AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 182

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Session 182: Islam, Corporatization, and Economy in Southeast Asia - Sponsored by the Malaysia/Singapore/Brunei Studies Group

Organizer: Patricia Sloane-White, University of Delaware, USA

This panel explores connections between piety, economic practice, corporatization, and capital accumulation in the production of contemporary Muslim subjectivities in Malaysia and Indonesia. Scholars already have a well-grounded understanding of Islamic financial governance and the application of Islamic thought to economic development at the state and institutional level. There is, however, a dearth of studies that address the multiple ways in which Muslims and their spiritual and political leaders engage on a day-to-day basis with economic life and managerial theories as they practice, support, and promote their belief. This panel therefore considers ways in which spirituality and materialism intersect in Muslim Southeast Asia, and the market- and management-driven society that has emerged in the lives of Muslims who interact with the global capitalist economy and negotiate with its promises, standards, and expectations. The papers in this panel address these topics through a diverse series of ethnographic case studies that consider how Muslim village women negotiate, accept, or critique global feminist and development ideals in post-tsunami Aceh; a Muslim multi-level marketing network for halal products; Islamic political parties in Malaysia and Indonesia’s increasing embrace of the market and professional management techniques; standards of “global professionalism” in the Malaysian sharia courts; and the “sharia elite” in Malaysia’s Islamic economy. Together, these papers cast new light on the relationship between market identities and managerial lives as they intersect with Muslim politics, law, and gender practices across Southeast Asia.

Circulating Shariah: Ubudiah, Masuliah and Dinar in Kelantan
Timothy P. Daniels, Hofstra University, USA

This paper explores the circulation of Islamic values and norms within the economy of Kelantan. In 2010, the PAS-led state government celebrated twenty years of its administration under the slogan “Developing Together with Islam.” Following the rapid restriction of the “entertainment” service sector and reduction of “wasteful” consumption, the Kelantan state government, led by the widely adored Tuan Guru Nik Abdul Aziz, proceeded to instill Islamic values into distributive processes, including the promotion of interest-free banking, separate halal and haram accounts, an innovative fund mixing halal and haram money, and provision of resources to needy segments of the population. Indeed, over the past twenty years, the Kelantan state government has institutionalized a pattern of redistribution likening it to a “social welfare state.” Its 2011 budget, labeled as the “cakna” or “compassionate” budget, continues this pattern. In addition, the recently launched dinar and dirham and the Cheng Ho Exposition, aimed at making Kelantan a distribution hub for products produced in China, continues the emphasis on shariah in circulation. In contrast, economic productive processes have not enjoyed comparable attention. While the state government facilitates the operation of federal government business monopolies, such as FELDA, PAS politicians blame the federal government for the lack of economic development in the state. This political tactic obscures the ulama leadership’s uneasiness about circulating shariah through economic production.

“New” Islamic Governance: The PAS and PKS Evolution
Bridget Welsh, Singapore Management University, Malaysia

Islamic political parties are often touted for their religious ideals, seen as providing religious comfort rather than economic and other social deliverables. Voters are seen to make a trade-off between a “good” government based on values rather than “good” government based on performance. Islamic parties in Malaysia and Indonesia – namely Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and Parti Keadilan Sejahtura (PKS) – would ardently disagree with this stark choice. They contend that they are offering both values and governance. What then are the deliverables of these parties? How do they actually implement their style of government in practice? What are the underlying ideas and practices of “Islamic welfare”? How should the economy work? What ideas should be part of social welfare? The experience in both countries shows that PAS and PKS are transforming their ideas on how to govern, drawing from a robust discussion and practical experience of Islamic parties in office. This paper traces some of the recent ideas on how to govern “Islamically” in multi-national countries. Drawing from interviews of PAS and PKS leaders, with a focus on a handful of case studies of where these parties are in government at the local and state levels, this paper argues that a new formula of “Islamic governance” is evolving based on an embrace of the market, need-based and religious-education focused social welfare, and policy implementation led by professionals rather than ulama. The pattern of Islamic governance in practice offers greater prospects for inclusiveness and concrete deliverables than earlier experiences and policy articulations of these parties.

