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The Sound of Silence: Nuancing Religiopolitical Legitimacy and Conceptualizing the Appeal of ISIS in Malaysia.

The emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the declaration of the formation of its "Caliphate" in 2014, reverberated across the world. Thousands flocked to Syria and Iraq from all corners of the globe to fight under ISIS's black standards, and to start new lives in their purported "authentic" Islamic state. Included among their numbers were Malaysians. Indeed, at its peak, more than a hundred Malaysians were believed to have relocated to Syria and Iraq with their families in tow. (1) Of course, not all who sympathized with ISIS managed to relocate to the Middle East. Many remained in Southeast Asia: some acted as "keyboard warriors" to lionize the terrorist organization, while others heeded the call to seek out opportunities to launch attacks in the region in the name of ISIS. (2)

The rapidly growing clout of ISIS, and the presence of Malaysians among the ranks of ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq and in pro-ISIS jihadi groups in the southern Philippines, was doubtless a cause of great concern for counter-terrorism forces in Malaysia. On the other hand, scholars have argued that in Malaysia, the expansion of a brand of Islamism that turned on exclusivist and sectarian religiopolitical narratives had inadvertently created conditions for a cast of mind that the propaganda of extremist groups such as ISIS could capitalize on. (3) Yet, while the ISIS phenomenon in Malaysia has become a subject of growing analytical interest, two intriguing questions remain to be addressed. First, why haven't more Malaysians rushed to heed the ISIS clarion call to either fight in Syria and Iraq or in Southeast Asia? Second, why hasn't the ISIS narrative garnered even greater sympathy and support in Malaysia especially given the environmental conditions highlighted above?

This article argues that while ISIS has doubtlessly managed to recruit supporters and sympathizers from Malaysia, its recruitment efforts have been hampered by a combination of effective counterterrorism operations, as well as ISIS's inability to tailor its narrative in ways that would have greater appeal to a larger pool of potential Malaysian recruits. While the first point is perhaps obvious, the second is, in a sense, counterintuitive. Specifically, the silence of ISIS narratives on issues of immediate consequence for the Malay-Muslim community is deafening when juxtaposed against the growing currency of conservative and exclusivist religiopolitical narratives in Malaysia propagated by Malaysian Islamists. In fact, it is precisely the prevalence of such narratives, cast by Malaysian Islamists in terms that speak to the historical and cultural context and milieu in Malaysia, which have ironically eroded the self-proclaimed authenticity of the Syria and Iraq-based terrorist organization. Behind this argument lies a larger point. The study of ISIS in Malaysia has to extend beyond empirical discussions of networks and linkages--an all too familiar theme (and limitation) in the cottage industry of terrorism "expert" commentary--to consider deeper socio-political and religious trends and patterns that inform these phenomena, and the implications they portend. To make its case, this article begins by looking briefly at how ISIS has attempted to extend its ideology and clout to Southeast Asia and Malaysia before examining aspects of Malaysian counter-terrorism strategy against ISIS support in the country. The rest of the article analyses how the conservative and exclusivist religiopolitical discourse associated with Malaysia's increasingly influential Islamists closely parallels the narrative of ISIS, but have been articulated in and referenced to a distinctly Malaysian context, thereby eroding the potency of ISIS's narrative.

ISIS and Malaysia

On 29 June 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself the new caliph of the Islamic State, a violent extremist organization whose origins hark back to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. In an act of defiance against colonial cartography that brought into being the modern nation-states of Iraq and Syria, ISIS moved to merge the vast swathes of territories they had captured in these two countries into a presumed Islamic "Caliphate". (4) This "Caliphate" would be predicated on a version of Islamic norms and conceptions of righteousness that, though harsh and controversial from the standpoint of both the principle of human rights and traditional Islamic law, nevertheless managed to draw members, supporters and sympathizers from all over the world. Through the innovative use of social media platforms that drew on prophetic tradition, ISIS cast the journey to the "Caliphate" in religious imaginaries, understood as the totality of meanings and their respective symbols and signifiers--namely the hijrah (Prophet Muhammad's migration from Mecca to Medina). (5) At the heart of all this was an ambitious, radical claim to authenticity: ISIS and the Caliphate it spawned represented, together with its host of ultraconservative norms and laws that would later be introduced in its name, the epitome of "genuine" Islamic rule.

Within a year of its establishment, ISIS began explicitly targeting its recruitment efforts at Southeast Asian Muslims, including Malaysians. As part of its propaganda effort in the region, ISIS launched a Malay media division, and its official media agencies such as Al-Azzam Media, Furat Media, Al-Hayat and Wilayat Al-Barakah started releasing videos in Indonesian, which is cognate to Malay. It also published a newsletter in the Malay vernacular, titled Al-Fatihin. To augment its public relations effort, the media division of ISIS also produced videos that depicted what appeared to be Malay or Indonesian children training with AK-47 rifles and eloquently citing the Qur'an; while its publication featured articles on the significance of Ramadan, extoling jihad and martyrdom, and providing reports on developments in the "Caliphate". (6)

Given the impressive mobilization and creative use of propaganda, it is not surprising that ISIS managed to draw some recruits from Malaysia. By early 2017, which was probably the height of its Southeast Asian recruitment drive, the Malaysian authorities reported that about 95 Malaysians had travelled to Syria and Iraq, including around ten families. (7) Of these, 30 individuals are believed to have been killed in action. ISIS accommodated its Southeast Asian members in a special unit called Katibah Nusantara located in al-Shadadi, al-Hasakah province of northeast Syria. There, Southeast Asians were provided lessons in Arabic, military training, as well as religious instruction meant to legitimize the ongoing ISIS jihad. From there, the men would be deployed to the front line as soldiers, suicide bombers or guards. (8) ISIS subsidiaries in Southeast Asia also claimed to have established a wilayat (province] in the Southern Philippines, initially under the regional leadership of the Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon (who was killed in the 2017 Marawi conflict), although it was never proven to have been formally endorsed by the central ISIS leadership in Syria. In the event, Malaysians, including those from the eastern state of Sabah which has traditionally been linked to Filipino militants, joined these pro-ISIS groups in the Philippines. (9)

ISIS supporters and sympathizers in Malaysia were mainly recruited online through social media and came from diverse socioeconomic and professional backgrounds, such as teachers, security guards, university lecturers, traders and doctors, as well as from the Malaysian bureaucracy and armed forces. (10) Notably, many of the recruits from Malaysia did not have any, or much, formal religious training. Experts cited the desire to wage jihad, the re-establishment of the so-called Caliphate, and ISIS's success and legitimacy as factors that contributed to the recruitment of Malaysian fighters into ISIS. (11) Indeed, a notorious Malaysian member of ISIS, Muhammad Wanndy Jedi, justified his pledge of allegiance in an interview, stating: "I will not turn away from my duty to fight for the establishment of the Islamic State's Caliph leadership in preparing for the al-Mahdi's rule." (12)

Though the numbers of Malaysian recruits and sympathizers are an important data point on the seriousness of the threat, on their own these figures reveal very little about deeper questions regarding the extent of popular appeal that ISIS commands in Malaysia, or the conditions that might affect or feed it. Indeed, the figures could be interpreted as high or low, depending on whether the reference point is the proportion of recruits to the overall population of the country (low), or the number of ISIS supporters or sympathizers compared to those affiliated with other terrorist groups such as Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (KMM) or Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) (high). Similarly, one could argue that the existence of a robust counterterrorism security infrastructure has kept the numbers of recruits and sympathizers low. The point to stress is that even when the critical success of counter-terrorism operations is duly acknowledged, a sole focus on it sheds insufficient light on the overall problem because it reveals little about the wider appeal of ISIS.

