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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: August 2016

6 - Islamic Finance in Malaysia: Global Ambitions, Local Realities

from Part III - Widening and Deepening Markets



In 2009, the 15Malaysia project brought together fifteen Malaysian filmmakers to reflect on sociopolitical issues in Malaysia. The result is a series of fifteen short films that provide a snapshot of living in Malaysia during a period of rapid social and economic change. Some of these films are funny, some are serious; some are action-packed, some are more contemplative. They all share a commitment to shedding light on how ordinary citizens engage with Malaysia's ongoing transformation. A couple of these films are specifically targeted at drawing out some of the cultural misunderstandings that can occur in Malaysia's multiethnic society. One of them is on Islamic finance. In the short film Potong Saga, the Chinese boy Namewee tries to open an Islamic bank account. A group of friends tell him that he has to undergo circumcision to be eligible. He follows their advice. Yet, when he goes to open his account, the bank manager tells him that this procedure would not have been necessary. This is when he wakes up and realizes that it was all a dream.

The film provides a satirical commentary on interethnic relations in Malaysia and on what it is to become part of Malaysia's aspiring consumer society and increasingly financialized political economy. According to Namewee's friends, ‘Islamic banking is very stable’, ‘they are different from other banks’, ‘their interest [sic] rate is better also’, ‘Islamic bank is people power’, ‘your money is safe’, ‘globalization’ and ‘in order to have a better future sometimes you have to make sacrifices’. On the one hand, these statements closely echo elite discourses on Islamic finance. They could thus be seen as illustrative of the success of the development of Islamic finance as an elite project and its acceptance by ordinary Malaysian citizens. On the other hand, this humorous engagement with Islamic finance constitutes a cultural space for critical reflection about Islamic finance as positioned at the intersections of age, gender, race and class in Malaysia. As such, the film can serve as an entry point for thinking about the dynamics of Islamic finance in Malaysia more broadly. This chapter will focus on the tensions within Islamic finance as an elite project first aimed at modernizing the Malaysian economy and now also increasingly part of Malaysia's international competitiveness agenda and on how Islamic finance is engaged with, sustained and challenged by ordinary Malaysian citizens.

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