead of other competing nations or even competing economic regions.

(c) They exert the most political pressure to influence other nations' actions.

39. Problems in the New World Order. In spite of more than two decades being under this global hegemony, the world is still suffering from several disorders [18] such as:-

(a) The proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

(b) The growing gap between the North and South.

(c) The disproportionate allocation and utilisation of the world's natural resources.

(d) Environmental degradation.

(e) Mass poverty.

(f) Massive movement of drugs.

(g) Human trafficking, whether as sex slaves or for vital organs.

(h) Terrorism.

(i) Health problems such as the spread of AIDS/HIV in Africa.

40. Characteristics Influencing Foreign Policy and Strategy. It is pertinent to consider the eight characteristics [19] of the New World Order which will be influencing the foreign policy and strategy of any nation:-

(1) Minor International Conflicts. The new strategic landscape is littered by a series of ethnic, religious, ideological and nationalist conflicts - or a combination of some or all of them. The restructuring of some nation systems such as in the former Yugoslavia and the possible collapse of other existing nations have exacerbated these conflicts.

(2) Evolving Regional Hegemonies. Major nations in various geographical regions are trying to dominate their region to achieve regional hegemony. India and China for example are developing the capacity and military means to become the dominating power in South Asia or even Asia.

(3) Internal Struggles For Control. Several nations are becoming unstable and facing struggles for control against internal destabilising forces such as Somalia, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1994, Kosova in 2005 and Iraq and Afghanistan at the present time. Some former Soviet republics are straining to create their own effective political and economic systems.

(4) Existence of Rogue Nations. Rogue nations are those who undermine the international norm. They seriously undermine the ability of other governments to respond to domestic or international issues and are supportive of terrorist groups. North Korea for example are actively developing its nuclear capability while Israel have been regularly committing acts in defiance of the United Nations' Resolutions.

(5) Emergence of Regional Economic Groups. Although globalisation has created a 'global village', many regions seek to protect their interests by forming up regional economic groups. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation are examples of this attempt to bind regions together in trade pacts. The adoption of a common currency by members of the European Union (EU) is carried out to strengthen their regional economic group.

(6) Increasing Irrelevance of Old Alliances. Nations who used to be enemies are now friendly to each other while former friends may become adversaries such as in the former Soviet republic states. A major exception is NATO which is still playing a major role in spite of the end of the Cold War.

(7) Widening Gaps Between Nations. The economic and military gap between the developed industrial democracies and the economically underdeveloped countries are widening. This gap could be the basis of continuing conflicts not just within those nations and but also between those nations and West.

(8) The Ambiguous Importance of the United Nations. The United Nations is actively involved in various peacekeeping and peacemaking operations throughout the world. However, its authority in deciding upon international issues had in many cases been challenged by the sole super power. Therefore the effectiveness of the United Nations in this New World Order in protecting the rights of the weaker nations is still in question.


41. The New World Order refers to the latest prevailing ideological notion of global governance. The end of the Cold War led to the emergence of the uni-polar world order.




42. In the eighth century, Arabian geographers began to mention the name of places in Southeast Asia, suggesting that period to be the beginning of regular trade visits by Islamic traders to port cities in the region [20] . Chinese text records from the tenth century then began to include envoys with Arab-sounding names, showing the growing influence of Islam in the power structure of the Southeast Asian kingdoms.

43. In 1292, Marco Polo reported of the Muslim city of Perlak in north Sumatra. This period was the beginning of a new age in Islam in Southeast Asia, when the rulers of local kingdoms or states began embracing Islam. It is believed that South India also played a role in spreading Islam to the Sumatran region [21] . In Terengganu, a coastal town in peninsular Malaysia, a hybrid form of Islamic law was practiced in the 14th century based on the discovery of an Arabic-script inscribed stone dated from that era.

44. The growth of Islam in Southeast Asia is a slow and gradual process, in which the local cultures which were based on animism, Hinduism or Buddhism began absorbing elements of Islam. Islam was spread not only by merchants from the Middle East or South Asia, but also by migrants from China. Large-scale conversions into Islam only happened from the 15th century onwards

45. Islam remains as the religion of the majorities in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei in spite of the onset of colonisation in Southeast Asia by Western nations which began in the 16th century. Thus Islam in Southeast Asia was not 'spread by the sword', but rather spread by the 'sword of intellect'.