The Imperative of Counter-terrorism

Intuitively, the most obvious explanation for the seemingly low numbers of Malaysians who have joined or expressed support for ISIS is perhaps the strong security apparatus of the Malaysian state. Indeed, with a robust and well-developed national security-centric system dating back to the colonial era, Malaysia has been recognized for the efficiency of its preventive measures in relation to terrorism. (13) Hence, before discussing the role of legitimacy in understanding the appeal of ISIS in Malaysia, it is useful to first consider how counter-terrorism policies in Malaysia help curtail the seeding and spread of extremist ideas.

Confronted with a communist insurgency that broke out soon after the end of the Second World War, the colonial administration in British Malaya--and subsequently the government of the Malayan Federation--had to devise a counter-insurgency strategy that drew on colonial era socio-political, economic and legislative infrastructure. Given that the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) resorted to political violence, this strategy had to necessarily incorporate elements of counter-terrorism as well. Much of the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism approaches were targeted at the ethnic Chinese community from which most of the CPM members were recruited.

Malaysia's approach to counter-terrorism has always been rooted in its distinctively national context. (14) To deal with the threat, the imperative of security had to be coupled with developmental strategies that sought to address the root causes of inter-ethnic tensions, such as infrastructural development, political stability, integration programmes, economic reforms and security operations--all geared towards "winning the hearts and mind of the people". (15) Sources from within the Malaysian security apparatus emphasize that security was always meant to complement the national political agenda, wherein the army, police and intelligence agencies were trained at a national and local level as key players in nation building and in winning hearts and minds. Nevertheless, one critical piece of legislation that became a trademark of effective, hard counterterrorism strategy was the Internal Security Act (ISA). The ISA's first principle clearly stipulated that its purpose was to tackle any individual who acted or would likely act in "any manner prejudicial to the security of Malaysia". (16) Over the years, the ISA was amended approximately 20 times to deal with what the state conceived to be a wider spectrum of threats. However, under pressure from a growing chorus of opposition to the alleged abuse of the ISA to deal with legitimate political dissent, the law was abolished in 2011. As discussed below, a new security law was introduced to replace it, which purportedly limited the scope and reach of the security apparatus.

Refined over several decades of counter-insurgency, in the late 1980s traditional approaches to counter-terrorism were deployed to deal with the growing threat of religious extremism. Yet, because this gradual emergence of religious extremism was taking place alongside a wider societal process and expression of religious awakening that was partly driven and encouraged by the state, the security-centric approach had to be tightly coupled with a holistic reformation and legislation of all religious institutions, such as Islamic schools. (17) Not surprisingly, the main Malay-centric political parties in the country, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the Malaysian Islamic Party (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, PAS), encountered difficulties in striking a balance between the national codification of Islamic governance and strictures on the one hand, and the de-legitimation of extremist elements claiming to champion "authentic" Islam on the other. The situation was further compounded by the fact that while racial issues remain at the core of the nation-building conundrum in Malaysia, the politicization of Islam in the country also accentuated class cleavages. This emerged as an increasingly contentious issue within the Malay community, as it appeared that the political redistribution of social goods among Malays was conditioned upon various degrees of Islamization.

Specific to the threat posed by ISIS, and in lieu of the removal of the ISA from the suite of counter-terrorism tools available to the state, Malaysian authorities made use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) and the Prevention of Crime Act (POCA). Former Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Musa Hassan mentioned that POTA is primarily a tool for the preservation of racial harmony in Malaysia, a point emphasized by former-UMNO Supreme Council member Mukhriz Tun Mahathir. (18) The stipulated purpose of SOSMA was to address security offenses that are "prejudicial to national security and public safety", which were amended to include activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy. In line with the punitive approach of the ISA, POTA and SOSMA stipulate harsh punishments for suspected individuals, including preventive detention ranging from 28 days to two years for publishing and distributing materials deemed injurious to national harmony. Between 2013 and late 2017, 101 of approximately 346 detained suspects were convicted under the Penal Code, with 44 charged under POCA and 26 charged under POTA. (19) Ayob Khan, the Principal Assistant Director of the Bukit Aman Counter Terrorism Division, highlighted that both POTA and SOSMA helped prevent a total of 23 attempted terrorist attacks in Malaysia between 2013 and mid-2018. (20)

Conceptualizing Legitimacy for Malay-Muslims

Focusing on punitive measures alone tells only half the story. The question of why ISIS's support base in Malaysia is low also needs to be understood through the lens of legitimacy. This is because through its propaganda and their underlying narratives, ISIS is seeking legitimation by claiming that they represent "authentic" religious authority, especially in their robust resistance against forces that are disempowering Muslims worldwide. In his discussion of the underpinnings of modern-day citizenship, Italo Pardo conceptualizes legitimacy as firmly dependent on social processes. Accordingly he claims that power, law and authority in a society are not processes external to it, but rather intrinsic to it, constantly relying on the continuous negotiation of values and codes between individuals and their context, or the wider structural setting. (21) Importantly, Pardo highlights that such moral values underpinning legitimacy are not rigid, instead being constantly configured and re-configured based on the interactions between individuals themselves, and between individuals and political elites. (22) In essence, central to political authority and social trust, legitimacy is contingent on the culturally specific interactions between tangible aspects of existence and moral, symbolic and spiritual ones in the ways people define their motives, make choices and interact with others. Armando Salvatore conceptualizes legitimacy--as well as power and authority--in a similar fashion, in the context of Islam and civilizational paradigms. According to him:
The way power is exercised and legitimized is in turn dependent on
[such] traditions: i.e. on the codes of legitimacy elaborated by
cultural elites, but also on the concrete, everyday judgement of
citizens... The dialectic of power and knowledge is therefore specific
to each civilizational context. (23)

In light of this, the legitimacy of Malay-Muslim religiopolitical leadership in Malaysia must be understood as directly related to the constantly evolving cultural repertoires of the Malay-Muslim community. Indeed, in more recent times, Islam emerged as central to the development of contemporary Malay-Muslim legitimacy. However, given the complexity of legitimacy as a social phenomenon, it is important to recognize that the centrality of Islam in the negotiation of authority and identity in Malaysia occurs solely for the Malay community and in the context of a deeply racialized national fabric. As such, it must be acknowledged that Malaysia's Malay-Muslim elite adopted Islam as a political language for two interrelated reasons. First, the peculiar social fabric of Malaysia and the escalation of inter-ethnic tensions made such claims to autonomy relevant at the level of both the individual and the community, though it has always played a prominent role in Malay identity construction. Second, the Islamic character of Malay identity has gained new meaning since the 1970s as a consequence of broader international socio-political trends which, rooted in postcolonial thought, gave rise to important claims to cultural, political and economic autonomy across Muslim societies worldwide. (24)

