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Panel 20. Islam and Identity in Maritime Southeast Asia

Chair: Kevin Fogg (Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies)

Islam is complex, diverse, and highly integral to the lives of most of maritime Southeast Asia. The papers in this panel address the tension between religious and civic/national identity in Indonesia and Malaysia, particularly in the context of modernity, development, and the influence of external forces. This panel has been structured to focus on Islam in the longue duree, from the continuing influence of pre-Islamic religions on Southeast Asian Islam, to the legacy of colonial standards and practices on their Muslim subjects; to the tensions between different forms and practices of Islamic identity today and their implication for the modern Southeast Asian state.

Paper 1: Islamic Cultural Heritages of Southeast Asia

Hee Sook Lee-Niinioja (Oxford Brookes University)

This panel investigates continuity of prehistoric, Hindu-Buddhist, Chinese, and local cultural heritages in the Islamic regions of Southeast Asia. It also looks for a direct Islamic influence of the Arab world to these regions. Throughout history, Islamic culture and art have been blended with local traditions in countries which they came into contact, in order to fulfill its religious and philosophical ideas. In Southeast Asia, the interaction of pre-existing worlds and incoming Muslim one has produced a rich material culture since the arrival of Islam in the 11th century. As regionalism exposes how the layers of indigenous archetypes and invading forms were transformed, adapted and collaborated in societies, detailed studies of regionalism in Islamic heritages are needed. In other words, Islamic principles have been always kept in these regions despite gradual changes in culture and art. In fact, today, Southeast Asia represents almost one-quarter of Islam’s global community. Islam not only changed local cultural landscapes, but it also created a characteristic regional heritages. Was it caused by the continuity of pre-Islamic heritages, deeply rooted in societies? At any rate, the long distance between the Arab world and Southeast Asia delayed the direct influence of the Islamic centre into these regions.

Paper 2: The Fowl Affair: British Concerns over Slaughter of Animals in Southeast Asia during the Early Twentieth Century

Nurfadzilah Yahaya
(Washington University in Saint Louis)

In 1929, an Indian Muslim shopkeeper in Penang was fined in a British colonial court for causing unnecessary cruelty to a fowl, despite his protest that he had slaughtered the animal according to proper Islamic rites. This paper examines British colonial attempts to regulate the slaughter of animals for food in the Straits Settlements of Penang, Singapore and Malacca during the early twentieth century. This brief episode sparked off intense debates in both the English and Malay presses about the viability of Islamic method of animal slaughter. Certain colonial authorities argued that Islamic method caused excessive suffering to animals. More importantly, the method was perceived to be potentially unhygienic and especially harmful in the immensely crowded urban settlements. Consequently, both animal welfare groups and the municipality robustly advocated stunning by electricity as a more effective method of slaughter, which was deemed more sanitary and humane since it resulted in quicker death and less pain for the animal. The colonial government also came under pressure from the Cold Storage Company based in Australia, which was extremely keen to export frozen meat to the Straits Settlements at the turn of the twentieth century, since this option was argued to be far more hygienic and cheaper than the usual importation of live cattle and fowl into the Straits Settlements by sea. By investigating both colonial motivations to transform animal slaughter and Muslim counter-arguments, this paper aims to shed light on the impact of colonialism not only on animal slaughter, but also the nature of public debate on religious affairs.

Paper 3: Hating the Ahmadiyya: The Place of Heretics in Contemporary Indonesian Muslim Society

Ahmad Najib Burhani (University of California – Santa Barbara)

Ahmadiyya, commonly perceived as the most influential heretical group in Islam, has been living in Indonesia since 1920s with no serious obstacles and distraction. There were oppositions to this community, but mostly limited in discursive level. Currently, with the global trend of standardization of Islam and the local process of democratization, there has been a shift in the treatment of Ahmadiyya. In the last decade, the Ahmadis have become victims of constant attacks and persecution. This paper intends to study the place of Ahmadiyya in the context of religious diversity and pluralism in Indonesia by answering the following questions: What is the position of Ahmadiyya in Indonesian Muslim society? Why was the treatment of this community bitterer and harsher than the treatment of non-Muslims? Is there any space for the allegedly religious heretics like Ahmadiyya in religious diversity and pluralism? Using Giorgio Agamben’s perspective on homo sacer, this paper argues that the charge of heresy issued by almost all Muslim institutions in Indonesia put Ahmadiyya in the liminal status; they are in the zone of indistinction between Muslims and non-Muslims. This makes them vulnerable to persecution since their rights as Muslims have been deprived, while their rights as non-Muslims still suspended until they declare to completely split from Islam and become an independent religion.

Paper 4:  Islamizing Citizenship? The Radical Group’s Challenge to the State and Citizenship in Indonesia

Muhammad Khoirul Muqtafa (Indonesian Institute of Sciences)

Recently, violence conflicts colored with the issue of religion occur quite often in Indonesia, particularly between groups within religious communities due to different interpretation and understanding of the sacred texts. Within these cases of violence, religious minority groups are often discriminated against and being the subject of attack, particularly, by those who claim themselves as the majority group. For this group, the minority one has been acted religious blasphemy, thus in need to be warned and disciplined, very often, by violent actions. These actions have not only challenged the state authority but also the idea of citizenship. The “majority group” often give an option to the minority one to choose one among two choices:  “return to the true religion (read: Islam)” or “declare a new religion”. While this option might bring the notion how religious membership undermines the (nation-state) citizenship, it also implies their conception of citizenship which is quite close to the Islamic version of citizenship. The islamization of citizenship will likely cause problems and challenges for Indonesian people as can be seen from Ahmadiyya and Shi’i cases. This paper will discuss more on this issue by examining the concept of citizenship developed in Indonesia, the challenge(s) posed, particularly, by the hard-liner group and its implication to the construction of citizens-state relationship in the future.