46. The early Muslims in Southeast Asia were more attracted to Islam through Sufism teachings, which enabled them to "maintain diverse approaches to the experience of religious truth while affirming the oneness of God and the truth of the Islamic message" [22] This close association between Islam and mysticism enabled converts to still maintain elements of traditional Hindu-Buddhist-animist practices while accepting the basic tenets of Islam. Therefore Islam in Southeast Asia has been historically syncretic and characterised by its tolerance for diverse points of views as well as its legacies of pre-Islamic practices.

47. Superficially, the early Muslims have more in common with the relaxed attitudes of Java Hindus and Thai Buddhists than with the austerity of Arab Muslims. The application of the Sharia Law is comparatively limited. Most women cover their hair with only scarves while wearing a form of loose overgarment. In Indonesia and Malaysia, it is common for Muslims to work and live alongside Christians, Buddhists and Hindus although naturally some quarrels also periodically erupt.


48. Kaum Tua vs Kaum Muda. In the 19th century, a division developed between the Sufi-influenced practices of the Kaum Tua (literally meaning the Elderly Generation) and the Wahhabi-influenced approach of the Kaum Muda (Young Generation) in Indonesia and later Malaysia [23] . The Kaum Tua represented the traditional court-centred creeds in Malaysia and the inclusionist beliefs of the Javanese heartland, which had incorporated pre-Islamic and Sufi practices and beliefs. The Kaum Muda represented the modernist, Muslim reformists staunchly influenced by the pan-Islamic revivalist movement originating the Middle East. It strived to purge the pre-Islamic beliefs that had been absorbed into the practice of Islam in Malaysia and Indonesia. Because of the great numbers of Muslims who went on the pilgrimage to Mecca as well as Muslim clerics who studied in the Middle East and South Asia, the pure form of the Islamic faith have had a growing impact on the region since the 1870s.

49. The Revival of Islam in Southeast Asia. Islam has been undergoing a revival in Southeast Asia due to several internal and external factors [24] as follows:-

(a) Internal Factors. Globalisation which brings with it the rising influences of the Western culture has also played a role, especially the effects of rapid industrialisation and resulting urbanisation. The present major developments in Southeast Asia are as follows:-

(1) The Asian financial crisis of 1997 resulted in the overthrow of the authoritarian Suharto regime and created political space for Islamists in Indonesia.

(2) The Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS) has continue to be very successful in working through the political system to promote an Islamist agenda while in opposition in Malaysia.

(3) Muslim separatist insurgents have continued their struggle in the southern parts of Philippines and Thailand.

(2) External Factors. External factors include the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestine conflict, the Islamic revolution in Iran, the export of Saudi-backed Wahhabi movement and the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

50. Development of Islamic Fundamentalism in Indonesia.

(a) The division between the traditionalists and the Wahhabi-influenced modernists took place between the two rival bodies of the Muhammadiyyah and the Nahdatul Ulama (the Association of Religious Scholars). Muhammadiyyah was regarded as modernist, innovative and urban-based with firm support in the urban centres of Java and in the outer islands of Indonesia while NU was perceived as conservative, traditionalist and rural Javanese-based.

(b) Presently, the Muhammadiyyah has become domesticated, with a leaning to Sufism while upholding its commitment to conduct reformation within the framework of a fundamentally secular, multi-religious Indonesian society. The NU preserves its influence within the Indonesian society and government through its inclusive approach, accommodationist stance and the emergence of a younger generation of innovative Islamic intellectuals within its leadership.

51. Development of Islamic Fundamentalism in Malaysia.

(a) Youth Movements. In the 1970s, when counter-cultural youth movements began flourishing in many countries throughout the world, the youth movements of Malaysian Muslims took on the form of an increased interest in religion. They were still anti-establishment but they tend to find the meaning and pleasure of their struggle in the rediscovery of Islam. Amongst those movements, the three most prominent ones [25] are Jamaat Tabligh (an Indian-based missionary movement), Darul Arqam (which built-up successful Islamic communes and businesses but was later banned by the government for its heretical teachings) and the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (ABIM) which achieved the most success because of its intellectual appeal.