As such, the growing role of Islam as a signifier of Malay identity and in designating legitimacy in the context of Malay politics did not evolve in a linear fashion. Instead it was a process shaped by national social and political realities. Therein lies the rub: while narratives propounded by ISIS do resonate at some level with the political discourse of Islamism in Malaysia, this resonance is mostly evident at the level of abstractions of universal Islamic signifiers. On closer investigation, the picture of ISIS's legitimacy for Malay Muslims is far murkier, and far more dissonant. In order to understand the implications of this dissonance, it is important to consider the tension between the universality of (Islamic) signifiers and uniqueness of (Muslim) contexts. According to Shahab Ahmed, a disconnect between signifiers and context is evident, and is rooted in the manner to which the hermeneutical engagement of Muslims in relation to the Revelation of the Prophet Muhammad is one's act of meaning-making for themselves. To explain this, Ahmad draws on the notion of Con-Text, defined as a "heterogeneous totality of the historical product of previous hermeneutical engagement", to encompass the "entire storehouse of means and meanings of Islam that are under ongoing production" and in dynamic correlation with each other. (25) The main point to stress from Ahmad's work is that in order to draw a necessary analytical distinction between Islam's abstract universalistic appeal, and the cultural and historical diversity evident among (and within) Muslim societies, it has to be understood that while Con-Text stands for the totality of Islamic expressions in whatever form, it should not be assumed that this totality exists at any specific place or time. Rather, this totality is "a historical and social matter, differentiatedly present in different contexts"--therefore, placing Con-Text in context. (26)

As such, the local imaginaries, moral and social values, as well as the patterns and mechanisms of social organization in Malaysia inform a unique configuration of Islam, one that is contingent upon the socio-political and historical setting of the country and its society. Therefore, the dynamics underpinning Islamic legitimacy, power and authority in Malaysia differ not only from those underpinning the legitimacy of ISIS, but from those of any other Islamic actors around the world. In other words, in the empirical study of Muslim societies, the abstract universality of the faith would have to cede to its particularistic and context-dependent practice. The resonance of ISIS narratives to a Malaysian audience was therefore diminished by the fact that, for reasons either of ignorance, neglect or miscalculation, they prioritized the universal over the particularistic. In most of ISIS's propaganda directed at Malay Muslims, the group did not make any reference to the racialized realities and struggles of Malay Muslims, an aspect which, as we argue in subsequent sections, is essential for legitimacy.

Underpinnings of Legitimacy: Malay Particularism versus ISIS Universalism

Missing the Trees for the Forest: What Matters for Malay-Muslim Empowerment

Most Muslims in Malaysia are ethnic Malays. In fact, ever since the top-down Islamization of the state that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad initiated in the early 1980s, the terms Malay and Muslim have been used interchangeably, even in academic writing. As the contemporary reality of Malay-Muslims is increasingly defined by Islamic values and repertoires, scholars and analysts can easily misinterpret such shifts as symptomatic of the decreasing relevance of ethnic identities in Malaysian politics. Yet, to the contrary, the national political and socio-economic context in Malaysia underscores race and ethnicity as foundational paradigms of both the Malaysian state and Malaysian identity. Fundamentally, the Islamic factor--constitutionally stipulated as one of the three signifiers of ethnic Malay identity--emerged as a pillar of support for the Malay empowerment agenda. (27) This point has been underscored by Michael Barr and Anantha Raman Govindasamy, who emphasize that the transition in the Malaysian political discourse from an ethnic-centric to a religion-centric agenda is not linear and unidirectional, but a complex socio-political phenomenon meant to reinforce ethno-religious nationalism in Malaysia:
We contend that it is misleading to regard Malaysia's Islamization
program either as a simple extension of old ethnic nationalist agendas
or as a new project in its own right, but that it should rather be
regarded as a tool in the service of that ethnic agenda--a program of
hegemony designed to reinforce Malay occupation at the heart of
Malaysia's nation-building project and to condition non-Malays and
non-Muslims to accept their assimilation into the Malaysian nation as
subordinate, peripheral partners. (28)

Ethno-religious nationalism in Malaysia has deep roots, traceable to the idea of the collective identity of commoner Malays as it gained ground in opposition to kejaraan (the Malay aristocracy) and in response to the British stereotypes of Malays as backward, disoriented and decadent. (29) Championed in the writings of Munshi Abdullah and Mohammed Eunos, references to Malay identity became more prevalent in the early twentieth century when British imports of Chinese and Indian labourers into the Malay Peninsula intensified. It is these changing demographics that informed the conceptualization and politicization of Malay identity at the time. As such, the Malay bangsa (race), the key signifier used at the time, gained ground and soon became firmly rooted in economic considerations, albeit with cultural undertones. (30)

The New Economic Policy, which emerged as the key bumiputera (sons of the soil, referring to indigenous ethnic groups of which the Malays are the largest) empowerment agenda following the 1969 race riots, have further hastened inter-ethnic dissent in Malaysian society. An example of the cultural and political hegemony of the Malays is the implementation of Malay as the national language, as well as a compulsory subject in schools in 1967. This move enabled the government to draw the contours of a national educational system, which was founded on political and economic considerations, namely, the erosion of ethnic Chinese influence. (31) Mah Hui Lim emphasized that the sense of frustration experienced by the Indians, and especially the Chinese, manifested through the increased rigidity of inter-ethnic boundaries, wherein the cultural heritage becomes a key repository of societal recognition. (32) In an attempt to mellow the discourse of ethnic hierarchization, Islam emerged as the quintessential qualifier for the primacy of the Malays and the key pillar of the bumiputera policy. This phenomenon was best captured in the work of Alice M. Nah, who documented the relationship between Malay-Muslims and Orang Asli (indigenous tribes). (33) According to her, the "new Self" of the Malay-Muslims demanded the Orang Asli to become Muslim in order to qualify for the bumiputera status, essentially defined as indigeneity. (34) As such, Nah highlights that indigeneity implying allegiance to Islam is a modern construction meant to bolster current affirmative policies granted to bumiputera groups, particularly the Malays. In line with this, Mah emphasizes that the growing class-based division among the Malays serves as a key incentive for lower and middle-class individuals to express themselves through "fundamentalist religious movements". (35)

Perhaps the most vivid testimony of the persistent relevance of Malay identity is the robust political project initiated by Prime Minister Mahathir to redefine the quintessential characteristics of Malayness, which coincided with the process of Islamization of Malay society. Mahathir called for a paradigm shift concerning the representation of the Malay individual, blaming British colonizers for the deeply entrenched stereotypes that in some ways still bedevil Malay society:
The labels which were attached to the Malays referred to nature's
gentlemen and spoke of them as farmers and fishermen, essentially rural
people, content with the simple pleasures of life and unfitted for
competitive struggle in the modern world. As people they were perceived
to be cheerful, modest, unassuming, friendly, hospitable, fond of
sports and, above all, deferential. (36)

This paradigm shift entailed the social institutionalization of Melayu Baru (the new Malay), implying an identity that made heavy reference to the cultural characteristics most relevant to Mahathir's vision of Malaysia as a developed nation. Emphasis was set on the Malays as a nation of traders, unlike the British-originated stereotypes of the Malay people as peasants. According to Mahathir's revised narrative, Malays were adventurous, accomplished entrepreneurs, endowed with natural leadership qualities, ingenuous and proud of their achievements and cultural heritage. (37) All this is to say that given longstanding anxieties borne of caricatures and stereotypes mentioned above, the development of Malaysia as a nation-state was intimately linked to the development of Malay identity and active promotion of cultural and political superiority of the Malays. For the Malay-Muslims then, legitimacy would be bestowed most readily to those who championed these interests.

