Six months on, is Malaysia Madani catching on?

“The government needs to ‘weaponise’ Madani to rally both Muslims and non-Muslims against some common threats. The original Madani model of multicultural and multireligious co-existence worked because they too faced common threats. For now, Madani is too soft to steal the market from ‘Ketuanan Melayu-Islam’”.


RAISED eyebrows and cynical chuckles greeted the Malaysia Madani concept when it was first announced in January by the then one-month old unity government.

Arguably, it was received with more cynicism than the ruling party brands that preceded it such as Keluarga Malaysia, Prihatin, and 1Malaysia, mostly because it is a foreign-sounding acronym.

People joked online that they had to Google the term to learn what it stood for whereas the previous brands were self-explanatory common Bahasa Malaysia terms.

But Madani is uniquely significant to the current administration not just because it is meant to encapsulate the unity government’s values but because of the unique shape of the government itself.

It is only the second time in Malaysian history that Malaysians have a government that wants to break away from the racial politics that has long ruled our lives. The first government that did this lasted only 22 months in office.

Sunday Star spoke to political scientists, sociologists, and Islamist activists about how the concept reflects the administration’s aims of dealing with the current landscape of polarised partisan politics and rising religious conservatism.

Scholars from think tank Institut Darul Ehsan, who were involved with Anwar in developing the Madani concept, also spoke about the challenges they faced in making the idea understood among ordinary Malaysians. They explain how Malaysia Madani aims to provide an alternative to Ketuanan Melayu-Muslim (Malay-Muslim supremacy), the ideology that has dominated Malaysian politics for six decades.

Madani, they say, is key to achieving the Bangsa Malaysia ideal that has evaded previous governments, and to provide a measure of stability for the administration.

Why Madani? Why not something simpler?

Political scientist Prof Wong Chin Huat of Sunway University says that the Madani concept provides an alternative model of ethnic relations that is rooted in Islamic concepts but that is different than the Malay-Muslim supremacist world view that is still popular in the community.

“To supersede the ethnocentric Muslim-Infidel (Kafir) dichotomy which emerged and expanded amidst the expansion of Muslim empires, progressive Islamists and Muslim democrats invite Muslims to revisit the first Muslim-dominated polity – the multireligious city state of Madinah. Prophet Mohamad was both the head of religion for the Muslim majority and the head of state for all citizens of Madinah, including the ethnic minorities of Jews and Christians.

“In the last decade, inclusive Muslim opinion leaders argued that all citizens, regardless of faith, in a modern nation state are citizens and the term kafir should not apply anymore. The Madani narrative is a continuity of this inclusive reasoning.”

The term Madani is close to Anwar, says Khairul Ariffin Munir of Institut Darul Ehsan.

“He talked about building a Madani society starting in the 1970s. He had a big convention on the Madani society in 1996.

“The origin of word is Arabic but it has already been accepted into Bahasa Malaysia and is in the Kamus Dewan. Madani means mentally, spiritually and materially developed. It relates to building a society.”