(b) Political Movement. The dominant political party among the majority Malay population of Malaysia is the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) which has been the main component of the ruling coalition party since Malaysia's independence in 1957. In 1951, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) was formed up by former members of UMNO who objected to the racial and secularist leanings of UMNO. PAS is now the strongest member of the opposition coalition, and rules two of the northern states in Malaysia.

(c) Islamisation. After Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad successfully convinced the charismatic leader of ABIM, Anwar Ibrahim to join UMNO in 1982, the government began implementing a series of measures aimed at strengthening the Islamic values in Malaysian Society. These measures include the setting up of an Islamic bank, the International Islamic University of Malaysia, re-introduction of Arabic script (jawi) into the school curriculum, an Islamic insurance company and mandatory teaching of Islam in institutions of higher learning.

(d) Militant Islam. Malaysia has never suffered any attacks by Muslim terrorist groups in its history. However, several Muslims who are alleged to be involved with terrorist groups were detained under Malaysia's Internal Security Act which allows for detention without trial.


52. Islam in Southeast Asia was first spread by the Sufi practitioners and later by Arab and South Asian traders. The Southeast Asian people's embrace of Islam was a gradual process over centuries which lead to its syncretic attributes.

53. There is now an Islamic revival among the Southeast Asian Muslims, both at the individual and national level. However, Islamic fundamentalists are in the vast majority moderate in their approach.




54. The Muslim population in Southeast Asia as of 2010 are estimated [26] to be as follows:-



Total Muslim Population in 2010

Percentage of Population that are Muslim in 2010

Projected Total Muslim Population in 2030

Percentage of Population that are Muslim in 2030






























































Timor Leste

















55. Muslims thus make up the majority in Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. In Singapore, Philippines and Thailand, Muslims are a significant minority. The worldwide percentage of Muslims who are fundamentalists (according to the definition in this dissertation) is found [27] to be 30%, and therefore Islamic fundamentalists make up about 70 million people in this region.


E10. Southeast Asian nations are still beset by the scourges of Third World Countries such as corruption, lack of media freedom and poor governance. The extents of these problems are as follows:-



2010 Corruption Perception Index [28] 

(the bigger the better, range 0-10)

Press Freedom Index [29] 

(the lower the better, range 0-100)

World Governance Indicator [30] 

(the higher the better, range 0-1)















































Timor Leste









56. Muslim fundamentalists' role in combatting these problems is largely in the advocacy capacity since none of the Southeast Asian nations are controlled by Islamic fundamentalist groups. The fact that corruption is still endemic in Muslim-majority nations in Southeast Asia shows that these nations are not governed according to the fundamentals of Islam which forbids any form of corruption or abuse of power.


57. In Southeast Asia, there is an increased piety among individuals and groups which results in hatred and rejection of terrorism. Thus the Islamic revival in this region cannot be stereotyped to transform into extremist positions that express itself in violent ways towards the West.

58. However, it cannot be denied that some individuals are still being drawn to terrorist groups. During the Russo-Afghan War, a sizeable number of Southeast Asians went to Afghanistan to assist the people there in fighting against the invading force. Since there will be people who feels disenfranchised because of the political processes which they view as corrupt, or feeling isolated due to missing out on the benefits of globalisation, the radicalisation of Southeast Asian Muslims will not cease to happen. The existence of Islamic groups in Southeast Asia which possess links to international terrorist organisations cannot be denied, such as the Jemaah Islamiyyah (JI) in Indonesia and the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines are reported to have ties to Al-Qaeda.

59. The peace-loving majority of the Southeast Asian Muslim community plays a major part in countering this radicalism, by promoting a successful model of tolerant and modernist Islam that appeal to people's nature. Recent developments in Malaysia and Indonesia proved that this is possible. Radical or extremist groups have little appeal in Malaysia since the Islamic party PAS provides them an outlet to air their frustrations whether with the government or with other nations. The Islamist parties in Indonesia meanwhile have been increasing their support base not because of their Islamist agenda, but rather on their anti-corruption and good governance policies.

