Islam in Malaysia: An Entwined History proposes a new periodization that registers the fact that Islamization in Malaysia and in Southeast Asia in general was not a linear and progressive phenomenon but that it “waxed and waned, that took its strength from an irregular pattern of pulses over centuries.” The author proposed periodization is, of course, not watertight or exhaustive. The book is organized along the following periodization: gradualist Islamization (eleventh to thirteenth centuries), populist Islamization (fourteenth to eighteenth centuries), reformist Islamization (nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries), and triumphalist Islamization (mid-twentieth to twenty-first centuries).
The attention here is on how time periods overlap with one another, on how developments in earlier periods persisted for some generations by virtue of their importance in the lives and sensibilities of the individuals, collectives, movements, and institutions that purveyed them. Moreover, this new periodization reflects the dominant and shifting trends in the infusion of Islam in Malaysia and how it was shaped by the four forces of entwined history stated above. It is a periodization that captures the events and actors on the ground while avoiding progressivist and teleological assumptions. Through it, the author hope to decenter unitary theories that depict Malaysians—and, for that matter, Southeast Asian Muslims in general—as passive recipients of Islam that came from all corners of the globe. Far from it. They were, in point of fact, active agents or, as the author prefers, brokers of Islamization.
The first part of this book examines the gradualist phase of Islamization (eleventh to thirteenth centuries) in Malaysia. This was a period that saw a slow and largely peaceful infusion of Islam among the previously animist-Hindu-Buddhist-Malay polities. Part II shifts gears, looking at Islam’s rapid spread among the masses in Malaysia, or what the author call the populist Islamization (fourteenth to eighteenth centuries) of the Malays. The heyday of elite and populist Islamization was not to last. By the late nineteenth century, the colonial powers had placed much of Malaysia under its informal or formal rule. This marked the beginnings of the reformist Islamization (nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries) whereby violent jihad, educational reforms, religious movements, and intellectual discourses were used to protect, preserve, and extend the reach of the Islamic faith into the local population. Finally, the last part of the book looks at the triumphalist Islamization that characterized Malaysia from the post-independence years up to the twentieth century. The author uses the word triumphalist because it is a type of Islamization that emphasized the superiority and hegemony of certain versions of Islam above all other ideologies and systems of life.
The book closes with brief reflections on recent developments in Malaysia. After analyzing a millennium’s journey through the lenses of entwined history, it is clear to the author that Islamization in Malaysia is now in state of flux. Debates over halal (permissible) food, the hudud, the prohibition of the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims, sectarianism among Sufis and Salafis, culture wars between liberals and conservatives, and regime change that saw the end of UMNO’s dominance in Malaysian politics, among many others, inform us that Islam in Malaysia is, without a doubt, a riveting case study that can shed light on the ways in which Islam in other parts of the world has developed over time. This book is an initiation to a deeper attentiveness to that past and toward recognizing that the histories and destinies of Muslims, wherever they may be, have always been entwined.