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The One-Dimensional Malay: The Homogenisation of Malay Identity in the


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sahabat (companions). The movement grew in size until its membership expanded to tens of thousands. Its followers dressed and lived according to Ustaz Ashaari’s interpretation of the sunnah. The men wore green robes and turbans while the women wore black hijab all the time. The movement practised Purdah (seclusion) and its female members were kept out of public view as much as possible. They set up cooperative movements, self-help groups and links with other Islamic movements in the country and beyond. At one stage in its development Darul Arqam was even accused of being an organisation secretly funded by the Saudi government in its effort to eradicate Shia influence in the Malay archipelago. Such controversies helped to boost the group’s image and appeal even more. By the 1970s, Ustaz Ashaari was widely regarded as one of the most powerful, influential (if not controversial) Ulama in the country. In the years to come it would attract a number of prominent followers like Tamrin Ghaffar (son of the future Deputy Prime Minister Ghaffar Baba) and the famous writer Shahnon Ahmad. [For a detailed analysis of the Darul Arqam movement, see: Chandra (1987), Jomo and Shabery Cheek (1992) and Husin Mutalib (1993).]

18 The Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM- Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement) was formed by a number of Malay university student activists from the National Association of Muslim Students led by Razali Nawawi, Anwar Ibrahim and Siddiq Fadhil on 6 August 1971. As it developed the movement became centred around the charismatic and dominant personality of Anwar Ibrahim who took over as the movement’s second president in 1974. (Prompting the Malaysian academic Jomo K. Sundaram to refer to ABIM as the ‘Anwar Bin Ibrahim Movement’.) As the president of ABIM and the MBM (Majlis Belia Malaysia- Malaysian Youth Council) Anwar Ibrahim soon made his impact felt in Malay-Muslim circles by championing a number of controversial causes. One of his first public confrontations with authority came when he challenged the Cabinet Minister for Youth and Sports Ali Haji Ahmad over the latter’s suggestion that Malaysian students who were being sent overseas for further studies should be issued with condoms so that they would not contract any venereal diseases while abroad. Anwar and the other leaders of ABIM argued that such a move was tantamount to encouraging Malay-Muslim students to engage in free sex, and as a result of the public outrage caused the government was forced to back down. Soon the movement was championing a number of other causes which ranged from the status of the Malay language to the role of the United States in Southeast Asia. ABIM’s aim was to spearhead the struggle for Islamic reform and revival in the country, and to work towards ‘Islamisation from within’. On the campuses of the country, ABIM’s impact was clear for all to see: the members of the organisation were among the few who did not smoke and who dressed according to Islamic standards of decency and modesty. The young men who joined ABIM were also reminded not to be in close contact with women, and to avoid shaking hands with them. They also encouraged their parents and the elders around them to follow their example. In time the policing of sartorial and behavioural norms became one of the defining features of the ABIM movement. The movement sponsored a number of religious pondoks and madrasahs all over the country, such as the Madrasah Sri ABIM at Kuala Ketil, Kedah and the Ma’ahad Tarbiyyah Ismamiah at Pokok Sena. It also established its own private school called Yayasan Anda (which was partly financed by the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), a regional council representing the more established Protestant Churches in the Asian region) .

