Making Modern Muslims: The Politics of Islamic Education in Southeast Asia

Making Modern Muslims: The Politics of Islāmic Education in Southeast Asia

Hefner, Robert W., ed. Making Modern Muslims: The Politics of Islāmic Education in Southeast Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009.

Based on the information provided, this book “grew out of a research project that began in December 2004 and ended in January 2007, funded by the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) in Seattle, Washington” (Hefner)


  • Introduction: The Politics and Cultures of Islāmic Education in Southeast Asia by Robert W. Hefner
  • Islāmic Schools, Social Movements, and Democracy in Indonesia by Robert W. Hefner
  • Reforming Islāmic Education in Malaysia: Doctrine or Dialogue by Richard G. Kraince
  • Islāmic Education in Southern Thailand: Negotiating Islam, Identity, and Modernity by Joseph Chinyong Liow
  • Muslim Metamorphosis: Islāmic Education and Politics in Contemporary Cambodia by Bjorn Atle Blengsli
  • Islāmic Education in the Philippines: Political Separatism by Thomas M. McKenna & Esmael A. Abdulla

Review of the book:

This book presents the research findings of scholars who studied about how Islam constructs the development and advancement of schools in Asia. Countries that they had studied are Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Philippines. This book seems to bring balanced view of Islam in Asia, especially after the tragedy of the 9/11 bombing in WTC, New York. Many subjective comments had been aroused after the tragedy, particularly in the countries of the West, where the people are generally never in touch with Islam. I would recommend that many people in the United States should read this book because the research finds that there are things that had been put into skeptical and bias point of view in the United States. At least, this book will help Muslims from Asian countries feel “at home” whenever they visit the United States.

On page 4, Hefner wrote:

 “In discussion of Muslim world since 9/11, there has been a tendency on the part of Western commentators to view events primarily through the optic of their own security reasons. In a world of urgent threats and scarce analytic resources, this bias is understandable enough, and the chapters in this volume do not shy away from policy issues. Nonetheless, the contributors felt that if we allowed Western security concerns to set the entire research agenda we would lose an opportunity to understand the cultural concerns that Muslims themselves bring to their schools. We would also lose the sight of the fact that Southeast Asian Muslims have been debating the proper forms of religious education and politics, not since 9/11, but since the late nineteenth century”

In this statement, it seems clear that the authors of this book would like to give a new perspective on viewing how Islam ‘should be seen’ in the West. A good understanding of why Islam is put into the school system because Islam has lots of good things to be applied in the system of education in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia. What people hear in the news are sometimes bias and not supportive. If there are people who accidentally have the feeling of “dislikeness” to Islam, especially because of their ignorant, they could give harsh comment, and even “sharp words” to attack Islam and Muslims. However, still, since there are many people who are willing to know exactly what Islam is; therefore, the process of knowing this religion into its real teachings will always be a good way to make countries in the West become the “better ones”.

In addition to that, historically, Islam was actually the one that had great thinkers. Due to the misconduct of the Christian Europe, many of the works of Islāmic thinkers were ‘taken out’ by thinkers of the Europe. The truth is, those great science and knowledge belong to Islāmic figures in the past.

“Herein lies one of the great ironies of the Old World’s civilizational history. During what was Western Europe’s Middle Ages, libraries and madrasas in the Middle East had preserved Greek works in philosophy and natural sciences lost to Christian Europe. In the twelfth and thirteen centuries, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Scholars in Spain and other Muslim lands translated many of these works into Latin. The transfer of the translated classics book to Western Europe sparked a revival of interest in the natural sciences and humanistic philosophy so strong that these subjects were given pride of place in the newly established universities of the West. Although earlier preserved and studied by generations of Arab- and Indian- Muslim scholars, the same Greek works were gradually marginalized from most madrasa curricula. Indeed, by the end of the Muslim Middle Ages their place in Middle Eastern education as a whole was greatly diminished. Jurisprudence had become the queen of the advanced religious sciences and the centerpiece of madrasa education. More significant yet, many of the Jurists (fuqaha) who interpreted God’s law had come to view the study of philosophy and the foreign sciences as “useless…and disrespectful of religion and law”. The result was that the philosophy and natural science once so integral to Muslims intellectual life disappeared from many institutions of higher learning, not to be revived until the great educational transformations of the modern era” (Hefner 9).

To those people who want to know and understand how Islam and Muslims are in Southeast Asia, this book, as I could understand, could give you a significant perspective in viewing the religion and the people. At last, the chaos in the society due to “miscommunicated values” could be very much avoided.

Happy times for reading!

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