Branding Islam: Islam, Law, and Bureaucracies in Southeast Asia

Kerstin Steiner


Islam plays a pivotal political role in Southeast Asian countries, where the governments that have ruled since independence have been concerned with influencing the trajectory, content, hermeneutic and style of the legal traditions of their Muslim citizens and reconciling them with the states’ wider policy objectives. This contribution looks at one particular tool for this form of ‘guiding’ Islam – the codification of Islam – comparing the codes in two Muslim-majority countries (Malaysia and Brunei) and two Muslim-minority countries (Singapore and the Philippines). Utilising comparative law methodologies, this article explores the structure, style and content of the codes in order to explicate their explicit and implied function. These codes are less concerned with being a statement of substantive Islamic law than with setting up a state-sanctioned bureaucracy for the administration of law for Muslims. These bureaucratic institutions were the key instruments for the states to develop their own brand of Islam. In doing so, the state’s approach towards socially engineering Islam oscillates among appropriation, accommodation, control and subjugation of Islam in different political and legal frameworks.

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