Sultan: Tuanku Ismail ibni al-Marhum Sultan Yahya Petra
Crown Prince: Tengku Faris Petra
Chief minister: Tuan Guru Dato' Haji Nik Aziz Nik Mat
Population: 2,100,000 (2007 est.)
Ethnic groups (Malaysia Statistics Dept., 2005)
: Malay 92.50%, Chinese 3.5%, Other Bumiputera 0.82%, Indian 0.26%, others 0.97%, non-citizen 1.95%
Religious Breakdown (2001)
Islam 94.5%, Buddhism 4.4%, Tribal Animism 0.5%, Christianity 0.2%, Hinduism 0.2%, Taoism/Confucianism 0.1%
Incidence of poverty (2004): 10.6% (Hardcore poor: 1.3%)
In Malaysia, a progressive and modern Islamic democracy is at work. Yet, in this northern state of Kelantan, the conservative element is still very much influential. PAS (the opposition Islamic Party of Malaysia) retained its power after a handsome victory at the 2008 general elections.
On 1st October 2005, Kota Bharu, the state capital and royal seat, was declared an Islamic City, aiming to become an Islamic learning centre. The Arabic honorific of the state is Darul Naim, "The Beautiful Abode".
Kelantan was the first place in Malaya to be occupied by the Japanese, who invaded on December 8, 1941. During the Japanese occupation, Kelantan came again under the control of Siam, but after the defeat of Japan in August 1945, Kelantan reverted to British rule.
In 1959, two years after independence from Britain, PAS began to rule Kelantan and it lasted for 18 years before Barisan Nasional took over in Mar 1978. It regained this deeply conservative Malay heartland in October 1990 and has since been the ruling party with re-elections in 1995, 1999, 2004 and 2008. While the 2004 election was a marginal victory, the last one gave PAS a two-third majority of seats in the state assembly.
In response to royal encouragement and an expansion of Islamic education, the 19th century saw religious bureaucracies developing in Kelantan. Achievements were measured by standards that acclaimed Islamic learning and scholarship. There were few signs of economic development.
For years, PAS has attempted to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic Law on Kelantan. Efforts to enforce Muslim precepts and eliminate “un-Islamic” practices have been accorded continuing priority. Legal administration has been brought more closely under the supervision of Syariah courts.
Compliance with outward forms of Islam, e.g. mosque attendance, was made obligatory, while stress was placed on dress code and observant of fasting month. Spies were placed in food outlets to look out for non-fasting Muslims. Those who were caught eating were fined RM20 (Malaysiakini.com, Sep 17, 07).
Between January and May, more than 80 women were fined for not wearing headscarves at work (NST, Jun 24, 05). Certain social rules have been successfully imposed, e.g., single-sex queues in supermarkets; separate public benches for men and women; and limiting entertainment centres to forbid “indecent behaviour”. In Jan 2008, the state decides to penalise supermarkets and hypermarkets that flout the law on single-sex queues.
One of the most controversial steps PAS has taken is to outlaw the traditional arts in 1991, such as Wayang Kulit, Makyong, Dikir Barat, and Main Puteri. In attempting to weaken the effects of such prohibition, performers have discovered new ways to resolve cultural dilemmas, i.e. producing versions without traditional references to Hindu dewa-dewi and traditional Malay hantu, etc. Performances by women are allowed only for female audience in an enclosed area. PAS maintains that these steps are essential to promote Islam and put an end to immoral behaviour among the Muslim population. The only cinema in the state had ceased operation due to poor demand. However, the ruling party has recently expressed its interest in accepting applications for cinemas (AFP, Oct 19, 05).
In its efforts to push the dakwah movement among the Orang Asli community, the State Islamic Development offers RM10,000 to Muslim missonaries who marry OA women. Other incentives include free housing, monthly allowance of RM1,000 and a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. A special unit has recently been set up to focus on converting the OA (NST, Jun 27, 06). 2,094 OA were reportedly converted to Islam in 2005.
In Nov 2007, the state government introduced an “Islamic Corridor,” a blueprint for a model Islamic town in Pasir Tumbuh. Religious socio-economic guidelines and Syariah would be strictly followed and enforced (NST, 1 Nov 07).
