“The Sultan of Tringanu [Terengganu] was like a child who had two parents, one of whom stroked and petted him when he cried, while the other stilled his weeping by frightening him. The first … is Siam, and the other is Great Britain.” – Hugh Clifford, Acting British Resident in Pahang, 1895.[1]

Introduction: Race, Religion, and Royalty

There is a stable, but complicated relationship between Malay nationalism, Malaysia’s national institutions, and the nine royal families of the Malaysian monarchy. This relationship was formally instituted with the emergence of the postcolonial Malayan state in the course of the Malayan Emergency and independence from Britain in 1957. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), founded in 1946, became the state’s enduring political vehicle, espousing a nationalism built around a historic conflation of the “3Rs” of Malay Muslim politics: “race, religion, and royalty.” Contemporary Malaysian politics remains organised around this conflation, making it a key conceptual development in the history of statist Islamism in Southeast Asia, as well as an important response by Muslims to European colonialism and decolonisation.

See: The End of Ethno-Centric Elite Rule in Malaysia by Ooi Kok Hin.

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Amrita Malhi

Dr Amrita Malhi is a Research Fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change at The Australian National University. Amrita is a historian of Malaya/Malaysia with a primary interest in Islam, shifting identities and identity conflict, and she also works on contemporary politics and policy. Highlights are available at www.amritamalhi.com.