Prayer Alert (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)


Description: FYI #78


Capital Kota Kinabalu (formerly known as Jesselton)
Governor Tun Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Ahmadshah Abdullah
Chief Minister Datuk Musa Haji Aman

Statistics (Malaysia Statistics Dept., 2006)

Population 2,997,000 (est.): Kadazan-Dusun 17.8%, Bajau 13.4%, Malay 11.52%, Murut 3.3% Other Bumiputera 14.6% (Rungus, Iranun, Bisaya, Tatana, Lun Dayeh, Tindal, Tobilung, Kimaragang, Suluk, Ubian, Tagal, Timogun, Nabay, Kedayan, Orang Sungai, Makiang, Minokok, Mangka'ak, Lobu, Bonggi, Tidong, Ida'an, Begahak, Kagayan, Talantang, Tinagas, Banjar, Gana, Kuijau, Tombonuo, Dumpas, Peluan, Baukan, Sino, Bugis, Jawa), Chinese 9.6%, Indian 0.37%, Others 4.8%, Non-citizens 25% (Filipino, Indonesian)

Religious breakdown (2000) Islam 63.7%, Christianity 27.8%, Buddhism 6.4%, No Religion 1.0%, Taoism/Confucianism 0.4%, Others 0.3%, Hinduism 0.1%, Unknown 0.3%

Incidence of poverty (2004) 23% (Hardcore: 6.5%)

The Rungus of Sabah is one of the earliest of the present-day inhabitants of Malaysia. Many still pursue nomadic way of life.

Sources have identified 39 different indigenous ethnic communities in Sabah. The Kadazans form the single largest group representing nine linguistic subgroups.

Article 153 of the Federal Constitution provides for the natives of Sabah the special position and privileges as that of the Malays.


History in Brief

Sabah joined Sarawak, independent Malaya and Singapore to form Malaysia in 1963. The new Federation was proclaimed on 16 September bringing to close more than 100 years of British dominance in Sabah. A 20-point agreement was made as part of the condition to join the Federation. Among the points are:

  • There should be no state religion and the provisions relating to Islam in Federal Constitution should not apply.
  • English should be the official language for all purposes without limitation of time.
  • The natives should enjoy special rights analogous to those enjoyed by Malays.
  • The power to amend the Constitution of Sabah belongs exclusively to the people of Sabah.

Donald Stephens, a Kadazan-Dusun Christian who played an important role in bringing Sabah into Malaysia, became the first Chief Minister. He was involved in the London talks for the formation of Malaysia.

The 1985 elections saw the then opposition Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), led by Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan, form the state government. PBS ruled Sabah until 1994. An internal agitation made way for UMNO to enter Sabah politics. Datuk Seri Musa Aman from UMNO has been the Chief Minister since 2003 when the two-year rotation system was abolished.

In 2002, PBS’ entrance to the Barisan Nasional coalition rendered Sabah a state with no competitive opposition. Nevertheless, there have been substantial tensions and occasional calls for withdrawal from the Federation. An added impetus is the token 5% royalties for oil and gas. The Federal government takes 95% of the profits contributing very little to the state in return. The Sabahans feel that the federal policies have generally been unfair and unfavorable to the state development. There have been calls for the review of these federal policies.

Many believe that the New Economic Policy (NEP) has not benefited the Sabahan bumiputeras. Despite the rich natural resources and the Prime Minister’s assurance that “no community is left behind in the mainstream of development” (The Star, 7/11/07), Sabah falls greatly behind the mainstream in economic development.

Sabah, together with Sarawak, contributed to BN’s simple majority in Parliament at the 2008 March general elections. The recent political realities have prompted the various opposition parties to form a coalition called Pakatan Rakyat Sabah (The Star, 7/7/08).




Before 1963, Sabah and Sarawak were guided by their native customs and by British laws. The influence of Islam was marginal.