19 The Islamic Representative Council (IRC) began to show itself on the (British and Malaysian) campus scene by the late 1970s. During the early stages of Islamist student activism between 1969 to 1976 the Muslim student movements in the local campuses were dominated by Malay-Muslim students from the arts faculties. This situation only began to change in by the mid-1970s when the leadership of the local and international university student movements fell into the hands of Malay-Muslim scholars from the science stream, who were more rigid and militant in their approach. These students eventually formed the Islamic Representative Council which adopted a more covert approach to their activities. The IRC organised itself in the form of cells which then penetrated into the local campuses and other existing organisations in order to spread their Islamic message from within. Shamsul Baharuddin (1997) notes that: ‘Because this organisation was born outside the Malaysian socio-political milieu and was informed mainly by sectarian Islamist groups based in the Middle East and South Asia, its focus was more on religion for religion’s sake than religion for society’s sake. The IRC saw ABIM’s brand of Islam as too ‘spicy’ and impure (re. tolerant of heterogeneity), unlike theirs which was more true to the original and pure (re. demanding total response). The IRC group adopted the educational approach or tarbiyyah, through the formation and spread of small cells among the students. The denounced the Malaysian government as un-Islamic and accused it of upholding a secular and infidel system of rule. Recruiting from among the science students, the IRC adopted what could be seen as a black-and-white approach to Islam. In their view one either practiced Islam in a complete way or was an infidel; one either fought for Islam or was irreligious, if a member of an Islamic group one had to be a full-time dakwah activist, and not merely a sympathizer.’ (Shamsul A. B, 1997. Pg. 215.) For a further discussion of the IRC and its activities, see Shamsul A. Baharuddin, Identity Construction, National Formation and Islamic Revivalism in Islam in an Era of Nation States, (Eds. Robert Hefner and Patricia Horvatich), University of Hawaii Press, Hawaii. 1997. pp. 215-216.

20 The American-Arab Islamist intellectual and activist Ismail Ragi Faruqi was originally born in Palestine. In his youth he first studied at the French Catholic School, College des Freres St. Joseph. He then proceeded to the American University of Beirut, where he obtained his B.A. in 1941. In 1945 he worked for the Palestinian government and was made the governor of Galilee. But in 1948, Faruqi and his family were forced to leave his home country after the creation of Israel and the war between Israeli and Arab forces. The family fled to Lebanon, but Faruqi traveled to America to further his studies. He received two Masters degrees from Indiana University and Harvard. In 1952 he gained his Ph.d from Indiana University in the field of Philosophy. But Faruqi’s longing to return to his Arab roots took him back to the Middle East and between 1954 to 1958 he studied Islamic studies at al-Azhar University in Cairo. Upon his return to the United States he became a fellow at the Faculty of Divinity at McGill University (1959-1961) and he took up the study of Christianity and Judaism. In 1964 he obtained a full time post at the Department of Religious Studies at Syracuse University. Finally in 1968 he moved on to Temple University to take up the post of professor of Islamic Studies and the History of Religions. Two main concerns dominated his life and work: The first was his obsession with Islam and Arab culture, the second was his continued attempt to engage with Christianity and Judaism in order to show that both religions had deviated from their proper paths. For Faruqi, Islam and Arabism were intimately and essentially linked. He argued that the Quranic revelations were meant primarily for the Arabs and that Arabic culture was essentially the spirit of the Quran made manifest. Arabism (Urubah) was for him central to Islam itself and there could be no understanding of Islam without looking at it through an Arab-centric perspective. He wrote a number of books on this topic, such as Urubah and Religion, Urubah and Art, Urubah and Society and Urubah and Man. For him, Arab culture was the medium and vehicle through which the essence of Islam was communicated and spread. Faruqi’s other concern was to show that both the Christians and Jews had deviated from the original teachings and examples laid out by the Prophets. In order to do this he post-rationalized both religions and viewed them from a Quranic perspective. His engagement with Jews and Christians were therefore part of an effort to bring them back to their faiths, albeit through the mediation of Islam. Faruqi was also an activist-oriented scholar who wanted to create a following and a base of supporters. In order to achieve this he formed a number of student and academic networks of which he was the president or founder. These included the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), the North American Islamic Trust and the Islamic Steering Committee of the American Academy of Religion. In 1981 he created the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Herndon, Virginia, along with Abdul Hamid Abu Sulayman, Tahar Jabir al-Alwani and Jamal Barzinji. The IIIT project was meant to lead the way for what became to be known as the ‘Islamisation of Knowledge’ project. The founders wished to radically reinvent the epistemology, phenomenology and ethics of Muslim civilisation so that Muslims could become modernised without being westernised. Faruqi also had an enormous impact on Muslim students who were studying in the West at the time. He was the leader and patron to the Muslim Students Association (MSA) of America. He is also said to have had an impact on Malaysian students studying in Europe and the United States. Faruqi influenced the Malaysian Islamist student activist Anwar Ibrahim to enter the world of Malaysian politics and it was thanks to his advice that Anwar left his organisation ABIM and joined the UMNO party in 1982. Ismail Ragi Faruqi’s career was cut short when he and his wife Lois Lamya Faruqi were killed on 24 May 1986 by a deranged Muslim convert.