ISIS's Universalistic Narratives

ISIS completely ignored the Malay dimension of Malay-Muslim identity. On 20 June 2016, during the month of Ramadan, ISIS released Al-Fatihin, its first newspaper dedicated to a Southeast Asian audience. While the official language of the publication was meant to be Malay, analysts noted that the choice of spelling and a significant part of the vocabulary was, in fact, Indonesian. While Malay is similar to Indonesian, and Malaysian supporters and sympathizers would effortlessly understand the content, the linguistic distinction is an important political statement dating back to the colonial period. In fact, the difference between Malay and Indonesian was key to clearly defining the boundaries between the two nations in Southeast Asia. Indonesian is a fundamentally modern language which emerged to socially and culturally institutionalize the primacy of the nation-state. (38) Of relevance here is the fact that, following the release of Al-Fatihin's first edition, the publication was discontinued for approximately two years. It re-emerged in April 2018 as an exclusively Indonesian publication, thereby suggesting a possible decrease in readership (hence, interest) of Malaysian Muslims for ISIS.

Yet, more important than these linguistic discrepancies, Al-Fatihin's first edition focused its reportage almost exclusively on the political situation in the Middle East, with a special focus on the interaction between ISIS and the countries and the factions involved in the conflict. In its news section, the publication outlined in chronological fashion key military and political events, which mainly included US and Russian strikes, fights with Kurdish groups and bombings and attacks in Iraq and Syria. Out of the approximately 50 news items listed, only one pertained to Southeast Asia, namely, ISIS developments in the Philippines. (39) In fact, absent from Al-Fatihin or ISIS's flagship online magazine Dabiq was any attempt to reference issues of relevance--whether real or perceived--to the immediate interests of the Malay-Muslim community in Malaysia. Instead, ISIS's Middle East-centric focus, and its vitriol against America and Western powers, make reference to the idea of a unified ummah, wherein an individual's identity (and responsibility) as part of the universal brotherhood of believers overrides other individual bonds or group allegiances.

This propensity to conceive of an abstract, universal brotherhood of (Muslim) believers, captured in the oft-used but highly problematic notion of the Muslim "world", at the expense of a more finessed understanding of the contextual uniqueness of Muslim faith communities, has been the subject of extensive scholarly critique. Cemil Aydin traces the historical and political development of the idea of the Muslim world to colonialism, adding that Pan-Islamism, unlike Pan-Africanism and Pan-Asianism--ideas which emerged simultaneously --experienced a revival at the end of the Cold War: "The notion that Pan-Islamism represents authentic, ancient, repressed Muslim political values in revolt against global Westernisation and secularisation was initially a paranoid obsession of Western colonial officers, but recently it comes mainly from Islamists." (40) Similarly, writing on the Hajj pilgrimage, Faisal Devji emphasized how divisions based on ethnicity, nation-states and sects are key qualifiers informing the pilgrims' interaction with each other during the holy ritual. (41) The point is that the idea of a unified Muslim world is at once a political fabrication which anathematizes non-Muslims and a concept which is out of touch with the everyday socio-political reality of Muslims worldwide. It is for this reason that ISIS's appeal among Malaysians may have been limited. Rather than grand themes of Western political domination, key reasons for Malay Muslim anxieties are the historical social, political and economic competition mainly between Malays and Chinese.

The Legitimacy of Islamist Agendas: ISIS versus the Malaysian State

As mentioned in the previous section, the Islamization of Malaysia was carried out to support the Malay empowerment agenda. In time, references to Islam in relation to political legitimacy became more common, shadowing references to Malay supremacy. In this sense, this article claims that the steady Islamization of Malaysia and the strong claims to an authentic Islamic identity might lead Malay-Muslim individuals to resonate with ISIS's agenda. However, by reviewing the Malaysian state-driven efforts on the institutionalization of Islam, the denunciation of sectarian identities and the promotion of anti-Western narratives, all of them strongly related to the Malay empowerment agenda, this article argues that the Malaysian state remains the key actor of authority and legitimacy for Malay Muslims, to the detriment of ISIS. As such, we emphasize how the political, legal and economic institutionalization of Islam, the crackdown on the Shi'a community and the strong anti-Western sentiments were all carried out in the spirit of Malay empowerment, and how their steady implementation cast ISIS's claims to authenticity in doubt.

"Out-ISISing" ISIS Malaysian Style: Institutionalizing Islamization

A key aspect of ISIS's claim-to-fame was its capacity of setting up a Caliphate, an Islamic state. Along with the capture of territory and the demolition of the Sykes-Picot border which symbolized the modern state-based order in the Middle East, ISIS "steadily built its capacity to govern through the introduction of services such as policing, a shariah-based justice system, identity cards for residents, consumer watch programs, garbage collection, and day care centers". (42) Indeed, in his speech announcing the establishment of the Caliphate, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani emphasized the key aspects underscoring the legitimacy of the Islamic State:
Beneath it [the flag of the Islamic State], the walls of the tawaghit
(rulers claiming the rights of Allah) have been demolished... their
soldiers are either killed, imprisoned, or defeated. The Muslims are
honoured. The kuffar (infidels) are disgraced. Ahlus-Sunnah (the
Sunnis) are masters and are esteemed. The people of the bid'ah (heresy)
are humiliated. The hudud (Shari'a penalties) are implemented--the
hudud of Allah--all of them. The people in the lands of State move
about for their livelihood and journeys, feeling safe regarding their
lives and wealth. Wulat (governors) and judges have been appointed....
zakat (obligatory alms) have been collected. Courts have been
established to resolve disputes and complaints.... Lessons and classes
have been held in the masajid (mosques) and, by the grace of Allah, the
religion has become completely for Allah. (43)

By virtue of its Islamic signifiers, ISIS's Islamist agenda would resonate strongly with pious Muslims attempting to live righteously. Yet, as mentioned above, the particularism of each context sets a question mark on the universality of ISIS's claims. In their attempt to use Islam as the key pillar of Malay claims to supremacy, Malay political and religious elites have addressed and, in fact, institutionalized many of the Islamist policies outlined by ISIS. It is in this sense that ISIS's rhetoric does resonate strongly with Malay-Muslim's Islamist discourses. However, this article claims that the particularism of such discourses in relation to Malaysia's racialized political scene, as well as the consistent state-driven implementation of Islamist policies over the past 30 years, render the Malaysian state as a more legitimate actor than ISIS.

Since independence in 1957, Malaysia has been a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy. Even so, this has not prevented the evolution of narratives of governance that have taken on a distinctively ethnic and religious flavour. As the single largest and most influential political party in Malaysia's post-colonial history, UMNO was founded on the premise of Malay representation against fears of Chinese economic hegemony. UMNO's raison d'etre, as well as its determination to fulfill the predetermined ideal of postcolonial states of an essentialized secular and plural nation, informed its approach to political power through strategies that involved accommodation and compromise, particularly of minority interests. (44) Against this backdrop of racialized politics and UMNO's ostentatious postcolonial elitism, PAS emerged in 1952 as the leading opposition party which adopted Islam as the lingua franca of Malay-Muslim empowerment. Rooted in a long history of anticolonial mobilization, PAS's leadership of religious scholars and a membership of laymen and pondok (religious school) graduates signalled a political approach that is radically different from UMNO's, positioning the former as a mechanism of checks and balances on the establishment. (45) PAS remains the most vocal political actor in Malaysia calling for governance according to religious principles, championing the establishment of an Islamic state. According to the party, it is the duty of every Muslim to aspire to Islamic governance following the example of the Prophet Muhammad and the guidance of the Qur'an. While vehemently rejecting secularism, PAS is content to work within the nation-state framework, advocating the dismissal of the secular leadership of the country instead of a total demise of the contemporary political framework. PAS is also keen on implementing Shari'a, as well as hudud. (46) Given PAS's accommodation-and-compromise strategy, the pressures of an increasingly conservative PAS, the 1970s global political and cultural resurgence of Islam, and the change in leadership in the 1980s, UMNO underwent a remarkable Islamic makeover. As such, the relational configuration between PAS, UMNO and their affiliates, their power struggles, and the contextual factors which oversaw the shift in cultural repertoires, adjusted the boundaries of the Malaysian state to include a more Islamist outlook.

