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Making Sense of the Plural-Religious Past and the Modern-Secular Present of the Islamic Malay World and Malaysia

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This essay is a brief survey of some fundamental aspects of Islam and Muslims in the Islamic Malay world and Malaysia. Ethnic, linguistic and cultural variation is the norm in the region. In addition, the region is heir to Hindu and Buddhist traditions and also to three European colonial systems of government and administration (Portuguese, Dutch and British). Islam is but one among these. In some aspects of life it has been considerably reformulated by them. Thus, to understand Islam in the Malay world and Malaysia, one must begin with data from the area rather than with some Middle Eastern and theological formulations of Islam. Yet, we have to recognize that Islam is a universal theology originating from the Arabic Middle East. Therefore, a more informed analysis and understanding of Islam and Muslims in the Malay world, Malaysia and in their contemporary articulations must be "embedded" in the historical reality of both the plurality and plural society templates that have become the "moulds" of current secular modern social life in the region.


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