Tuesday June 18, 2002

Malaysia a 'fundamentalist' Islamic state: Mahathir

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is an Islamic fundamentalist state as its policy is to abide by the fundamental teachings of Islam, Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad was quoted as saying on Monday.
Mahathir told parliament he had "shocked" western leaders with this explanation during recent visits to the United States and Europe, the official Bernama news agency reported. "When I said this they were shocked because they considered a fundamentalist as someone who is violent and did all kinds of bad things, but to me it is not. If we hold to the fundamentals of Islam, we will not become bad as Islam exhorts us to be on good brotherly terms, united, do good things and hence it is not wrong to be an Islamic fundamentalist," he said.
Mahathir, usually seen as heading a moderate Islamic government, said when he explained his stance to the western leaders, they agreed that their use of the word "fundamentalist" had been inaccurate. The prime minister, who has this year met US President George W Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Pope John Paul II among others, said many leaders had shown an interest in knowing more about Islam.
The status of religion in government has also become central to domestic Malaysian politics in the wake of the terror attacks and a crackdown on Islamic militants. The Chinese-based opposition Democratic Action Party has objected to Mahathir's definition of Malaysia as an "Islamic state", saying it was against the secular constitution. The hardline Parti Islam Se Malaysia, on the other hand, has derided Mahathir's declaration as false and is putting it to the test by trying to impose strict Sharia law in two states it controls.