The Leaderboard: Marina Mahathir

The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific.
Who is she?

Marina Mahathir is a Malaysian author and social activist known for her progressive views on religious freedom and civil liberties. Despite being the eldest child of former prime minister Mahathir Mohammad, the 56-year-old has often voiced opinions in sharp contrast to her father’s conservative views on social issues.

Marina has written on topics such as feminism, Islam, HIV prevention, politics, and the media. She keeps an active blog and authors a biweekly column in The Star, Malaysia’s largest English language newspaper by circulation.

Ms. Marina Mahathir of Malaysia.

Ms. Marina Mahathir of Malaysia. Source: Wikimedia, used under a creative commons license.

Why is she in the news?

Marina has stood out as an outspoken, progressive Muslim amid recent government policies perceived as promoting greater Islamization and antagonism toward Christians in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

After authorities in Selangor state just outside of Kuala Lumpur seized 300 Bibles that used “Allah” to refer to God despite a court ruling late last year banning the word’s use by non-Muslims, Marina joined a rally outside a church on January 5 “to give moral support” to Malaysian Christians. She criticized Selangor authorities for the Bible seizure and said she believes anyone should be able to use the word “Allah.”

The youth chief of Malay rights group Perkasa echoed many conservative Muslims in criticizing Marina for supporting Christians, as well as for her support of LGBT and women’s rights. Marina’s father has been a vocal supporter of the Bible seizure.

What can we expect from her?

The controversy surrounding the use of the word “Allah” seems to be worsening, with recent reports of Christian gravestones being vandalized and a church firebombed in Penang in northwestern Malaysia. As security tightens around churches and religious groups are increasingly pitted against one another amid the government’s conservative tilt, the voices of Marina and other moderate Malays will be crucial. Expect her to continue to push for change on hot-button social issues and voice her opinions in opposition to those of conservative elements in the ruling United Malays National Organization.


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