The Islamization race between PAS and UMNO quickly translated into a strong political, legal and economic Islamist infrastructure of the Malaysian state. Kerstin Steiner points out that Malaysia has one of the most extensive Islamic bureaucratic structures. Steadily growing and becoming more entrenched since independence, the Malaysian bureaucratic system reveals itself to be an intricate entity, with interacting and overlapping hierarchies of authority at the state and federal level. (47) For example, Yayasan Dakwah Islamiyah Malaysia (Islamic Dakwah Foundation of Malaysia, YADIM) was created in 1974 with the purpose of spreading the message of Islam and coordinating the activities of all non-governmental organizations. (48) Meanwhile, in order to centralize the Islamic initiatives of the state, Mahathir founded the Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM), whose key function was mainly advisory, involving the coordination of Islamic activities in the country, such as the production and dissemination of Friday sermons. The fact that JAKIM was given access to considerable resources for "training, education, research and policy consultation on Shari'a and Islamic information", and was also given the power to coordinate the interstate development of Islamic interpretive frameworks, thought and teaching in Malaysia illustrates the extent to which the state has prioritized Islamization of Malaysian society even as it has invested heavily in shaping the contours of this process. (49) So influential and controversial was JAKIM that the newly elected government of Pakatan Harapan (PH) in 2018 expressed its intention to reform it. While Prime Minister Mahathir noted JAKIM should stop portraying Islam as "cruel, harsh and unreasonable", conservative Malay Muslims challenged PH's stance, claiming that JAKIM safeguards Islam in the country and protects the Muslim community's interests. (50) Malaysia also managed to excel in implementing a remarkably sophisticated Islamic economic system. (51) By the mid-1990s, the Malaysian state decided to couple Islamic economic principles with its agenda for economic development, often accused of being capitalistic and un-Islamic. Therefore, "Malaysia was innovating in all sectors of Islamic finance, including Islamic insurance, an Islamic debts market offering the world's first sukuk or Islamic bonds, and Islamic leasing contracts known as ijara." (52)

Efforts at Islamization have been extremely successful in the legal field as well. Arguably the single most "significant institution-building process" can be found in the upgrade of the power and jurisdiction of Shari'a courts in relation to the civil ones, wherein an amendment to Article 121 (1A) of the Federal Constitution stipulated that civil courts could no longer appeal or override a judgment made by a Shari'a court, even at the Federal Court level. (53) Since the late 1980s, Shari'a courts have expanded along with the emergence of a distinct body of legislation dealing with a range of issues from family laws to Islamic criminal codes. Against the background of the Islamization race between PAS and UMNO, the push for the widespread institutionalization of Shari'a also normalized discussions on hudud to an extent that sparked widespread consternation among non-Malay Malaysians. Hudud penalties are criminal punishments prescribed by the Qur'an and the Sunnah (oral Islamic tradition), which include the amputation of hands and limbs for robbery, and stoning to death for adultery. Ahmad Fauzi emphasizes that, though hudud in Malaysia had historically been a defining feature of PAS's rhetoric, eventually "UMNO wrested the initiative to raise the possibility of implementing hudud". (54)

The increasingly Islamist nuances of the Malaysian state exacerbated already existing ethnic and racial tensions. In this sense, the directly proportionate relationship between increasing state-led Islamization and the surge in inter-ethnic and racial tensions highlights the interdependence of Islam and ethnicity/race in Malaysia. In his analysis of the constitution of Islam in Malaysia, Tamir Moustafa notes that the judicialization of religion had the effect of increasing the rigidity of official designations of ethnicity and race, i.e. Malay, Chinese and Indian. (55) This further underscores the point that Islamization alone, taken out of the racialized context of Malaysia, is not a legitimate political process. In a 2011 survey of 1,013 respondents, the Malaysia-based Merdeka Center for Opinion Research revealed that public confidence in the improvement of inter-ethnic relations was on the decline. The survey highlighted that only 36 per cent believed people of different races were getting closer to each other, down from 64 per cent in 2006. Moreover, 60 per cent of Malays confessed to distrusting Chinese Malaysians, while 42 per cent of the Chinese interviewees expressed distrust of Malays. Finally, 55 per cent of the individuals interviewed mentioned that race and religion remain sensitive issues which could not be publicly discussed. (56) This polarization was brought home in devastating fashion when the "Allah controversy" illustrated how ethno-religious nationalism regulates everyday interactions between individuals, clearly demarcating social hierarchies of power and status. In brief, through a series of painstaking judicial decisions and reviews, the Catholic Church in Malaysia was denied the use of the word "Allah" as a signifier for God in Christian bibles or any other rituals and references. (57) While Christian usage of the word has been documented in Malaysia for centuries, the state's decision to legally institutionalize the word "Allah" as uniquely Muslim marked a new political era in Malaysia. Rather than a distinctively religious motivation, the Malaysian Court's decision is rooted in the role Islam plays as "an integral part of ethnic identity" and a tool "used to control the boundaries between one ethnic group and others", appealing to "ideas of ethnic exclusivity rather than universality claims commonly associated with the religion". (58)

Another important example of how the persistence of ethnic anxieties among the Malays found expression in religious actions, especially among the more religiously conservative sections of the community, is the voting pattern of the Malay belt (the Northern states of Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu) during the 2018 General Elections. While these areas have historically constituted UMNO's stronghold, corruption scandals led to a decline in favourable perceptions of UMNO in these areas. Yet, the Malay belt pledged its allegiance to PAS, rather than the incumbent PH coalition led by the longstanding champion of Malay rights, Prime Minister Mahathir. (59) According to Anwar Ibrahim, the de facto leader of PH, the key reason behind this choice is conservative Malays' deep distrust of PH's multiracial and multiethnic agenda. (60) Incidentally, PAS left the then-opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PH's predecessor), because of differences over issues pertaining to the role of religion in governance and public life. Particularly, Abdul Hadi Awang, the president of PAS, mentioned in 2016 that the Democratic Action Party's (DAP, then a fellow member of the opposition alliance) opposition to the RU335 amendment--also known as the Hudud Implementation Bill--was "anti-Islam", "hostile towards Islam" and that the party had "no manners towards Muslims". (61) Needless to say, that PAS would see the DAP as a threat to Islam in Malaysia is a consequence of precisely the process of polarization described above.