Women’s Empowerment and Islam in Post-Tsunami Aceh
Chie Saito, Suzuka International University, Japan

This paper examines interactions between women’s empowerment and Islamic teachings in post-tsunami Aceh, Sumatra. It focuses on how a feminist NGO providing an empowerment program to village women explains Muslim women’s economic activities and negotiates Islamic thought and the ways in which women reacted to these approaches. It describes how Muslim women accept feminist interpretations, and interpret their own economic activities or inactivity. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami devastated Aceh, many individuals and families lost their properties and means of livelihood; many aid organizations entered Aceh in order to reconstruct destroyed Acehnese societies and provide a variety of programs for the security of victims’ economic lives. Aid in affected areas was often a synonym for economic development and empowerment. Among them, an Indonesian feminist NGO, which loaned capital for women’s economic activities and organized women’s vocational groups in rural areas, conveyed powerful political/feminist messages while trying to maintain a discourse with Islam that interpreted women’s economic activities within an Islamic framework. To village women, Islam provided reasons for both women’s economic activities and inactivity. Other women did not connect their religious belief to their economic success. Thus, this paper explores the various ways in which economic success and feminism can be related to and critiqued by Islamic belief.

A Corporate Sharia Elite in Malaysia: Sharia Advisors to the Islamic Economy
Patricia Sloane-White, University of Delaware, USA

The director of sharia advisory at Malaysia’s central bank said in 2010 that Malaysia’s goal is to capture 25% of the global Islamic finance market within the next decade. While a relatively small cohort of sharia scholars approve products and deals generated by Malaysia’s Islamic banks, their influence is crucial in determining what the nature of that growth will be. While much is known about the products and market dynamics of the sharia-regulated Islamic financial sector in Malaysia and the regulations put in place by Malaysia’s central bank, little research has been conducted on the Malaysian Islamic economy’s behind-the-scene actors and directors and networks. Furthermore, we know little of how and to what extent this group responds to intervention and direction by the Malaysian state and its religious and economic bureaucracy. This paper will focus on the emergence, role, impact, and values of sharia advisors to Islamic banks and takaful (insurance) companies in Malaysia. It seeks to understand how sharia advisors guide, influence, shape, and encourage (or inhibit) the growth and direction of Islamic business and the Islamic economy in Malaysia. This paper suggests that an exploration of the thoughts, ideals, and objectives of this small, powerful group and its relationships with businessmen and government can be a key element in understanding how theology, economic practice, and the state intersect or diverge in Malaysia.

From ‘Kadi Justice’ to e-Syariah Governance: Corporatization and Discourses of Transformation in Malaysia’s Islamic Judiciary
Michael Peletz, Emory University, USA

In recent decades scholars working in Muslim-majority settings have documented a florescence of Islamic piety along with diverse manifestations of a resurgent, revitalized, or reactualized Islam in variegated public if not specifically political arenas. Some scholars have conceptualized these dynamics as manifestations of processes involving the desecularization of public life. Others, assuming they are dealing with contexts in which Islamic law (syariah) has gained currency, refer to the syariahtization of national culture or of pluralistic legal systems specifically, typically as manifestations or developmental phases of a more general Islamization. This paper examines the heuristic value of these glosses with respect to transformations that have occurred in Malaysia’s Islamic judiciary during the last quarter century and the new millennium in particular. I argue that despite their apparent utility, all such glosses are deeply problematic insofar as they elide distinctions among processes involving Malaysia’s Islamic judiciary that are both empirically and analytically distinct. Specifically, I illustrate that while some trends bearing on this judiciary might be said to involve a kind of Islamization, many others reflect long-standing concerns to model it on its more prestigious civil-law counterpart and the common-law traditions with which that counterpart is inextricably associated. Further complicating the picture are culturally interlocked but analytically distinct trends involving corporatization and e-governance, undergirded by Japanese systems of management and auditing, which have been embraced by the Islamic judiciary and the governmental apparatus in its entirety to better discipline Malaysian citizen-subjects and help guide them to a more secure and prosperous future.