21 The Iraqi scholar Dr. Tahar Jabir al-Alwani was originally a professor at the al-Azhar University in Cairo. In the 1980s he migrated to the United States and became a close friend and collaborator with the Palestinian-born scholar Ismail Ragi Faruqi. Al-Alwani and Faruqi jointly worked together on a number of projects which eventually culminated in the formation of the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT) in 1981. This came after the first International Conference on Islamic Knowledge that was held in Switzerland in 1977. Under the auspices of the IIIT, al-Alwani and Faruqi led what came to be known as the ‘Islamisation of Thought’ or ‘Islamisation of Social Sciences’ project. Their aim was to reconstruct knowledge and all the major academic disciplines anew under the guidance of religious sanction. The IIIT project was met with a positive response from a number of Muslim states, including Malaysia. Soon after the International Islamic University (UIA) was formed in Malaysia (in 1983) and a number of prominent Malaysian politicians like Anwar Ibrahim took up al-Alwani’s and Faruqi’s concerns. After the assassination of Faruqi in May 1986, al-Alwani was left to lead the project and direct its activities into the future. He remains an important and influential thinker in contemporary Islamist circles and enjoys a wide following particularly amongst Muslim students studying in the West.

22 The Indian-born British Islamist scholar and economist Khurshid Ahmad was born in Delhi, India, in 1932. His father, Nazir Ahmad, was a businessman based in Delhi and who enjoyed close connections with some of the leading Indian Muslim figures then. He was actively involved in the Muslim League and he became the counsellor to the League in Delhi. When India and Pakistan went their separate ways, Khurshid Ahmad’s family migrated northwards to Pakistan. They first settled in Lahore and it was here that Khurshid first made contact with Maulana Ab’ul Al’aa Maudoodi who had formed the Jama’at-e Islami (JI) in 1941. From Lahore the family moved to Karachi and Khurshid enrolled at the Government College of Commerce and Economics. He began to study economics and also became involved in the activities of the Jama’at. Later, under the influence of Zafar Ishaque al-Ansari and his brother Khurram Ahmad, Khurshid joined the student wing of the JI known as the Islami Jami’at-i Tulaba (IJT). While at university he also became actively involved in student politics and between 1953 to 1955 he headed the All-Pakistan Islamic Student Association (APISA). While engaged in these activities he continued to study both economics and Islamic studies and finally ended up teaching economics at the Faculty of Economics and Commerce at Urdu College and in the Department of Economics at Karachi University. He became a full member of the JI and ultimately worked in its Department of Foreign Relations. In 1966, he moved to Britain where he engaged in da’wa (missionary) activities on behalf of the Jama’at. He also helped to organise the Executive Council of the Islamic Council of Europe. Khurshid Ahmad also continued in his work as an educator while in Britain. Between 1969 to 1972 he was a research scholar at the University of Leicester and he later established the Islamic Foundation in the same city. The Islamic Foundation was, from the outset, closely linked to the Jama’at-e Islami in Pakistan and its network of Islamist organisations. Through the work of the foundation and his teaching activities, Khurshid has managed to gain a huge following among Muslim students studying in the West and in Britain in particular. He has also gained the support of many Muslim governments and economists who share his view of an Islamic economic system that is based on moral injunctions and which tries to address the failings of both the liberal-capitalist and communist systems of the West. In 1978 he was persuaded to return to Pakistan after the fall of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the rise of the dictator General Zia ‘ul Haq. Along with a few other members of the Jama’at, Khurshid served as a minister under the government of Zia (in the Department of Planning, Development and Statistics). He left Pakistan again and returned to Britain after it became apparent that Zia was merely using Islam as a discourse of legitimation and that he had no intention of allowing the Jama’at to come to power. In 1986 he became the president of the International Association of Islamic Economists. In 1988 he was awarded by the Islamic Development Bank for his work in the field of Islamic economics. In 1990 he was bestowed the King Faizal award by the government of Saudi Arabia for his services to Islam.