"Out-ISISing" ISIS Malaysian Style: Sectarianism

The efforts undertaken to centralize Islamization in Malaysia also entailed a regulation of Islam itself. In 1996, the Fatwa Committee of the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs overturned a 1984 ruling which had recognized the Ja'fari and Zaidi Shi'a schools of thought. In a non-binding fatwa, the committee's decision to ban the Ja'fari and Zaidi beliefs and practices entailed a ban on their publications and broadcasting. In turn, the fatwa demanded that Muslims in Malaysia would follow only orthodox Sunni Islam. (62) Arvin-Pal Mandair and Markus Dressier define "religious-making" as "the reification and reinstitutionalization of certain ideas, social formations, and practices as religious in the conventional Western meaning of the term, thereby subordinating them to a particular knowledge regime of religion and its political, cultural, philosophical, and historical interventions". (63) Although their conceptualization is related to religion in a generic sense, the reification of the very meaning of Islam in Malaysia falls within the same paradigms of cultural and political subordination. In this sense, the political agenda of Islamization demanded a clearly defined and cohesive Muslim community, wherein the existence of deviant actors would not only negatively impact the effective implementation of such an agenda, but would also delegitimize Islamic authority in Sunni-majority Malaysia. (64) Along these lines, Joseph Liow highlights how "the prejudice of established authority" projected the issue of Shi'a deviancy as a national security threat; tellingly, Shi'a Muslims have been prosecuted under the ISA rather than Shari'a courts. (65) Needless to say, the strict regulation of Islam in relation to the deviancy of certain sects is another key area where state discourses in Malaysia overlap with ISIS. In many of its publications, ISIS refers to Shi'a as mushrikin (polytheists). Drawing on historical narratives, ISIS calls for brutal violence against the mushrikin: "Rasulullah... was the sword against the mushrikin, and his greatest companion, Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, was the sword against the murtaddin (apostates)... Where is this sword today to strike the necks of those apostate imams so as to deter them from kufr (unbelief) and zanqadah (heresy)?" (66) While ISIS's definition of deviation is far more expansive than the Malaysian state's, and the methods employed to penalize them are more brutal, the strategic purpose is the same: the regulation of religion through the drawing of heretic boundaries in order to augment the legitimacy of the prevailing authority. Yet at the same time, it is because of this overlap that the currency of the ISIS narrative is diminished in terms of its influence, portending a radical shift in outlook and its claim to religious authenticity.

"Out-ISISing" ISIS Malaysian Style: De-"Westoxifying" Malay-Muslim Politics

Another important factor that dilutes the appeal of ISIS in Malaysia was the fact that the steady socio-political Islamization of the Malaysian state structures was expressed in terms that contested Western narratives of domination. For ISIS, this particular agenda represents the organization's raison d'etre. A brief review of ISIS's official publication, Dabiq, reveals a plethora of anti-colonial and anti-Western discourses. In the first iteration of Dabiq, ISIS announced the establishment of the Caliphate in typical anti-colonial fashion:
The time has come for those generations that were drowning in oceans of
disgrace, being nursed on the milk of humiliation, and being ruled by
the vilest of all people, after their long slumber in the darkness of
neglect--the time has come for them to rise. (67)

Even more telling was a statement addressed to Western societies which elaborated the reasons why ISIS is so vehemently anti-West:
We hate you because your secular, liberal societies permit the very
things that Allah has prohibited while banning many of the things He
has permitted, a matter that doesn't concern you because you separate
between religion and state, thereby granting supreme authority to your
whims and desires via the legislators you vote into power. In doing so,
you desire to rob Allah of His right to be obeyed and you wish to usurp
that right for yourself. 'Legislation is not but Allah' (Yusuf 40)....
we wage war against you to stop you from spreading your disbelief and
debauchery--your secularism and nationalism, your perverted liberal
values, your Christianity and atheism--all the depravity and corruption
they entail. (68)

Yet, such profound dislike for Western structures of knowledge has been present in Malaysia's political discourse since the colonial era. Nevertheless, it gathered pace under the leadership of Mahathir in the 1980s. Mahathir's election as prime minister in 1981 institutionalized dissent against the imposition of Western norms, ideas and worldviews. Goh Beng Lan highlights that the transformation the country underwent during the Mahathir era "valorized and re-scripted" tradition and Islam into "new mindsets, ethnic identifications, and grandiose urban built forms to express new national sensibilities that are responsive to market instrumentalities". (69) As such, even as the bumiputera empowerment agenda was feeding off the global acceleration of economic growth and development predicated on neoliberal principles, Mahathir resisted the logic that economic modernization also implicated a "hierarchical set of meanings" that were meant to portray the West as the model according to which all countries would be judged. (70) Mahathir's anti-Western rhetoric gained widespread popularity as part of a wider Malay-Muslim empowerment agenda for how it challenged historical and economic structures of domination and subordination. Most notable (and visible) was Mahathir's trenchant criticism of the notion of universal human rights, which he often lambasted as little more than an expression of Western ethnocentrism. In light of this, UMNO sought to balance out its developmentalist agenda with projections of Malaysia as an Islamic state, leading to repeated emphasis on declaring Malaysia an Islamic state. This catalyzed widespread discussion in the public sphere of whether, and how, Malaysia was an Islamic state in the cultural, jurisprudential and political sense. Of note is the fact that in cyberspace, this debate betrayed a schism between English language blogs that mostly resisted such claims, and Malay language blogs that not only reinforced and defended them, but also criticized the government for not being Islamic enough. (71)

In response, one of the most remarkable steps taken by UMNO in the attempt to buttress its Islamic credentials was the co-option into the party of Salafism, a puritanical movement within Islam whose outlooks, worldviews and discourses tended to mirror those associated with ISIS. Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman provides a comprehensive contextualization of such a "marriage of convenience". He argues that, despite the fact that the Salafis are perceived fairly negatively by the majority traditionalist and Sufi-oriented individuals in Malaysia, many UMNO leaders saw collaboration with them as an opportunity to boost their Islamic legitimacy. Indeed, the Salafi scholars in UMNO, themselves members of a non-governmental organization, Pertubuhan Ilmuwan Malaysian (Association of Malaysian Scholars, ILMU), emphasized that Malaysia was already an Islamic state, given that the call to prayer can be heard and political power lies in the hands of Muslims. Most significantly, Salafi scholars in UMNO, "citing Prophet Muhammad, who said it is un-Islamic for a Muslim community to be led by more than one leader", noted that "Muslims in Malaysia cannot oppose the government" since the head of state is a Muslim. (72) Such discourse, coupled with the strong support from the Malay community for UMNO's Islamization, does reveal an overlapping range of rhetoric and practices between ISIS and Malaysian state actors, even if they differed over the means through which the end of an Islamic state was to be brought into being.

Equally pertinent, because of this consonance between the objectives of ISIS and of Islamists in the Malaysian government, the fact that they differ in their perspectives of the means to this end plausibly suggests a Malaysian "alternative" to the path of political violence as advocated by ISIS. Not surprisingly, unlike many of the Muslim-majority states called out by ISIS for their alleged apostasy, such as Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia and Libya, Malaysia fares well in terms of its political legitimacy vis-a-vis Islamic governance. Most importantly, the fact that the process of Islamization is intimately intertwined with the Malay empowerment agenda provides the Malaysian government with a higher degree of legitimacy in the eyes of Malay-Muslims, thereby diminishing the appeal of the ISIS narrative.


Many, including the authors, have argued that the ISIS phenomenon in Malaysia paralleled--or could even be construed to be a consequence of--the increasingly exclusionary and divisive character that the Islamization process in Malaysian society has taken. (73) Yet the question remains: why then has the ISIS narrative not been able to garner even greater sympathy and support than it has in Malaysia?

