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Islam outside the Mainstream in Southeast Asia

Tomáš Petrů
Metropolitan University Prague & Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences

Panel Abstract

The proposed panel aims to look more closely on Islam in Southeast Asia outside the large mainstream Sunni Islam communities in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, where this form of Islam dominates the political and cultural life and whose issues have been given much attention by the academe. That is why this panel wants to cast more light on both the marginal, extreme, heterodox and generally unique forms of Islam in these pre-dominantly Muslim countries as well as minority Muslim communities in non-Muslim countries such as Thailand, Myanmar and/or the Philippines.

To specify what we have in mind, as for the first category hinted, the proposed panel organizer welcomes papers on issues concerning Shi´a Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia, new Chinese converts in Malaysia, the Ahmadiyah and the Wetu Telu in Indonesia on the one hand; and also forms of Islamic radicalism and vigilantism such as FPI, Hizbut Tahrir, Perkasa, on the other. The other category hinted is the issues and problems of Muslims like the Rohingya in Myanmar, the situation of Pattani Malays and Muslim Thais in Thailand and last but not least, the Muslim South of the Philippines.


Paper 1: Islamic Vigilantes in Indonesia: A Threat or a Spent Force?

Tomáš Petrů
Metropolitan University Prague

Quasi-official political vigilantism, often implemented by so-called thugs for hire, is a well-known and deeply rooted phenomenon is Indonesia. It has been in place as early as since the Soekarno era and reached its apex during Soeharto regime, when the state completely usurped the monopoly of power. After the downfall of Soeharto, liberalization of the political space followed and the state lost the total power grip. As a result of that, the gangsters-cum-vigilantes known as preman ceased to be agents of state and have become a power tool of competing interest groups. In recent years, these have been successful in gaining influence drawing on a new trend among the more sophisticated entities to affiliate themselves with strongly religious or ethnic identities. This has given them a degree of legitimacy and a new modus operandi. Thus, Indonesian civil society has been facing actions and threats from the well-organized and well-connected gangsters in Muslim robes such as the Islamic Defenders´ Front (FPI) or the ethnic-based Betawi Brotherhood´s Forum (FBR). On the other hand, after quite a few years of their operating in public space almost uncurbed, the long-silent public attitude has changed, for their aggression against minorities has both exceeded the limits and posed a clear threat to Indonesia´s pluralism and religious tolerance. Also, the shift in attitude might be reflecting on the change among Indonesian leadership among whom a high-profile runner-up for president, Jakarta´s governor Joko Widodo, intentionally surrounds himself notable deputies and colleagues from non-Muslim, non-pribumi communities, paving a path for new politics. The question to be solved therefore is whether this wave of pluralism stands a chance and can change things thoroughly or whether it is just short-lived effort which will be downtrodden by both conservatives and Islamic hardliners.


Paper 2: Resisting the Post-Islamist Wave? Paradoxes of Ultra-Conservative Youth Activism in Malaysia

Dr. Dominik M. Müller
Goethe-University Frankfurt

Many observers of contemporary Muslim politics argue that a transnational “post-Islamist” turn is presently replacing the state-political orientation of classical Islamism, particularly among the young generation of Muslim societies and Islamic political movements. According to this narrative, it is particularly the university-educated, media-savvy Muslim youth which has lost faith in the utopian promise of Islamist political ideologies, their paternalistic truth claims and the idea of utilizing the state’s legal apparatus for a top-down Islamization of society. In sharp contrast to this mainstream tendency and the generalizing, one-directional scholarly claims that go along with it, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) is presently witnessing the anachronistic rise of a new generation of ultra-conservative Islamist activists among its youth wing. These young activists, many of whom are holding prestigious local and international university degrees and belong to the new Malay middle-class, are now calling for a “purification of PAS’s Islamic struggle” vis-à-vis a faction of “post-Islamist” pragmatists in the senior party. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, I will elucidate how paradoxically, however, the same PAS Youth has reinvented the party’s “Islamic struggle” in a unique pop-Islamist manner, as it expresses decidedly Islamist political positions through new forms of religious marketization, new media and pop-cultural channels that are commonly ascribed to the post-Islamist turn.


Paper 3: Strangers in Paradise: Migration of African Muslim Students to West-Malaysia

Frauke-Katrin Kandale
Goethe-University Frankfurt

Malaysia as a Muslim majority society experiences an influx of students and migrants from different African countries. Compared to other preferred destinations for study and living, as the UK or US, growing numbers of African students opt for Malaysia due to comparably easy accessibility of entry visas and affordable living costs. Especially after September 11, 2001, Malaysia positioned itself as an alternative study destination for those international students from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa who were not able to enter North American universities because of their Islamic religion. For the Malaysian private higher education sector, African students from upper middle class backgrounds turned out to be a well-paying target group. Approximately 25 000 African students are currently enrolled at public and private institutions of higher education in Malaysia. The majority of the African students come from Nigeria, especially from the Northern parts of the country which are mainly Muslim. The Islamic religion as well as English as language of instruction become important pull-factors when choosing Malaysia for study.

Although Malaysia is a multireligious and multiethnic society, African students are still a new phenomenon. Thus, they are sometimes labelled as Awang Hitam (black guy) actively engaged in the black market and in dark businesses. In this process of Othering, African migrants are being stereotyped as bogeyman by the Malaysian media. Nonetheless, for African Muslim students, Islam with its inclusive character is one factor for choosing Malaysia. This paper will give insights in the lives and the coping strategies of young Africans from Nigeria and Sudan studying and working in Malaysia.


Paper 4: Understanding Religious Conversion Of The Dusun Muslim Converts In Brunei Darussalam: Critical Engagement Of The Rambo Model

Asiyah Kumpoh
Universiti Brunei Darussalam 

A literature review on the conversion studies reveals that most models of religious conversion postulate Christian-centric and western-centric perspectives. One of these models is a seven-stage model developed by Lewis Rambo (1993) which identifies the context, the crisis, the quest, the encounter, the interaction, the commitment and the consequences as the fundamental stages in a religious conversion. Previous studies however tended to assess Rambo’s definition and the postulated stage sequence and many argue that the model fails to explain the religious conversion of their research subjects. Drawing on the qualitative data obtained through interviews with the Dusun Muslim converts in Brunei Darussalam and the utilisation of relevant literature, this paper attempts to critically engage the Rambo Model and to offer plausible explanations as to why there are variations in the definition and the stage order in a conversion process. One of the significant is the indication that a context is not a stage per se but rather a background setting of a conversion process. Consequently, having redefined the context, different components of context were identified where each of these components influences a specific stage. Alongside this finding is the identification of culture-free definition of the conversion stages which consequently allows the components of context to construct them into the definitions that represent the actual conversion experience of the Dusun Muslim converts. This paper also highlights the existence of the contextual components that vary across different religious contexts, and as the nature of the component of context can only be utilised in an orderly manner, this fact further determines the order of the stages that occurs in a religious conversion.