Seminar on Has Malaysian Islam been Salafized?

This seminar revealed that the form of Islam that normatively understood and practised in Malaysia, e.g. Malaysian Islam, has undergone myriad changes as a result of gradual internalization of the Wahhabi brand of Salafism since the 1970s. 

Wednesday, 25 May 2016 – ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a seminar by Dr Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, Visiting Senior Fellow, ISEAS. He spoke on whether Malaysian Islam has been Salafized or otherwise.  

Dr Ahmad Fauzi clarified that while there has been a shift in the level of religious fervour among Malaysian Muslims, the majority remain moderate in orientation. Seated with him is Dr Norshahril Saat, ISEAS Fellow, who chaired the session. (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

According to Dr Ahmad Fauzi, while there has been a shift in the level of religious fervour among Malaysian Muslims, the majority remain moderate in orientation. But this does not mean that alarm bells should not be sounded as a measure of pre-caution, since recent surveys have indicated that there has indeed been a worrying rise in the level of Islamist extremism in Malaysia. This can be seen from survey results of the Pew Research Centre, USA, and tallies moreover with media reports on increasing numbers of Malay-Muslim youth harbouring attraction towards radical Islamist movements such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

As he had also written in ISEAS Yusof Ishak Perspective No. 24 entitled ‘ISIS in Southeast Asia: Internalized Wahhabism is a Major Factor’ (click here), much of the observable changes towards the more rigid orientation may be attributed to a process which he terms ‘Salafization’. While the ‘Salafi’ brand by itself may not be necessarily prone to intolerance and violence, as shown by the previous Kaum Muda wave, a new wave of Salafization has taken root since the 1970s.

Powered by petrodollars, it has also resulted in Islamist, rather than normative Malay-Islamic, ideals increasingly defining the tenor of mainstream Islam in Malaysia. This form of Salafization refers to a process of mindset and attitudinal transformation rather than the growth of Salafi nodes per se, affecting practically all levels of Malay-Muslim society and cutting across political parties, governmental institutions and non-state actors.

Dr Ahmad Fauzi answering questions ranging from methodological issues such as the conflation between the terms ‘Salafi’ and ‘Wahhabi’ to the types of actions that are being currently undertaken in response to the Wahhabi-Salafi onslaught that is slowly but surely transforming the landscape of Malaysian Islam. (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Ahmad Fauzi suggested that a more open and democratic religious discourse which enabled the many contending sides to present their arguments in a civil manner would do well in ironing out controversial issues in public space. He presented some historical facts in arguing that the traditions of debate and muzakarah (discussion) were not alien to Islam. He compared the situation in Indonesia, which has a lively civil Islam tradition, with that of Malaysia, where Islam has since independence been co-opted by the state and has as a consequence been wilfully manipulated by political interests.

Dr Ahmad Fauzi also proposed that the Singaporean Muslim community develop its own distinctive Islamic religious tradition rather than relying on discourse imported from Malaysia, since the societal structures of both countries have been different and have continued to develop in separate albeit connected ways since the 1965 split. A great deficiency of the Wahhabi-Salafi paradigm, as he sees it, is its breaking of Islamic intellectual tradition inherited from the times of the Prophet through successive generations and its denial of unique cultural characteristics of an Islamicized community.

Participants at the seminar. (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

In short, according to Dr Ahmad Fauzi, the Wahhabi-Salafi framework decontextualizes, dehistoricizes and deculturates religious categories, leading to a kind of alienation among the youth who might then find solace in literalist interpretations of Islam.

More than 40 participants attended the seminar. 



Berita Mediacorp – Amalan Islam toleran di Malaysia digugat pemikiran Salafi ekstrim by Emillia Amin

To access the article, click here.

The news package was first broadcasted by Berita Mediacorp on May 25, 2016 at 8pm.