At first sight, this could be attributed to the success of state counter-terrorism initiatives. Indeed, sound counter-terrorism strategies do play a crucial role in dealing with the challenges posed by extremism and terrorism. Yet counter-terrorism operations deal with the manifestation of extremism. As for questions of why and how extremist sentiments may or may not take root, counter-terrorism efforts offer little by way of explanatory power no matter how successful these operations are. This article has argued that while the emergence of conservative exclusivist and divisive Islamist discourses in Malaysia could lead--and certainly to some extent has led--to greater sympathy for ISIS, the terrorist organization has largely been unable to cast its narrative in terms that speak to immediate concerns of Malaysians. The consequence of this silence has been its inability to win widespread support in Malaysia for its claims of legitimacy. This is particularly so because the basis for these claims run up against a brand of Islamism in Malaysia that is already actively championing not merely the empowerment of Malay-Muslim society, but giving primacy to their religious identities and interests. This is evident in the legitimation of Islamist activism as a key pillar of support for the Malay-Muslim empowerment agenda in the context of Malaysia's racially fragmented social fabric, and a critical tool for regulating the parameters of Westernization and "right" Islam practised in Malaysia. Indeed, the ISIS narrative speaks little to one central feature that defines the Malaysian milieu: the role of Islam and Muslim identity in bolstering Malay-Muslim claims to political primacy and empowerment, which in the Malaysian case in fact contradicts the prevailing ISIS narrative of Muslim weakness. In the same manner, while the ISIS narrative is decidedly anti-Western and designed to challenge Western conceptions of modernity (ironically, through the extensive use of social media platforms), the ongoing debate in Malaysia over the identity and character of the Melayu Baru as both a modern yet traditionally rooted expression of Islamic identity in contradistinction to "Westernization" suggests again that the narrative is not only already in full play in Malaysian society but also diverges considerably from that which underpins the presumptive "Caliphate".

In Malaysia, conditions confronting Muslims are markedly different from those that beset Muslim communities in Europe or North Africa, where cultural and economic dislocation prevail. As this article has shown, Muslims in Malaysia have been beneficiaries not only of state-sanctioned affirmative action, they have also profited from state-manufactured narratives of ethnoreligious primacy. Indeed, religion has evolved into an essential pillar of Malaysia's socio-politics and a key marker and trigger for social and political mobilization in Malaysia, and its currency lies in the fact that it is imbricated with the ethnic, racial, economic and political makeup of the country and its history. ISIS narratives have been silent on these issues, and their appeal has been blunted as a result. Compared to ISIS, the Malaysian state has been in a much better position to advance an empowerment agenda for Malaysian Muslims because of the resources and cultural repertoires at its disposal. Because of this, although there will be pockets of sympathy for the plight of marginalized Muslims that ISIS purports to champion--thereby accounting for some Malaysians who have supported the terrorist organization--this resonance is diminished by Malaysian realities. These realities have been constructed around a carefully cultivated hierarchical narrative of Malay-Muslim primacy that shapes the appeal of the Muslim empowerment agenda as articulated by the Malaysian state, championed by vocal Islamist voices (both within and outside of the establishment) and underpinned by an active and engaged Muslim civil society.


JOSEPH CHINYONG LIOW is Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and Professor of Comparative and International Politics, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Postal address: HSS-05-60A, College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, 14 Nanyang Drive, Singapore 637332; email:

AIDA AROSOAIE is a doctoral candidate in cultural anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the United States. Postal address: Rm 5127, 1180 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI53706, United States; email:

DOI: 10.1355/cs41-1e


(1) Greg Fealy and John Funston, "Indonesian and Malaysian Support for the Islamic State", United States Agency for International Development, January 2016, available at <>.

(2) Kirsten E. Schulze and Joseph Chinyong Liow, "Making Jihadis, Waging Jihad: Transnational and Local Dimensions of the ISIS Phenomenon in Indonesia and Malaysia", Asian Security, 5 February 2018, available at <>.

(3) See Joseph Chinyong Liow, Piety and Politics: Islamism in Contemporary Malaysia (New York City, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); James Chin, "Clear and Present Danger from the Islamic State", Brookings Opinion, 16 December 2015, available at <>; Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, "The Extensive Salaflzation of Malaysian Islam", ISEAS Trends in Southeast Asia 9 (July 2016); Greg Fealy and John Funston, "Indonesian and Malaysian Support for the Islamic State", United States Agency for International Development, January 2016, available at <>.

(4) Will McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State (New York City, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2015); Abdel Baari Atwan, Islamic State: Digital Caliphate (London, UK: Saqi Books, 2015); Aida Arosoaie, "In the Name of Honour and Freedom: The Sacred as a Justifying Tool for ISIS and Secular Freedom", Culture and Religion 18, no. 3 (August 2017): 278-95; Ahmed Hashim, The Caliphate at War: The Ideological, Organisational, and Military Innovations of the Islamic State (London, UK: Hurst Publishers, 2018).

(5) The term hijrah refers to the migration that Prophet Muhammad and his companions undertook from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE, also the first year of the Islamic calendar. For a Muslim, undertaking the hijrah implies a willingness to sacrifice in the name of one's faith and a refusal to relinquish hope in the face of oppression. For more on this, see The Online Oxford Dictionary of Islam, available at <> (accessed 20 August 2018).

(6) Remy Mahzam, "Children in ISIS Nusantara Media Outreach", RSIS Commentaries 166 (1 July 2016), available at <>; Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq Jani, "Al-Fatihin: Islamic State's First Malay Language Newspaper", RSIS Commentaries 155 (23 June 2016), available at <>.

(7) Logan Connor, "Over 200 Malaysians Reportedly Detained for Suspected Ties with ISIS", Southeast Asia Globe, 22 March 2017, available at <>.

(8) The Soufan Group, "Foreign Fighters: An Updated Assessment of the Flow of Foreign Fighters into Syria and Iraq", The Soufan Group, December 2015, available at <>.

(9) Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, "Pro-ISIS Groups in Mindanao and Their Links to Indonesia and Malaysia", IPAC Report 33 (25 October 2016), available at <>.

10 "70 Army Personnel Found Involved with ISIS: Malaysian Parliament Told", Straits Times, 13 April 2015.

(11) Fealy and Funston, "Indonesian and Malaysian Support for the Islamic State", op. cit.

(12) "From Syria, Malaysian Jihadist Gives Reasons for Joining IS", BenarNews, 11 September 2016, available at <>.

(13) United States Department of State, "Malaysia", Country Reports on Terrorism 2017, United States Department of State Publication, Bureau of Counterterrorism, September 2018, available at <>.

(14) Pamela H. Fabe Amparo, "Malaysia's Counterterrorism Policy", in The Palgrave Handbook of Global Counterterrorism Policy, edited by Scott Nicholas Romaniuk et. al. (London UK: Palgrave MacMillan, 2017), pp. 771-82.

(15) Hansy bin Mohamed Salleh, "War against Terrorism: Malaysia's Experience in Defeating Terrorism", US Army College Research Project, Master of Strategic Studies Dissertation, 2007, available at <>.

(16) Ibid.

(17) Examples of this include the reformation of Islamic education institutions in 1977, when the government coalesced State Religious Schools and People's Religious Schools into the National Religious Secondary Schools with a fixed Islamic curricula, and the expansion and federal empowerment establishment of the Shari'a courts.

18 "Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA): A Closer Look at the Pros and Cons", Malaysian Digest, 11 August 2015, available at <


(19) Sumisha Naidu, "Surge in Malaysia's Islamic State-linked Arrests: Official Explains Anti-terror Strategy", Channel NewsAsia, 19 October 2017, available at <>.

(20) Amrizan Madian and Muhammad Afiq Mohd Asri, "Remember What Happened After ISA Repeal, ex-IGP says on Sosma", Malaysiakini, 28 July 2018, available at <>.

(21) Italo Pardo, "Introduction--Morals of Legitimacy: Interplay between Responsibility, Authority, and Trust", in Morals of Legitimacy: Between Agency and System, edited by Italo Pardo (New York City, New York: Berhahn Books, 2000), pp. 1-26.

(22) Ibid., p. 9.

