Islam and freedom of religion: Anthropology, theology and clashes of universalisms in contemporary Malaysia



In 2006 a forum to discuss Article 11 of the Malaysian constitution on religious freedom sparked a major and unexpected pushback. Many Muslim and Malay NGOs and concerned citizens argued that they were defending Islam from the onslaught of liberalising forces in Malaysia. The clash between what could be termed liberal human rights discourses and/or reformist Islam and reactionary Islam is also one about Islamic theology in Malaysia. It is an example of how theology can be internally divisive and presents a problematic case study for an anthropological encounter and engagement with multiple theologies, debates about history and the anthropological project. This article charts one path for the encounter between an anthropologist and his ethnographic other that aims to understand these diverse perspectives and also seeks to understand both the project of writing an anthropology of Islam that incorporates Islamic theology and Muslims' lifeworlds that form the basis for it.