Sociology and Anthropology

Values and Their Relationship to Social Problems in Malaysia: An Islamic Framework

This study analyzes the relationship between values and social problems for Malaysian teenagers. Malaysia has undergone a tremendous social transformation that has affected many of its traditional and religious values and norms. This development is said to have contributed to a rise in social problems. Our basic premises are that values are reflected by behavior and that religion plays an important role in Malaysians’ value formation. In this context, and since Islam is Malaysia’s official religion, the measurement of values is based on the works of al-Ghazali and Rokeach.1 Some suggestions also are provided for future development policies.

Background of the Study

In 1991, the Malaysian government announced a 30-year “Vision 2020” target of making Malaysia a developed nation not only in the economic aspect, but also in the political, social, spiritual, and cultural aspects. While economic success (till the 1998 crisis) has been commendable, the rising rate of social problems, particularly among Malaysian teenagers, has received attention from many quarters.

In response to the sudden reported increase in the number of reported cases of drug addiction and other problems, especially among teenagers, many suggestions and recommendations have been made. These range from greater parental control to the reintroduction of public caning in schools as well as stiffer fines and penalties. These methods may have short-term benefits, but more long-term, concerted, and definite strategies need to be formulated in order to address the root problem.

This study is based on the premise that values play a very central role in solving these problems; hence, teenagers’ values must be studied. Unfortunately, there are no substantial studies to date that provide such data or examine the relationship of values with deviant behavior that contribute to social problems. However, studies from the conventional perspective on values have been conducted in other countries. For example, Cohen and Cohen investigated the normative ideals and goals of American youths and whether community, school, family, and peers correlate with their ideals and goals.2 Rokeach formulated a measure of values and tested it on a sample of American adults.3 As Malaysia tries to achieve Vision 2020’s goals, a similarly comprehensive study needs to be undertaken.

In addition, for Muslim social scientists and development policymakers who are eager to study the relationship between values and social problems, as well as their relationship to development from an Islamic perspective, providing Islamic interpretations to problems must be accompanied by analytical frameworks that reflect an Islamic worldview. Those who propose that religion is still an important social institution must prove this by developing and utilizing benchmarks or standards that reflect religious perspectives.

In the Malaysian context, we maintain that religion is still an important factor in determining people’s values. Therefore, it seems logical to use a framework derived from and reflective of Malaysia’s situation. As no such framework exists, we have tried to develop one by using the works of al-Ghazali, a major influence on Islam in Malaysia, to represent the universal values found in all major religions. Although preliminary in nature, we attempt to transform the values, prescriptions, and principles mentioned in his works into a benchmark to analyze teenagers’ values.

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