Publication details

Islamic Politics and Popular Culture in Malaysia: Negotiating normative change between Shariah Law and electric guitars. Indonesia and the Malay World, 43 (127), pp. 318-344. [peer-reviewed, Commendation 2014 Young Scholars Competition]


Author(s): Müller, Dominik
Year of publication: 2015

Abstract: While numerous studies on Islamic political movements are concerned with their engagement in party coalitions and the state, surprisingly few scholars have investigated the cultural life of Islamist groups. This article explores how the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) is currently undergoing dramatic cultural changes and has developed an unprecedented flexibility in the field of modern popular culture. It elucidates how PAS has shifted from a group that long held the image of conservative zealots who try to ban any form of art and entertainment towards being a pioneer of pop-cultural creativity, as popular music, celebrity persons, and even motorbikes have been passionately integrated into its 'Islamic struggle'. PAS' cultural transformation has not only been influenced by political competition and wider social tendencies, but also by the emergence of a new generation of cultural reformists within the party. Their call for change is driven by tactical considerations and reconsiders theological positions that stipulate that modern music is strictly forbidden in Islam. Electric guitars have thereby been re-conceptualised from 'instruments of the devil' to tools for missionary work (dakwah). The underlying process of normative change, however, continues to be highly controversial in the community of Malaysia’s Islamist opposition.

Research area: Research Area 2: The Dynamics of Normative Orders: Rupture, Change, Continuity
Research project:
Subject(s): ethnology

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