Malaysia is an Islamic state even though it is not officially called that, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said Tuesday, stepping into a national debate over religion that has raised concern among the country's minority Chinese and Indians.
"Officially we are not an Islamic state, neither are we a secular state. But by definition, as recognized by most international societies, Malaysia is an Islamic state," Mahathir told reporters.
But that doesn't mean non-Muslims are deprived of their rights, Mahathir said.
Concerns have mounted among the country's large Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities that their rights are becoming subordinate to Islam following a recent series of religious disputes that ended in favor of ethnic Malay Muslims, who comprise nearly 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people.