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4 - Inhibited Reformist Voices: The Challenge of Developing Critical Islamic Discourse in Singapore

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 April 2020

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Summary

The main goal of religious reformism is to make a religion relevant to its sociocultural context so that it may continue to provide meaning to the lives of its practitioners. Another goal is to strengthen religious presence in the civic and political lives of its members. It also implies a creative re-evaluation of past traditions, which can lead to fresh interpretations. But reform is not simply appropriating new ideas or practices. It is also about having the moral courage to exert the necessary intellectual endeavour to correct the aberrations or misleading thought and practices of the present.

The inhibited reformist voices in contemporary Malay/Muslim religious discourse in Singapore warrant special attention. While the Malay/Muslim community lives in a modern cosmopolitan city state, it would be naïve to assume their religious ideas are also marked by openness and liberality. As in many other societies, there is a challenge to nurturing a progressive and reformist religious discourse. Voices for reform are intermittent and at times timid, but at other times they are more confident and determined.

The persistency of religious traditionalism and revivalism means that there is very little space for reformist ideas to gain ground within the local community. Apart from some inherent weaknesses in reformist agendas, the moral sanctions and pressure from conservative traditionalists has meant that reformists have always been in a defensive mode. In many Muslim societies today, reformist ideas are received in a guarded way and are deemed as unnecessarily disruptive as they affect the harmonious “balance” of the people's religious lives and convictions. Indeed, openness to exogenous ideas is immediately equated to the erosion of Muslims’ authenticity and identity.

In Singapore we are not faced with ultra conservatives who vehemently oppose reformists groups and deem them wayward, secular or Westernized. Opponents, however, do see reform as unnecessary or even as approaching heresy, since the religious formulations and commandments of the past are considered to be complete, final and absolutely creedal. For the modern-day religious revivalists, religious reformism is seen as a modernist project that will sap the authenticity of the religion, and it is often seen as a fatal compromise to liberal/ secular (Western) ideas.

Type
Chapter
Information
Alternative Voices in Muslim Southeast Asia
Discourse and Struggles
, pp. 22 - 30
Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2019

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