23 Ungku Maimunah Mohd Tahir has examined the development of Malay ‘Islamic’ popular literature that began to appear in the country in the 1970s. She argues that the 1970s witnessed the birth of a new genre of Malay literature known as ‘sastera Islam’ (Islamic literature) which dealt with issues relation to religion and popular culture. She argues that ‘in giving literary expression to this new philosophy, the writers were apt to highlight the questions of morality and salvation, seeing individual crisis of morality as the root cause of social ills and its redress as the panacea for social chaos’. (pg. 79). Among the foremost proponents of this new form of sastera Islam was the Malay writer Shahnon Ahmad. In their writings the authors present the problems facing contemporary Malay society in clear-cut dialectical terms: The evils of modern life are contrasted to the purity of Islam and true Muslims. Among the most common themes that were found in their writings were the theme of conversion (usually of Christians to Islam), redemption and salvation (for deviant Muslims) and the rejection of Western values as secular, materialist and immoral. (See: Ungku Maimunah Mohd Tahir, Morality and Salvation in Malaysia’s Islamic Literature of the 70s and 80s. In Akademika 47. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Bangi. July 1994.).

24 As the president of ABIM and the MBM (Majlis Belia Malaysia- Malaysian Youth Council) Anwar Ibrahim soon made his impact felt in Malay-Muslim circles by championing a number of controversial causes. One of his first public confrontations with authority came when he challenged the Cabinet Minister for Youth and Sports Ali Haji Ahmad over the latter’s suggestion that Malaysian students who were being sent overseas for further studies should be issued with condoms so that they would not contract any venereal diseases while abroad. Anwar and the other leaders of ABIM argued that such a move was tantamount to encouraging Malay-Muslim students to engage in free sex, and as a result of the public outrage caused the Minister in question was forced to back down. (Tamadun, November 1998. Pg. 6.)

25 For a detailed account of the other social changes that took place in Malaysia’s campuses and society at large thanks to the activism of ABIM, see C. N. Al-Afghani, Rakyat Makin Mantang, Corak Memali Enterprise, Memali, Kedah, 1999. Pp. 9-11.

26 The second spiritual leader (Murshid’ul Am) of PAS, Tuan Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat, was himself the product of the ultra-conservative Deobandi school of thought that was based in Northern India. Since its formation in the late-19th century, the Deobandi school was known for its conservative rulings in matters of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and for the production of conservative Ulama. The dominant aspect of Deobandi thinking that was clearly evident in Nik Aziz’s style of leadership was the desire to purify Islam and Muslim culture from elements which are regarded as un-Islamic (khurafat), heretical (shirk), innovative (bid’ah) and deviationist (ajaran sesat). As soon as he returned to Malaysia (in the 1950s), Nik Aziz announced his arrival in no uncertain terms by declaring that many of the traditional practices sanctioned by the older generation of traditional Alim were in fact un-Islamic. The traditional Ulama, he argued, were wrong because their scriptural knowledge rested on old books (kitab kuning) that were faulty or badly translated. He insisted that only a thorough-going campaign to eliminate and remove all these elements from Malay society could transform them into true Muslims. Nik Aziz immediately found himself in confrontation with the older generation of Alim Ulama who had sanctioned many traditional Malay customary practices. These practices, such as traditional songs, the shadow-puppet (wayang) performance and dances like the Manora, were attacked by Nik Aziz on the grounds that they were contaminated by un-Islamic and pagan influences. This brought him into conflict with the traditional Ulama of the establishment. In the years to come, Nik Aziz’s polemics against un-Islamic customs and practices would embrace a host of contaminating evils ranging from pre-Islamic Hindu, Hellenic, Persian and animist beliefs to the scourge of modern secular ideologies like Communism and Capitalism.

