Muslims as Minorities: History and Social Realities of Muslims in Singapore develops three ‘themes’ in the study of Muslims in Singapore: the rise in the importance of the place of Islam and an increasingly uneasy relationship between Muslims and the secular state; an ambiguity whereby the secular state is itself not quite what it seems, assuming a religious character while Muslim elites also draw on the secular state for authority; and a mutually reinforcing set of institutionalised disciplines operating to suppress challenges to the ascendant official views on Islam in Singapore. Valuable new material on the relationship between Islamic religious elites and the state is provided in this book, complemented by a fairly original conceptualisation of the elite power structure and composition in Singapore.
Religious pluralism is typically a political problem from the perspective of the state because religious identities are almost inevitably overlaid by or over determined by equally powerful racial, ethnic and cultural identities and loyalties. The political tradition of liberalism assumed that religious belief and practice were private matters of the individual conscience, and therefore, religion should be kept out of the public sphere. But this neat and simple solution has become problematic because religious revivalism has often reconstructed religious identities as public identities. In situations where there are conflicts between religious communities, tensions are exacerbated especially when religion comes to defining national identity. National communities which for centuries have survived with religious diversity, such as the southern provinces of Thailand or many societies in central Asia, suddenly find themselves pulled apart by political movements that can draw ideological strength from deeply rooted and separated ethno-religious traditions.
There are no simple or easy solutions to these modern crises, but the humanities and social sciences can help us better understand the historical and social forces that shape our current dilemmas. In this context, Muslims as Minorities: History and Social Realities of Muslims in Singapore is an important addition to the contemporary literature on Muslim identity and ethnicity in the Malay world, specifically in the context of two contrasted but connected examples, namely Malaysia and Singapore. Both societies are multicultural and plural but they have different traditions and constitutions which offer sociologists and historians interesting opportunities for comparative research. Muslims as Minorities: History and Social Realities of Muslims in Singapore is therefore an important contribution to the socio-historical literature in helping us to understand how minorities fare and function in both secular and non-secular contexts.
Muslims as Minorities: History and Social Realities of Muslims in Singapore provides a unique insight into the current situation by deconstructing and reformulating the so-called ‘Malay Problem’ through a series of commentaries on films, the cultural and social role of the madrasah and the meaning of the tudung. The authors provide a useful and important analysis of certain key institutions in modern Singapore such as MUIS (then Islamic Religious Council of Singapore), student associations, professional groups, political parties and elites. In the process, they outline a set of necessary ingredients for social evolution in plural societies that gives due attention to the social and religious needs of minorities.