Modern Muslim Identities: Negotiating Religion and Ethnicity in Malaysia explores a central tension in identity politics—how the state, civil society, and people, in general, may want to create and maintain cultural, religious, and social cohesion but paradoxically their practices in everyday life often run counter to this. Malaysia is no exception. Here, a political elite maintains a hegemonic system of control and cultural dominance but must juggle political pressure from Islamic and Malay supremacists on the one hand and moderate civil society groups on the other. The result is a complex interplay of domination, accommodation, and negotiation between the state and its citizens.
At the heart of the study is the conjuncture between Malay ethnicity and Islamic faith, hence an examination of the state discourse on ‘civilizational Islam’, but other areas are also examined, including the arts as a contested space where artists and the state vie to shape the nation’s imagination.
At the theoretical level, this book is part of a greater narrative about identity politics. It seeks to reach a broader understanding of what Heidegger calls being-in-the-world, or the way we relate to other people and places around us. Thus, this book brings a variety of philosophical theory, anthropological insights, and social theory together to present an interesting, in-depth ethnographic exploration of contemporary Malay Muslim identity politics.
Much scholarly work has been produced on Islam in Malaysia, modernity in Malaysia, and Malayness as a cultural construct. This book brings together these elements and interrogates what roles they play in forming Muslim Malay identities in contemporary Malaysia. Moreover, the book argues that a Malay elite is maintaining a hegemonic system of control and cultural dominance, whilst juggling incursions into its political sphere by Islamic and Malay supremacists on the one hand and moderate civil society groups on the other.
The interplay between the state and its citizens takes many forms of domination, accommodation, and negotiation, whilst various groups in the civil spaces are resisting, circumventing, or setting the state’s agenda. Modern Muslim Identities: Negotiating Religion and Ethnicity in Malaysia traces the means the state deploys to homogenise, to define, to order often assisted or animated to do so by civil society elements—and the ways people themselves react or act independently to order their own lives, identity, and world views. The author focuses on a recently developed state discourse on Islam Hadhari or civilisational Islam which the government wants to see adopted in Malaysia and beyond as a progressive religious practice and ideology that encompasses Western modernity and Islamic heritage.
Furthermore, the author look at the arts as a contested space, where the state and arts practitioners vie for control and license to shape the nation’s imagination. Superimposed and interwoven are the major identity markers that the state maintains and people grapple within their everyday lives. These are ethnic and religious in nature and highly contested from within and without. Being Muslim Malay and performing this identity are often two very different things.
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