27 Syed Naquib al-Attas is perhaps one of the most influential (if not controversial) Islamist thinkers in Malaysia today. His influence extends well beyond the confines of academia and he has played an important role in the cultivation of the Islamic elite in the country. He comes from one of the most famous aristocratic families in the south and is of mixed Malay-Arabic stock. In his youth he studied in England, first at Eton and then at Sandhurst Military Academy and later at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. His early academic researches were into the fields of Malay Sufism and literature. His fame was assured when he published his two-volume dissertation The Mysticism of Hamzah Fansuri (1965, published 1970). He later developed much of his educational philosophy with this Sufi influence clearly apparent in his work. He also prides himself as a designer, calligrapher and artist. He was given the opportunity to create The International Institute for Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC) in 1991 and in 1993 he was awarded the Al-Ghazali Chair of Islamic Philosophy by the Malaysian government (The award was presented by none other than his own student-turned-politician Anwar Ibrahim, who was then a Minister in the Cabinet). He was awarded the membership of the Royal Jordanian Academy in 1994 and honoured with an honorary doctorate from the University of Khartoum in 1995. In Malaysian academic circles, Naquib al-Attas was known as the Malaysian proponent of the ‘Islamisation of knowledge’ project, now a major international effort which he claims credit for. In high-level social and political circles he was well received thanks to his mixed Malay-Arabic ancestry, his aristocratic background and his intimate links to the early founders of the dominant Malay conservative UMNO party. He was, in short, clearly an establishment figure and his institute (ISTAC) was firmly located at the centre of the government’s network of Islamic research and academic institutes. From his interest in Sufism al-Attas developed a complex philosophy of Islamic education which laid great emphasis on the role of order and scriptural authority. Critical observers have suggested that this may explain both the appeal of al-Attas to the Malaysian political establishment as well as his following among a legion of enamoured Malay-Muslim scholars and student-activists, all of which contributes further to the cult of personality surrounding the man. (See: Mona Abaza, ‘Rethinking the Social Knowledge of Islam: Critical Explorations in the Islamisation of Knowledge Debate between Malaysia and Egypt’. Unpublished Doctoral thesis for the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Berlin, 1998. Esp. Chapter 6, pp. 85-107.)

28 Chandra Muzaffar has noted that ‘within the country the person who had the greatest influence on Anwar Ibrahim in his ABIM years was Syed Naquib al-Attas, then professor of Malay Studies at the National University of Malaysia.’ (Chandra, 1987. pg. 54, n.23). The anti-secularism rhetoric of al-Attas was taken up by the leaders of ABIM with gusto. Chandra noted that ‘ABIM criticised secularism and other western ideologies as antithetical to the ideal of an Islamic state. Secularism, for ABIM, is an ideology that restricts the concept of existence to ‘this world’ and the ‘here and now’. …As a consequence of this, secularism, as an ABIM leader once argued, has resulted in a modern society ‘inflicted by such diseases as hedonism, materialism, individualism, utilitarianism, permissiveness, relativistic values and anomie’. Such a view of Secularism is found in the works of al-Attas as well, such as his ‘Islam and Secularism’. (Chandra, 1987, pg. 48)

29 The International Institute for Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC) was officially opened in 1991. It was, from the very beginning, the brainchild of its founder-director, Syed Naquib al-Attas. Anwar Ibrahim, the ex-president of ABIM, was the first Chairman of ISTAC. In its early years, ISTAC received much support and patronage from the Malaysian government, both in terms of financial assistance as well as publicity and the endorsement of its activities by the government. In the preface of the second edition (1993) of his book ‘Islam and Secularism’, al-Attas outlines the mandate and agenda of his institute: ‘Among its most important aims and objectives are to conceptualise, clarify, elaborate scientific and epistemological problems encountered by Muslims in this modern age; to provide an Islamic response to the intellectual and cultural challenges of the modern world and various schools of thought, religion and ideology; to formulate an Islamic philosophy of education; including the definitions, aims and objectives of Islamic education, to formulate an Islamic philosophy of science’. (pg. xiii). In short, the aim of ISTAC was to spearhead al-Attas’s own project of the Islamisation of knowledge which in turn is intimately linked to his political project of the revival of the spirit of Islam through the creation of a new class of intellectually competent and knowledgeable Islamic leaders who conform to the rules of adab and the social and political hierarchies al-Attas regards as essentially Islamic. Al-Attas was given a lot of freedom in designing ISTAC, down to its architectural details. The main building which houses the library, conference hall and research units was designed by him and reflect strong Hispano-Moorish styles and features.

