The Path to Moderation in Indonesia and Malaysia: Gains and Paradoxes


About the Seminar

In recent decades, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has deepened and expanded its role as a trendsetter of normative Islam. They done this primarily through their religious edicts (fatwa), and are partly responsible for the increasing shariatization, halalization, and orthodoxification of Islam in Indonesia. At the same time, centuries-old organizations such as Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah continue to play an instrumental role in battling Muslim extremism. In recent years, these organizations – the two largest Muslim organizations in Indonesia – have formulated and implemented various measures to tackle rising Muslim extremism on social media. These measures include catalysing the operations of online media institutions such as NU Online and Suara Muhammadiyah (The Voice of Muhammadiyah) to spread narratives on moderation in religion. Meanwhile, in Malaysia, the Islamist party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), has been spreading their propaganda in religious schools in the state of Perak. The growth in their number of seats in the 2022 elections illustrate that the party’s conservative and even radical views are attractive to voters who are exposed to such views both offline and online. Equally important in promoting such views are state religious bureaucracies and federal institutions who can issue religious edicts, some of which are enforceable. Institutions therefore play a crucial role in the transmission of Islamic religious narratives in Indonesia and Malaysia.

This seminar will examine the challenge of rising Muslim extremism in Indonesia and Malaysia, and how various institutions weather these challenges. Among the questions that will be addressed include: Do religious institutions in both these countries generally promote conservatism as widely portrayed in the media, or are these institutions which promote moderate Islam? Do their views carry weight in society? On the other hand, are we overstating the issue of Muslim extremism? Are there other more crucial issues in these societies?

About the Speakers

Mohd Faizal Musa is Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute as well as Associate Fellow at Weatherhead Centre Harvard University working on the Global Shia Diaspora project. He is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Malay World and Civilization, National University of Malaysia (UKM) where he earned his PhD in 2010. He is also a well-known fiction writer in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

A’an Suryana is Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. Previously, he worked as research consultant for various international and local organizations such as Search for Common Ground, Jakarta Provincial Government and the Indonesian Ministry of Administrative and Bureaucracy Reform. He earned a PhD in Asian Studies from the Australian National University, which he completed in 2018.

Moch Nur Ichwan is a senior lecturer in Islamic Studies at the School of Graduate Studies, State Islamic University Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta. He earned his PhD in Religious Studies from Tilburg University (2006) and MA in Islamic Studies from Leiden University (1999). His current research is concerned with the politics of religious authority, minorities, and citizenship in Indonesia.


This is a physical event which will be held at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS).

Attending the Event In-person at ISEAS

To join the event in-person at ISEAS, please register via the ISEAS mobile app, available on iOS and Android via the Apple or Play store. Search “ISEAS” to find or scan this QR code.

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Seating capacity is limited. Do register early to avoid disappointment.


Feb 28 2023


10:00 am - 11:30 am


ISEAS Seminar Room 2