Company Rules: Sharia and its Transgressions in the Malay-Muslim Corporate Workplace

Patricia Sloane-White


How have premises concerning sharia been worked into discursive Malaysian space that exists beyond the courts, the bureaucracy, the home, and public and private space to exert authority and control over corporate workaday identities and behaviours? Some 21st-century Muslim company directors and owners have ‘Islamised’ the workplace, implementing sharia transformations of ibadat and munakahat to normalise and enforce among Muslim corporate employees the rules of what I call ‘personnel sharia’. Using two stories of workplace fitna (sexual harassment), I provide a lens to view the changing sharia environment in Malaysia over the course of nearly two decades and explore the lived reality of corporate interventions over Muslim personnel. The premise of this article is that as certain workplaces in Malaysia become increasingly regulated by Islamic laws, work has become a sharia realm that is neither fully public nor fully private but borrows moralities and enforcements from both; in other words, a third space for sharia that affects employees in multiple ways, bridging their private and public lives and acting upon them both personally and as personnel. Thus, sharia in the corporation extends the state’s bureaucratic authority over Muslim compliance into corporate space and relies on a premise that corporations, like religious officials and institutions, can enforce pious practice and even adjudicate sharia outcomes.

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