Contemporary literary criticism places an emphasis not on literary devices and single close readings of specific works, the role of ideology in their construction, the creation of mages of gender, an awareness of the various positions proposed for the author and the reader of a text, and gives a new understanding of the unstable and constructed nature of knowledge itself. Shahnon Ahmad: Islam, Power and Gender seeks to trace the paths of discourses on religion, gender and power in those works of Shahnon Ahmad in which masculine religious figures play a major role. Some of these figures are indifferent to their religious duties, some are deeply committed, yet others are blatant hypocrites. The nature of Shahnon’s ideas on Sastra Islam are analysed in depth. The final chapter shows how Shahnon’s more recent works are informed by a satirical understanding of the way in which religious teachings can be used to ‘justify’ human desires.
Shahnon Ahmad: Islam, Power and Gender concludes that masculine piety is, at best, a difficult project in Shahnon’s works. Surprisingly, his more recent works establish a number of female characters who are able to develop an integrated personal piety, independent of masculine control.
A long history lies behind this modest study of one aspect of the writings of a major contemporary Malay author. Aveling first met Shahnon Ahmad in 1969, when he was presented a seminar on his article, “The Thomy Rose”, at the Australian National University, Canberra. At the Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, where he taught from 1972 to 1974, he had the responsibility of supervising Shahnon’s Master of Arts thesis on the “obscure poetry movement” in Malay Literature. When Srengenge received the Tun Razak Award for Literature in 1973, the author was honoured to attend a kenduri held at Kampung Banggul Derdap to celebrate this event. Subsequently Aveling translated three of Shahnon’s works into English: Rape of Ash, 1979; Srengenge, also 1979; and The Third Notch and Other Stories, 1980. The author is grateful to Shahnon for his friendship over the many years and for his consistent support for this study.
Portions of three earlier conference papers appear here in various revised forms: “Towards a Muslim Malay Literature: Shahnon Ahmad and Tok Guru”, Malay Literature Week, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, September 1992 (subsequently published in Ainon Abu Bakar (ed.): Telaah Sastera Melayu, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur 1993, pp. 57-74); “The Isolation of Women in the Recent Works of Shahnon Ahmad”, Eighth Symposium on the Literatures and Cultures of the Asia-Pacific Region, “A Community of Islands”, NUS, 15-19 November 1993; and “Claiming Islam: The Religious Dimensions of Shahnon Ahmad’s Novel Al-Syiqaq“, Ninth Symposium on the Literatures and Cultures of the Asia-Pacific Region, Australian Defence Force Academy, University of New South Wales, Canberra, 6-10 November 1995 (published in B. Bennett et al: Crossing Cultures, Skoob Books, London 1996, pp. 215-224). Chapter six draws on parts of Aveling’s Introduction to the English translation of Srengenge.