Southeast Asia’s Forgotten Muslim Head of State

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Alexander Wain

Abstract

The Malay world, while united by a common language, a collective commitment to Islam and a shared history, also preserves a variously expressed but mutually held set of customary traditions (adat). Muslim scholars, both past and present, have long debated the Islamic legitimacy of adat. In reality, however, many adat practices complement the ideals of Islam — ideals often overlooked by more “orthodox” Muslim practitioners. This is particularly so regarding the treatment of women. A perception exists that Islam encourages the seclusion of women. While modern feminist readings of the Quran are celebrated for challenging this, it is worth noting that Malay adat has permitted Muslim women to attain public positions of power and influence for centuries.

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Viewpoints