30 Al-Attas argues that of the three main Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), it is Islam that possesses a ‘salvatic impulse’ to save the rest of humanity. Judaism, and to a lesser extent, Christianity, are fundamentally tribal religions limited to a select people while the message of Islam is open to all. (Ironically, al-Attas later goes on to attack what he calls the de-Arabisation of Islam by secular Muslims, pg. 127). Likewise, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and other Chinese beliefs are not guided by salvatic missionary impulses. These are also nation-based collective belief systems for him. (pp. 98-99).

31 Al-Attas, 1978. Pg. 16 and also: pp. 124-126.

32 Al-Attas condemns the pervasive spread of secularism among Muslim intellectuals via the humanist sciences that they have learnt from their western teachers thus: ‘The secular scholars and intellectuals among the Muslims derive their aspirations mainly from the West. Ideologically they belong to the same line of modernist ‘reformers’… The secular scholars and intellectuals among us refuse to listen and pay attention (to Islamic teachers) but hang instead upon every word taught by their western masters in the various branches of the knowledge of the sciences, particularly in that branch known as the human sciences.’ (pp. 124-125). Elsewhere he attacks these various schools of humanist knowledge as being fundamentally limited, inferior and antithetical to the spirit and philosophy of Islam: ‘In deislamizing the Muslims, the Western administrators and colonial theorists have first severed the pedagogical link between the Holy Qur’an and the local language by establishing a system of secular education. At the higher levels linguistics and anthropology are introduced as the methodological tools for the study of language and culture, and Western values, models and Orientalist scholarship and philology for the study of literature and history.’ (pg. 126). These humanistic sciences, for al-Attas, are all mainly directed towards humanising the outlook of Muslims and to desacralise their religion and worldview so that they in turn adopt a secular outlook on life as well.

33 Al-Attas, pg. 129.

34 Al-Attas contends that ‘In respect of the individual, the confusion in knowledge (caused by secularism) creates in him an overweening sort of individualism: he thinks himself the equal of others who are in reality superior to him, and cultivates the immanent arrogance and obstinacy and tends to reject authority’. (pg. 108)

35 It must be remembered that Syed Naquib al-Attas was actually trained at the Sandhurst Military Academy in Britain. He later received the King’s commission and served in the Royal Malay Regiment of the Malayan armed forces and took part in the military campaign against the communists during the Emergency of 1948-1960.

36 Al-Attas, pg. 128.

th Syed Naquib al-Attas, Preliminary Statement on a General Theory of the Islamization of the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago. Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur, 1963.

37 al-Attas (1963), pg. 3.

38 ibid. pg. 20.

39 ibid. pg. 2.

40 ibid, pg. 4

41 ibid, pg. 6.

42 Al-Attas, pg 22.

43 Such ‘productive ambiguities’ would also play a role in the development of any democratic culture, both within the civil and academic space. As William E. Connolly has argued: ‘a viable democratic culture would embody a productive ambiguity at its very centre. Its role as an instrument of governance and mobiliser of collective action would be balanced and countered by its logic as a medium for the periodic disruption and denaturalisation of settled identities and conventions. Both dimensions are crucial to democratic life.’ See: William E. Connolly, The Terms of Political Discourse. (Third Edition). Blackwell Publishers, Oxford. 1993. (1st edition 1974, 2nd edition 1983). Pg. xv.
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