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Soft Power, Islam, and Religiosity – Glocalisation of Islam in Southeast Asia
28 Jun 2023

The Studies in Interreligious Relations in Plural Societies (SRP) Programme held a webinar titled “Soft Power, Islam, and Religiosity – Glocalisation of Islam in Southeast Asia” on 28 June 2023. The webinar is the second in a series which attempts to understand religious soft power projects by Muslim-majority countries and its impact on Islam in Southeast Asia. Prof Noorhaidi Hasan, Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies at the Indonesian International Islamic University (UIII), shared his expert views on Indonesian Islam and the internal dynamics of Islamic discourse in Indonesia. Dr Ahmad El-Muhammady, Assistant Professor at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC), International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), presented the Malaysian perspective of the role of Islam in society and politics, and the use of religion as a political instrument for domestic and foreign political objectives.

Prof Noorhaidi argued that Indonesian Islam was presently at the final stages of approaching a new equilibrium. Throughout Indonesian history, various local actors – from the political elite to Muslim mass organisations – competed to define the appropriate version of Islam. This contestation was often triggered by global and local political and social shifts. Prof Noorhaidi explored how changes brought about by colonisation, industrialisation, and globalisation triggered contestations to define Indonesian Islam from as far back as the 15th century Mataram Sultanate to President Joko Widodo’s administration. Importantly, he argued that radical or extremist organisations have no room to manoeuvre in the current Indonesian political climate given, inter alia, consolidation at the political elite level, and consensus among Muslim organisations and groups – including Salafis – that the way forward for Indonesian Islam was moderate Islam or Islam wasatiyyah.

Dr Ahmad explained that Islam was inseparable from Malaysian politics and society. The centrality of Islam to Malaysian politics, especially after the 1980s, was such that there was a market and demand for an “Islamic agenda”, in whatever way it could be defined by the incumbent administration or political opposition. Dr Ahmad argued that, without an Islamic agenda, political initiatives would be unpopular among the Muslim electorate, which stood at roughly 62 percent of the population. Dr Ahmad also shared that the current administration, led by Prime Minister Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim, had aspirations of reaching into Islam as a soft power resource to position Malaysia as a model of tolerance that promoted healthy multi-religious and multi-cultural engagement.

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