Submitting to God: Women and Islam in Urban Malaysia

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by Sylva Frisk

In recent decades, Malaysia has been profoundly changed both by forces of globalization, modernization and industrialization, and by a strong Islamization process. Some would argue that the situation of Malay women has worsened but such a conclusion is challenged by this study of the everyday religious practice of pious women within Kuala Lumpur’s affluent, Malay middle class. Here, women play an active part in the Islamization process not only by heightened personal religiosity but also by organizing and participating in public programmes of religious education. By organizing new forms of collective ritual and assuming new public roles as religious teachers, these religiously educated women are transforming the traditionally male-dominated gendered space of the mosque and breaking men’s monopoly over positions of religious authority. Exploring this situation, the book challenges preconceptions of the nature of Islamization as well as current theories of female agency and power.

“[A]n important contribution to the understanding of grassroots women’s Islamic activities in Malaysia. … I strongly recommend [it] to readers seeking a humane approach to Islam in Malaysia, a text that is not filled with negative images and addresses real spiritual as well as other social issues.” – David Banks, Contemporary Islam, vol. 4, 2010

“One of the distinctive features of this wonderfully researched ethnography is its insightful analysis of the religiosity and spiritual development of urban Malay women who had participated in the Islamization process in Malaysian society. Submitting to God will undoubtedly add to the debates on the anthropology of difference, gender and religion, and gender and Islam.” – Sharifah Zaleha Syed Hassan, Institute of Ethnic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

Sylva Frisk is a lecturer at the School of Global Studies at Gothenburg University in Sweden, teaching social anthropology and Asian Studies, and is Director of Studies for its Master Programme in Global Studies. Her research interests are gender, religion and globalization with a particular focus on gender and Islam in Malaysia.

Publication year: 2009
234 pp / 229mm x 152mm
8 figures
ISBN: 978-87-7694-048-5, Paperback

NIAS Press