Islam and nation building in Southeast Asia: Malaysia and Indonesia in comparative perspective

Kikue Hamayotsu

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Since the onset of the financial crisis in 1997, political developments in the two largest Muslim-majority countries in Southeast Asia - Malaysia and Indonesia - have emphasized a recurrent theme that has lingered in both countries after independence: the uneasy relationship between Islam and nation building. It is, however, the markedly contrasting nation-building processes in the two neighboring countries that present a fundamental challenge to our conventional thinking on the relationship between Islam and nation building. Conventional wisdom contends that Islam is unfit to form the foundations of a modern nation-state that transcends parochial religious sentiments. The Indonesian case seems to confirm this claim: Islam did indeed prove to be a divisive force, reinforcing religious-oriented parochial sentiments. The rise of inter-religious hostility and violence, moreover, suggests that huge discrepancies in the people's perception of their national vision still remain. The Malaysian case, on the other hand, demonstrates that Islam can be compatible with the process of modern nation building. Despite undergoing a powerful surge of Islamisation, both at the state level as well as in society, Malaysia has witnessed a steadily growing "national" consciousness in the past decades. This paper seeks to explain this cross-national variation in outcomes by examining the way in which Islam has been embedded in the two respective states' projects of nation building. It draws special attention to the ideological dispositions of the states' leaders, and locates these in the political as well as socio-economic spheres. In doing so, the paper argues that the position of Islam in each state's project of nation building - whether it was appropriated inclusively or exclusively - has played an important role in bringing about the diverging outcomes of national development.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)353-375
    JournalPacific Affairs
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2002


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