In 1967, the new state government under the chief ministership of Mustapha Datu Harun embarked on vigorous religious activities. Mustapha believed strongly that the Malay language and Islam should be used to unite the people of Sabah. The United Sabah Islamic Association, funded by the government, was established with the specific task of conversion. Mass conversion particularly in the rural areas became the norm. Rumours had it that the government applied pressure and resorted to bribery to obtain converts to Islam.

The most devastating blow came when Mustapha used his emergency powers to expel expatriate Christian missionaries. The rationale given was that the imperialist mentality and outlook should not be allowed to continue after independence, whether in relation to politics or religion (Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, 1977, p. 266).

The Project IC or Project M, a political scandal relating to systematic granting of citizenship to immigrants, was said to have begun when UMNO entered Sabah politics in 1990s. The immigration policy favoring Muslims resulted in an influx of immigrants from the Philippines and Indonesia, both legal and illegal. It is widely believed that these privileges were implemented to weaken the indigenous Kadazan-Dusun Christians and to enhance UMNO powerbase.

At a seminar in June 2007, the Chief Minister claimed that Malays formed more than 50% of the population although the state’s statistics showed only 11:5%. Supporting the claim, his counterpart, the Chief Minister of Melaka, said, “Even if that person is Chinese or Indian or Kadazan, if they are Muslim or have converted, converse in Malay and follow the Malay tradition, then they are Malays" (Daily Express, 10/6/07).


Religious Freedom & Religious Overzealousness

  1. Discrimination
    In April 2007, a businesswoman complained to the then Minister of International Trade and Industry, Dato' Seri Rafidah Aziz, that her loan application was rejected because her unisex styling business was in conflict with Islam (Daily express).

  2. Deviant groups
    The Sabah Fatwa Council issued a decree banning all activities related to Rufaqa Corporation (Star, 15/12/06). The Mufti said that the movement had gone against Islamic teaching and caused confusion among the Muslim community.
    In May 2007, 11 people were arrested under the ISA for alleged involvement in an Islamist group known as Darul Islam Sabah.

  3. Apostasy
    Muslims in Sabah who wish to renounce Islam may face either punishment or mandatory detention at rehabilitation centres. In addition, there is no provision on conversion out of Islam. Muslims who intend to renounce the religion of Islam may abandon their attempt.
    According to the 1995 Sabah Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment, “A Muslim who 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.” Further, a Muslim declaring himself to be a non-Muslim is guilty of ridiculing the religion and thus subjects himself to punishment.

    [Section 55(1) states “whoever by words spoken or written or by visible representation or in any other manner which insults or brings into contempt or ridicule the religion of Islam or the tenets of any lawful school or any lawfully appointed religious officer, religious teacher, Imam, any lawfully issued fatwa by the Majlis or the Mufti under the provisions of any law or this Enactment shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding two thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or both”.]
    [Section 55(2):“A Muslim who claims that he is not a Muslim shall be guilty of an offence under subsection (1) and shall, on conviction, be liable to the punishment thereof provided”.]

  4. Although conversion on condition of help is known to have occurred in the early days among the natives in Sabah, it is said to still happen sporadically particularly in the interior.

  5. Religious freedom of the people of other faiths
    Bahasa Malaysia is the medium of communication among the natives in the state and Alkitab is the principal Scriptures used by the Christians. The term “Allah” in reference to God has been used for generations; it has in effect become part of the cultural heritage. In spite of the fact, churches, from time to time, face harassment from the local authorities for using Christian literature containing the word “Allah”.
    On 15 Aug 2007, three boxes of Christian educational publications belonging to the SIB Sabah were detained at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Sepang by the Customs. The Internal Security Ministry subsequently took over the matters. After several unsuccessful appeals, the SIB church turned to legal redress at the civil court. The lawsuit against the Federal Government has yet to reach any conclusion.
    In the same year, a lawsuit was filed against the Sabah Chief Minister concerning a stop work order on the Mazu (Goddess of the Sea) statue in Kudat. The project was said to have been approved in Dec 2005 but a stop work order came after the state mufti issued a fatwa on grounds that the construction was contrary to the Islamic teaching (July 2006). The authorities had argued that there were objections from various quarters including the religious organisations.

