Officials in Kelantan, in the northeast of the country, hope to convert 10,000 people to Islam through a programme of incentives for missionaries.

State-funded missionaries have encouraged more than 2,000 villagers to convert during the past decade.

Hassan Mohamood, head of Kelantan's Islamic development and missionary panel, said: "We are increasing our efforts so that as many as possible will become Muslims."

Kelantan authorities hope to train at least six missionaries this year to live in the state's tribal settlements, where they will preach and conduct classes on the Quran, Hassan said.

Free housing

The missionaries will get free housing, a monthly allowance of 1,000 ringgit ($280) and a four-wheel-drive vehicle, Hassan said. Those who marry tribal women will be given 10,000 ringgit ($2,800) to help them start a household.

Dozens of ethnic tribes, known collectively as Orang Asli – the Original People - are scattered across the mostly Muslim country. Many live in or near rain forests, where they hunt, cultivate crops and practise animist beliefs.

Kelantan has been ruled by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party since 1990.

The party has shut betting shops, restricted alcohol sales and banned rock concerts in the state. It also wants to impose Islamic laws, including amputations and public lashings for criminals, but is prevented from doing so by federal law.