Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 30, November 2012
Greg Fealy and Virginia Hooker
(compilers and editors)

Voices of Islam in Southeast Asia: A Contemporary Sourcebook

Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2006
ISBN 981-230-367-7 (pbk); li + 540 pp.

reviewed by Stella Hutagalung

  1. The book presents voices of Islam in Southeast Asia, through translations of original sources from this important region for the study of Islam. The region is home for ten countries: three in which Muslims are the majority (Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei) and seven where Islam is a minority religion (Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam). This culturally diverse region has a total population of nearly 500 million, of which around 230 millions are Muslim. These countries are members of ASEAN, which is now acknowledged as a major area of economic growth. Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are home to an increasing number of middle-class Muslims, who are engaged in the market economy, more politically active, and are more visible in the public domain. On the other hand, in countries where Islam is a minority religion such as Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand, Muslims face issues concerning expressions of identity and political repression.
  2. Islam in Southeast Asia is marked by moderation in religious practice, but has been recently characterised by a rather radical thoughts and movements within smaller groups in the society. The book, Voices of Islam in Southeast Asia, compiled and edited by Greg Fealy and Virginia Hooker, presents a good balance in the compilation of extracts from primary sources, ranging from the moderate, liberal, and conservative Muslims. The extracts come from scholars, political activists and also commoners (including women) from these Southeast Asian countries addressing a range of issues from political—such as Islamic law, jihad, and gender—to issues of everyday lives such as the dress code. As the title implies, contemporary extracts come from the period of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries allowing the book to give useful reflections of the dynamic of Islam in the region.
  3. This book is organised into two parts. The first part presents an overview of each country explaining a brief history, as well as the political and cultural contexts of Muslims. Written by various scholars, this section provides useful information for general readers to background the chapters in the second part. Other useful information in this section is a glossary, Arabic transliteration table, as well as a timeline of history and development of Islam globally and also in the region. Due to their larger Muslim populations and their political significance, Indonesia and Malaysia receive most attention in this book. The second part comprises of extracts of primary sources and is organised into six chapters: Personal Expressions of Faith, Shari'a, Islam, State and Governance, Gender and the Family, Jihad, and Interaction: Global and Local Islam; Muslims and Non-Muslims.
  4. The chapter on 'Personal Expression of Faith' examines the growing religiosity among Muslims, partly due to improvements in their economic status and exposure to the market economy and the advancement of communication technology. 'Shari'a' and 'Islam, State and Governance' address a long-debated concept of Islamic shari'a and its relation to the modern secular state. In Indonesia, for example, the concept of the secular nation has been challenged, since its independence, by a campaign towards the adoption of the Jakarta Charter in the preamble of the country's 1945 Constitution. The Charter, which stipulates that Indonesia Muslims adhere to shari'a, was eventually removed from the Constitution, but the debate surrounding the need to implement shari'a has continued, especially in the climate of democracy after the New Order collapsed in 1998. In this chapter one also can find extracts of Qanun, a code of shari'a law that became regulation in the Aceh province of Indonesia after the province received special status in 2001. Another chapter, 'Gender and the Family,' provides voices of ordinary Muslims discussing contested issues regarding matters such as the roles of women in the family and public sphere, jilbab (dress code of head covering), polygamy, abortion and family planning. The chapter on 'Interactions: Global and Local Islam; Muslims and Non-Muslims' shows a range of opinions on how Muslims should interact with people of other faiths, especially with Christians and Jews, and the debate about whether Muslims should follow the Middle Eastern way of Islam or whether it is acceptable for Muslims to practice a 'localised' form of Islam.
  5. The editors have been successful in selecting topics and primary sources to represent both moderate and conservative views. In the chapter on jihad, for example, various meanings of the terms are advocated by moderate scholars such as Azyumardi Azra, Masdar F. Mas'udi, and Faqihuddin Abdul Kodir, as well as organisations such as Jemaah Islamiyah.
  6. In conclusion, this book is a balanced sourcebook on Islam in Southeast Asia in a readable format. The country overviews, index, timeline, glossary are particularly useful for the reader. However, it is noted that one increasingly important issue is missing from the list of extracts—discussion of homosexuality and transgender issues. These issues have actually appeared in public discourse in Indonesia and some interesting accounts have been made in local journals and publications. Voices that are missing from the extracts are from the minorities—among others the Ahmadiyah and the Muslim minorities in the eastern part of Indonesia. Nevertheless, despite these shortcomings, the book is a good introduction to the debates on many important aspects relating to the study of Islam in the region.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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Page constructed by Carolyn Brewer.
Last modified: 5 November 2012 1302