  6. Administrative error on Mykad in relation to religious status has caused serious implications in the recent years. The state registration department has presumptuously entered Islam to the Mykads of non-Muslim applicants simply because their names carry the word “bin” or “binti”. It refuses to make correction when mistakes are brought up. Applicants have been asked to travel to Putrajaya for any amendment to their Mykad. The entry of Islam on the Mykad affects among others the non-Muslims’ marriage, children’s registration, burial and inheritance.

Several religious holidays are recognised as official holidays, including Hari Raya Puasa (Muslim), Hari Raya Qurban (Muslim), the Prophet's birthday (Muslim), Wesak Day (Buddhist), Deepavali (Hindu), Christmas (Christian), and, in Sabah and Sarawak, Good Friday (Christian).




  1. Sabah’s migrant population has been estimated to be anywhere from 600,000 to 1.7 million (Nov 2007). Political expediency and the state’s historical ties have created longstanding illegal immigrant problem.

  2. Having no proper documentation and no access to educational opportunity, the stateless children of the migrants are facing bleak futures. Many of them were born locally and become street children once their parents are deported. The Federal Government has been urged to address the problem.


Marginalisation & Poverty

There have been grouses over the government’s sincerity to help the bumiputeras in Sabah.

  1. Statistics show that Sabah has one of the highest, if not the highest, number of poor households in the country, especially in the remote interiors. Groups say that the Sabahan non-Malay bumiputeras are marginalised and have not benefitted from the NEP policy.

  2. Some NGOs have chided the Sabah authorities for being apathetic when it comes to issuing identity cards (IC) to indigenous people. Many bumiputeras do not have ICs while foreign workers receive PR status not long after they enter the state.

  3. Today, some of the indigenous children of the most remote areas do not go school. Many rural schools are small, seriously lacking in educational standard and infrastructures and have no basic facilities, let alone telephones, computers, libraries or laboratories. While the government is aware of the predicament, little seems to have been done.

  4. The Federation of Chinese Sabah has claimed that some 250,000 Chinese are living along poverty margin (Daily Express, 9/2/08).



The Prime Minister in 2007 said that the Federal Government had given equal focus to all states, but Sabah continues to be one of the poorest states, with the highest rate of hardcore poor household. While it seems farfetched to achieve a balance in regional development, the government is nevertheless making effort to a certain extent.

  1. The floating villages (Kampung Air) are settlements built over waters in Tanjung Aru, Sembulan, Likas and Pulau Gaya. These villages have no sewage system and are like garbage heaps. To the nearby beach hotels, they are eyesores. However, the government recently discloses its intention to develop some of these villages into tourism spots.

  2. The state government is also planning to turn the interior district of Keningau into a commercial breeding hub for ikan haruan (NST, 23/4/08)

  3. In launching the Sabah Development Corridor in January, the PM said that the Sabahans will get, among others, a total of RM105bil in investments, 900,000 jobs, a waterfront city, tourism projects and a RM600mil new Sabah Railway terminal within 18 years.



  1. State government and local authorities:
    1. Justice and fairness in governance
    2. Pioritising welfare of the people in policy-making and implementation
    3. Impartiality, sincerity, commitment and diligence in upgrading people’s living standard and eradicate poverty, especially those living in the interior.
    4. No discrimination based on race and religion in the administration of all public services

  2. Federal government
    1. To walk the talk in improving the state’s development, giving it equal focus as the others
    2. To be wise and impartial in implementing the Sabah Corridor projects.
    3. To resolve the migrant problems effectively and humanely.

  3. All to uphold and respect religious freedom

  4. Against the spirit of overzealousness and intentional discrimination based on religion

  5. Church: unity and cooperation; commitment to bear living testimony of Christ; passion for the Gospel; active in social concerns; guard against political influence, nominalism and complacency.


[ Back ] [ Print Friendly ]