Religious Freedom & Rights
In November 1993, Kelantan State Legislative Assembly passed the Hudud Enactment which demanded death penalty for apostasy. But the Federal government blocked its enforcement on constitutional grounds. Nonetheless, the 1994 Kelantan Council of Religion of Islam and Malay Custom Enactment rules that a Muslim intends to or attempts to convert out of Islam is subject to be detained in the Islamic rehabilitation centre for a term not more than 36 months for rehabilitation purpose.
The anti-propagation law was revised in June 2007 with stricter penalties. Anyone found guilty of trying to convert Muslims to other faiths faces a maximum penalty of 6 lashes, 5 years in prison and a fine of almost RM3,000 (Al Jazeera, 27 Jun 07).
In the same month, a church in an Orang Asli settlement in Gua Musang was demolished on grounds that it did not obtain approval. While the district office offered to rebuild a community centre at another site, the Christians rejected the offer and later in Jan 2008 filed a suit against the Kelantan government for illegally tearing down their church built on the property (NST, 15 Jan 08).
In January 2005, the state government, proposed a dress code for non-Muslim women in supermarkets. Women's groups opposed the measure, arguing that the imposition of dress code was an infringement of gender rights. Also in January, 307 couples were fined for “indecent” acts including holding hands, kissing, and hugging in public.
Most recently in April, the crown prince Tengku Faris Petra made a controversial remark that non-Malays who have been granted citizenship should not seek equality and privileges, nor question the special rights and privileges of the Malays (malaysiakin.com, 12 April 08)
Regardless, the Menteri Besar Kelantan, in defending the Islamic state issue, said that the non-Muslims were comfortable with the PAS administration and its introduction of Islamic values (Bernama, 6 Apr 08).
Although Kelantan is endowed with resources and potential to produce more food for its people and the rest of the country, Kelantan has the highest poverty rate after Sabah. An UN official said that people in Kelantan and Sabah faced a level of poverty more associated with the poorest African countries (New Straits Times, Sept 2005).
In 2004, Kelantan recorded the highest crime rate nationwide, according to Deputy Internal Security Minister Chia Kwang Chye (NST, 20 Mar 05). In the first half of the year, there were 2,431 reported or known crime cases, out of which, 16% were committed by juvenile (Crime Investigation Department, Sept 23, 05). Crimes such as incest, rape and murder are on the rise.
Drug abuse in Kelantan is heading towards a critical level with every district described as a black area and children as young as 13 becoming addicts, according to the National Drug Agency (Star Online, Apr 2005). It boasts the highest number of cigarette smokers and divorce rate in the country.
Certain areas in Kelantan are prone to flood during the monsoon season. Recently in November, the districts of Tanah Merah, Kuala Krai and Kota Bahru were badly afflicted.
Kelantan’s domination by empires such as Srivijaya, Majapahit, Angkor and later Siam has exposed the state to various Hindu and Buddhist influences that can be seen in certain spiritual and cultural practices. The Kelantanese are known for their potent charms and spells. Some are known to even consult Siamese monks and witchdoctors to obtain supernatural powers. The usage of amulets and talismans is widespread among certain groups.
Religion has been a tool for many to safeguard their own personal interests.
Churches are few and are confined to urban areas with a high proportion of Chinese e.g. Kota Bharu. There is a serious lack of leadership and church growth has been slow. Some churches do not have full-time pastors and depend on full-time workers from outside Kelantan. The turnover rate for full-time workers is said to be quite high. The outflow of young people can be source of discouragement. There is generally a lack of passion for the lost, and a need for local leaders to be trained and empowered not only to lead their congregations but also in evangelism. As a whole, the Church lacks manpower and resources. Much effort is also needed for unity among different denominations. Certain parts of Kelantan, especially the rural areas are totally devoid of any Christian witness.
- State government: integrity & wisdom, fair & just in governance, genuine in safeguarding the interests and rights of the minority groups, place public interests above personal political gain.
- Religious freedom & fundamental rights provided by the Constitution be respected by all.
- Orang Asli Community: social wellbeing, education, religious freedom.
- Spiritual renewal. For boldness, courage, wisdom and God-given strategies to reach out to the lost.
- Unity and teamwork among denominations.
- More full-time pastors and workers in Pasir Mas, Tumpat, Pasir Puteh, Bachok, Machang, Tanah Merah, Jeli.