60. The many secessionist movements waged by Muslims in Southeast Asia should also be analysed from the essence of their struggle, rather than to be dismissed as just another part of the 'worldwide Islamic terrorist network'. This would enable those conflicts to be better understood and resolved, such as how Indonesia were finally successful in eliminating insurgency in Aceh through political means.


61. As an intrinsic part of the population, Islamic fundamentalists in Southeast Asia carry out the role of citizens just like anyone else but with a higher responsibility to strive towards Islam's lofty goals. The Islamic fundamentalists also play a crucial role in extinguishing any flame of radicalism or terrorism in the region.




62. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

(a) The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed in 1967 to enhance political, economic and security cooperation between its member states. ASEAN is now made up of all the nations in the Southeast Asian region with the exception of Timor Leste which is expected to become a full member by 2012.

(b) ASEAN encompasses 3% of earth's total surface area and 8.8% of the world's population. Its nominal GDP in 2010 is USD1.8 trillion, hence ranking it as the 9th largest economy in the world. By 2015, the ASEAN Economic Community will be established to create a single market for the region.

63. Kra Isthmus Canal. Under its 'String of Pearls' strategy, China is reported [31] to be deliberating on supporting Thailand in funding the construction of a USD20 billion canal across the Kra Isthmus. If constructed, this canal would allow ships to bypass the Straits of Malacca. It would also give China special access to facilities along the canal and therefore increase its influence in the region as well as boosting its economy.

64. With the foreseen establishment of ASEAN as a single regional economy, the Southeast Asian nations will enjoy a growing influence globally. The Islamic countries amongst its members will greatly prosper and hence also would be more influential among other Islamic countries.


65. Moderating Influence by ASEAN's Muslims.

(a) Islam is by some estimates the world's fastest growing religion. In 2005, the 1.5 billion Muslims constituted approximately 21% of the world's population as compared to 33% that were Christian. These percentages are projected by some to shift to 25% Christian and 30% Muslim by the year 2025. The Muslims of Southeast Asia also enjoys an influential position in the Muslim world, with Indonesia having the largest Muslim population among all nations and Malaysia leading the way in national development.

(b) Hence the Muslims in the eleven Southeast Asian nations are just less than the total number of Muslims in the twenty nine Arab nations (330 million). Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population but remains a secular state. Malaysia's success in maintaining a pluralistic political system, a vibrant economy and the adoption of policies which have fostered social integration has made Malaysia a successful developmental model for many Islamic and emerging countries.

66. Review of 'War Against Terror'.

(a) The present 'War Against Terror' has not only failed to eliminate its prime target which is the Al-Qaeda, it has also caused more injustice perpetrated by the militarily powerful Western nations on Muslim-majority nations, whether perceived or actual thus leading to the increasing influence of extremist groups [32] . In order for this war to succeed, there need to be a better appreciation of Islam and the understanding of the true fundamentals of Islam as opposed to the demonic Islam of mad-eyed mullahs currently being painted by some of Islam's haters.

(b) Many Muslims and non-Muslims in Southeast Asia view the United States administration under former President George W. Bush as no less evil and brutal than how the United States viewed Al-Qaeda [33] . Therefore the proponents of the 'War Against Terror' will need to be more judicious in its application of force to avoid earning the distrust of the population of this important region.

(c) Southeast Asia has shown that in combatting radical factions in Islamic countries, the solution should not be 'compulsory secularisation'. Such a policy will just incite negative reaction from the masses. Instead, the solution is the dissemination of the true teachings of Islam which embraces the Quranic values of peace, justice, human rights and appreciation for knowledge. Democracy will moderate militancy or religious extremism.

67. Islam in a Plural Society.

(a) Malaysia is quite unique in the sense that it is a multi-racial, multi-cultural and hence pluralistic by nature. In spite of this rich heritage, Malaysia has been relatively tolerant although there have been instances of racial riots and fights in the past.

