Alternative Voices in Muslim Southeast Asia: Discourses and Struggles

Alternative Voices in Muslim Southeast Asia: Discourses and Struggles
Date of publication:  2019
Publisher:  ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute
Number of pages:  230
Code:  PIC276
Soft Cover
ISBN: 9789814843805
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Mohamed Salihin Subhan, Pacific Affairs, 2021. 

"Whether real or perceived, the beliefs of conservative Islam are a key concern for political scientists when evaluating the effect of Islam on democracy and political stability. Alternative Voices in Muslim Southeast Asia joins a growing series of volumes which flip the script. Instead of focusing only on the expanding influence of conservative Islamists, this book highlights the progressive, liberal, and non-mainstream side of Muslim communities. .... Alternative Voices in Muslim Southeast Asia is a timely addition to the literature on Islamic discourse in plural societies, aiding researchers by shining the spotlight on the role played by alternative Islamic voices in Muslim communities in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. 

Overall, the focus on the structural and rational choice arguments makes this edited volume a useful complement to the gamut of studies on Islam in politics and society which emphasize cultural interpretivist arguments. Such arguments not only avoid treading the well-worn path of cultural relativism, but also aid in generalizing the contributions in this edited volume to a wider audience. The influence of religion on government, regime type, and society is an enduring question given the current zeitgeist, and the lessons learnt from Muslim Southeast Asia will be a welcome contribution to the wider world."

Nur Hikmah, The Karyawan, April 2020.

Alternative Voices challenges many writings and observations that record Muslim life in Southeast Asia as one that adopts a relatively "moderate Islam" or a religious orientation that is accomodating to the socio-cultural life of the people in Southeast Asia. The book presents a dynamic contestation of religious orientations in the public sphere that can coexist or be in conflict with one another, and explore its ramifications on the social, political, and economic lives and lived realities of Muslims in this part of the world. More importantly, the book offers nuances and ideas that are critical of the status quo and religious establishments by asking an oft-forgotten yet pertinent question of who and what are absent from our discourse and conversations of the religious life of Muslims in Southeast Asia.

Any reader of this book would learn not to underestimate the impact of these dominant religious orientations. More importantly, it tells the narratives of voices that are marginalised or unnoticed, which makes it a must-read for anyone who intends to understand the diversity and lived religious realities of Muslims in Southeast Asia.

About the publication

According to some observers, Southeast Asian Islam is undergoing a conservative turn. This means voices that champion humanist, progressive or moderate ideas are located on the fringes of society. Is this assessment accurate for a region that used to be known for promoting the “smiling face of Islam”? Alternative Voices in Muslim Southeast Asia examines the challenges facing progressive voices in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore today. It examines their discourses, which delve into how multiculturalism and secularism are the way forward for the diverse societies of these three countries. Moreover, it analyses the avenues employed by these voices in articulating their views amidst the dominance of state and quasi-state religious officials who seek to restrict and discipline them. 

Contributors to the volume include scholars, activists and observers, some of whom are victims of repression and discrimination. While most of the chapters cover developments of the last decade, some of them go back to the previous century, capturing the emergence of modernist thinkers influenced by parallel movements in the Middle East and the wider region. Others respond to recent developments concerning Islam and Muslims in the three countries: the Pakatan Harapan coalition victory in the 2018 Malaysian election, the re-election of Joko Widodo as Indonesia’s president in 2019, and recent religious rulings passed in Singapore. Readers should come not only to reflect on the struggles faced by this group but also to appreciate the humanist traditions essential for the development of the societies of these countries in the midst of change.


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