Letter: Malaya and Islam

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Sir: Matthew Chance's criticisms of the Islamic revival in Malaysia show an inability to realise that non-European peoples might intelligently prefer their own values to those of Europe ("Islam's grip tightens", 22 September).

As Malaysia opens up to the world, its young people are inevitably becoming more aware of the faults as well as the virtues of the global civilisation which the West has created. For instance, while Muslims in most countries affirm the right of religious minorities to consume alcohol, they cannot accept that alcohol is truly in a different category to other narcotics. Many look with puzzlement on the reactions to the death of the Princess of Wales, for which everything except the true culprit - alcohol - was blamed.

Muslims have similar difficulties understanding the Western urge publicly to display the human body, either in person or through images.

It is not the body or private sexuality that we object to, but rather the progressive sexualisation of public spaces, which inevitably provides more scope for marital infidelity and hence the trauma of divorce.

Public anatomical displays may enrich the fashion and cosmetics industries, but they are oppressively marginalising to the old, and to all who may be spiritually admirable, but physically fail to measure up to the current images of perfection. Modesty in dress is hence not oppressive, but liberating.

No doubt any onslaught by a Malaysian prime minister on a demigod of the financial world will call forth a dutiful flurry of anti-Malay sentiment. But Malaysia remains a success story, with no Ulster-style religious violence between its many religious groups.

As it grapples with a flawed modernity, it will continue to thrive because of, rather than despite, its confident Muslim identity.

Abdal Hakim Murad

Cambridge

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