(23) Armando Salvatore, Sociology of Islam: Knowledge, Power, Civility (New York City, New York: Wiley, 2016), pp. 23-24.

(24) Judith Nagata, The Reflowering of Malaysian Islam: Modern Religious Radicals and Their Roots (Vancouver, Canada: University of British Columbia Press, 1984).

(25) Shahab Ahmad, What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016), p. 360.

(26) Ibid., p. 361.

(27) Article 160 of the Malaysian constitution defines a "Malay" as a person who professes the religion of Islam, follows Malay customs and speaks the Malay language.

(28) Michael D. Barr and Anantha Raman Govindasamy, "The Islamisation of Malaysia: Religious Nationalism in the Service of Ethnonationalism", Australian Journal of International Affairs 64, no. 3 (May 2010): 294-95.

(29) Lian Kwen Fee, "The Construction of Malay Identity Across Nations: Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia", Bijdragen tot de Lande-, Taal- en Volkenkunde [Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia and Oceania] 157, no. 4 (October 2001): 864-65.

(30) Ibid., p. 876.

(31) Lim Mah Hui, "Affirmative Action, Ethnicity, and Integration: The Case of Malaysia", Ethnic and Racial Studies 8, no. 2 (September 1985): 250-76.

(32) Ibid., p. 269.

(33) Alice M. Nah, "Negotiating Indigenous Identity in Postcolonial Malaysia: Beyond Being 'Not Quite/Not Malay'", Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation, and Culture 9, no. 4 (December 2003): 511-34.

(34) Ibid., p. 270.

(35) Lim, "Affirmative Action, Ethnicity, and Integration", op. cit., p. 268.

(36) C.W. Watson, "Reconstructing Malay Identity", Anthropology Today 12, no. 5 (October 1996): 10-14.

(37) Ibid., pp. 12-13.

(39) Webb Keane, "Knowing One's Place: National Language and the Idea of the Local in Eastern Indonesia", Cultural Anthropology 12, no. 1 (February 1997): 37-63.

(39) "Flash News A'maaq", Al Fatihin, Furat Media Company, Edisi 1, Ramadan 1437H (2016).

(40) Cemil Aydin, "What is the Muslim World", Aeon, 1 August 2018, available at <>.

(41) Faisal Devji, "Against Muslim Unity", Aeon, 12 July 2016, available at <>.

(42) Fawaz Gerges, ISIS: A History (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016), p. 41.

(43) Abu Muhammad Al-Shami Al-Adnani, "This is the Promise of Allah", 19 June 2014, available at <>.

(44) William Roff, The Origins of Malay Nationalism (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1966).

(45) Joseph Chinyong Liow, "Exigency or Expediency? Contextualising Political Islam and the PAS Challenge in Malaysian Politics", Third World Quarterly 25, no. 2 (March 2004): 359-72.

(46) Timothy P. Daniels, "Interplay of Shari'a Projects: Between Ketuanan Melayu, Islam, and Liberal Rights in Malaysia", in Sharia Dynamics: Islamic Law and Sociopolitical Processes, edited by Timothy P. Daniels (New York City, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2017), p. 148.

(47) Kerstin Steiner, "Branding Islam: Islam, Law, and Bureaucracies in Southeast Asia", Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs 37, no. 1 (June 2018): 27-56.

(48) Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, "The Islamic Conservative Turn in Malaysia: Impact and Future Trajectories", Contemporary Islam 11, no. 1 (November 2016): 7.

(49) Maznah Mohamed, "The Ascendance of Bureaucratic Islam and the Secularization of the Sharia in Malaysia", Pacific Affairs 83, no. 3 (September 2010): 513.

(50) Hazlin Hassan, "Malaysia's Most Powerful Islamic Body Faces Scrutiny", Straits Times, 18 June 2018.

(51) Jikon Lai, "Industrial Policy and Islamic Finance", New Political Economy 20, no. 2 (June 2014): 178-98.

(52) Patricia Sloane-White, "Working in the Islamic Economy: Shari-ization and the Malaysian Workplace", Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 26, no. 2 (October 2011): 306.

(53) Mohamed, "The Ascendance of Bureaucratic Islam", op. cit., p. 514.

(54) Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, "The Hudud Controversy in Malaysia: Religious Probity or Poitical Expediency?" in Southeast Asian Affairs 2015, edited by Daljit Singh (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2015), p. 209.

(55) Tamir Moustafa, Constituting Religion: Islam, Rights, and the Malaysian State (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018), p. 157.

(56) Chin, "Clear and Present Danger from the Islamic State", op. cit.

(57) Thomas Fuller, "The Right to Say 'God' Divides a Diverse Nation", New York Times, 3 November 2014.

(58) Jacelyn L. Neo, "What's in a Name? Malaysia's 'Allah' Controversy and the Judicial Intertwining of Islam with Ethnic Identity", International Journal of Constitutional Law 12, no. 3 (July 2014): 753, 767.

(59) Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, "Why PAS Surpassed Expectations in Malaysia's GE and is a New Forbearer of Politics", Today, 18 May 2018.

(60) Yudith Ho and Haslinda Amin, "Najib Must Face Malaysia Justice, Anwar says", Bloomberg, 18 May 2018, available at <

(61) Tabled by Hadi Awang himself for parliamentary discussion, the RU335 Bill was an effort to codify the Islamic penal code in Malaysia's legal milieu. Significantly, while they did not voice categorical support for the Bill, UMNO parliamentarians have not decried or rejected it. In fact, several UMNO parliamentarians have privately expressed support for it. See Arfa Yunus, "Hadi-DAP is a Party that Fights Against Islam", New Straits Times, 9 April 2018.

(62) Mohd Aiam bin Mas'od, "Diskusi Isu Aqidah dan Pemikiran Semasa di Malaysia" [Discussion on Aqidah and Contemporary Issues in Malaysia], Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (2013), available at <>.

(63) Arvin-Pal Mandair and Markus Dressier, "Introduction: Modernity, Religion-Making, and the Postsecular", in Secularism and Religion-Making, edited by Arvin-Pal Mandair and Markus Dressier (New York City, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 3.

(64) Dian A.H. Shah, Constitutions, Religion, and Politics in Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka (New York City, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017), p. 244.

(65) Liow, Piety and Politics, op. cit., p. 163.

(66) Islamic State, "The Extinction of the Grey Zone", Dabiq 7, 12 February 2015.

(67) Islamic State, "A New Era has Arrived of Might and Dignity for the Muslims", Dabiq 1, 5 July 2014.

(68) Islamic State, "Break the Cross", Dabiq 15, 31 July 2016.

(69) Goh Beng Lan, "Dilemma of Progressive Politics in Malaysia: Islamic Orthodoxy versus Human Rights", in Modernity in Question: Southeast Asian Perspectives, edited by Wendy Mee (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2012), p. 123.

(70) Ibid.

(71) Liow, Piety and Politics, op. cit., p. 143.

(72) Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, "Salafi Ulama in UMNO: Political Convergence or Expediency?", Contemporary Southeast Asia 36, no. 2 (August 2014): 216.

(73) Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman and Aida Arosoaie, "Jihad in the Bastion of 'Moderation': Understanding the Threat of ISIS in Malaysia", Asian Security, May 2018, available at <>; Schulze and Liow, "Making Jihadis, Waging Jihad", op. cit.
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Author:Liow, Joseph Chinyong; Arosoaie, Aida
Publication:Contemporary Southeast Asia
Geographic Code:9MALA
Date:Apr 1, 2019
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