(b) Compared to many other Muslim-majority countries, Malaysia is a success story because it has demonstrated sustained economic growth for decades. Therefore those other nations should appreciate the necessity of having a peaceful internal situation in striving for rapid material development.

68. Winds of Change in Arabic Nations.

(a) The Arab people used to be branded by the West as incapable of living in a democracy and hence require dictators to keep them in line. The Arabs are not trusted to exercise their vote correctly for their choice may not be what the West desires. Hence for the West, the stability of the Middle East is of more value than any implementation of full-fledged democracy.

(b) However, the successful people's uprisings in Tunisia followed immediately by Egypt has shown that the Arab have had enough of this status quo. The Arabs now aspire for total independence from West-supported dictatorial regimes. However, a common point of concern among Western nations is the risk of these new democracies falling into the hands of extremists.

(c) In this case, Indonesia has shown that the toppling of a dictator may not necessarily lead to Muslim extremists taking over power. After the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 which led to riots and street protests, the Indonesian president Suharto who had held office for 32 years finally was forced to resign. Since then, Indonesia has stayed as a secular nation with orderly transitions of power.

69. Averting The Clash Between The West and Islam.

(a) Samuel Huntington's theory on the 'Clash of Civilisations' is usually used in public discussion to refer to an inevitable clash between the West and Islam. This theory, which argue that certain civilisations were bound to come into conflict because of the contradiction in inherent values and basic beliefs, gained an even wider following after the terrorist attacks of '9/11'.

(b) However, the bleak scenario that unfolds with this theory will be detrimental to the whole world. Instead of fostering mutual hatred and distrust between the West and Islam, both sides must be encouraged and given the opportunity to get to know each other beyond the stereotyping and prejudices. In this regard, the Islamic fundamentalists in Southeast Asia can give a good example of how Muslims were able to prosper side-by-side with people of other faiths for centuries if not subjected to the divide-and-rule practices of Western colonialists.

70. Implementation of Sharia Law.

(a) Muslim fundamentalists hold high regard for the divinely ordained system of the Islamic Jurispudence (Sharia), and thus would naturally desire to implement it to regulate their society. However, due to selective prosecution and the polluting influences of cultures or traditions, the implementation of Sharia laws in many Islamic countries became flawed and miscarriages of justice regularly happen which further defile the image of Sharia laws.

(b) In their spiritual exuberance, some Muslim groups try to impose Sharia law to an unprepared population and hence sowing discord and even conflict within nations.

(c) The wisdom of Sharia is premised on its substance and not on its form as specified in the Islamic legal maxim "Something is judged in Islam by its Essence and Content and not its Form (and names)". The supreme purposes of Sharia are Al-'Adl (Justice), Al-Ihsan (Mercy) and Al-Isti'mar (generating Prosperity). Therefore Muslims should focus more on working towards having a government that practices Good Governance and the Rule of Law while at the same time waging war against injustice and corruption rather than endlessly fighting about Sharia law. This is how the opposition Islamist party in Malaysia were continuously able to work within the ambit of democracy and the democratic process while still being true to their aim. The Islamist groups in other Muslim-majority nations would do well to heed this example.


71. Southeast Asian Islamic fundamentalists have been and will continue to be able to provide positive impacts not just to their fellow Muslims in the other parts of the world but also on the New World Order.


72. Islamic fundamentalists are those who believe in totality in all the religion's fundamentals. Since Islam prohibits terrorism and preaches for moderation and peace, Islamic fundamentalists do not equate to Muslim terrorists or extremists.

73. This adherence to Islamic fundamentals has created and will continue to create a clash of ideas with modern secular governments since Islam does not separate between politics and religion. However, clash of ideas can be healthily resolved and managed, as can be seen to be done by various Muslim fundamentalist groups in Southeast Asia.

74. Therefore, based on the preceding chapters, the hypotheses of this dissertation have been proven to be true. Islamic fundamentalism will continue to play a major role in Southeast Asia and Islamic fundamentalism in Southeast Asia will give a positive contribution in the evolution of a more peaceful and just world order.

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