Origins of the Divine Bureaucracy

Part of the Contestations in Contemporary Southeast Asia book series (CCSA)


This chapter traces the origins of Islam’s bureaucratisation in contemporary Malaysia to the legacy and intentions of British colonial rule. In the first decade after decolonisation, the administration of Islamic law and affairs maintained a secularising framework, and power was limited to the confines of traditional authority consisting of decentralised negeri-based rulings and that of religious elites. Two decades after independence, a Muslim public sphere—often associated with the Muslim resurgent movement—was considerably enlarged, enabling contestations over Islam by agents outside the circle of traditional authority. Fearing fragmentation of the Malay vote bloc due to emergent Muslim contestations, Malay ruling elites of the day redressed Muslim grievances and competition through policies of accommodation, neutralisation and co optation. This included the ironic adoption of the very goals propounded by the mobilisers who themselves had initially been impeded by the state. Such a structural reconstitution of Islam could only be effected through a Divine bureaucratic pathway over Islamic matters as its distinctive character.


Colonial state-making Early bureaucracy Malay-Islamic institutions Political accommodation of Islam Neutralisation of Islamic activism 


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© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Malay Studies and Department of Southeast Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore

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