Formation of Public Spheres and Islamist Movements in Malay Muslim Society of Malaysia
Muslim society originally had spheres for discussion based on Islamic logic, which are
similar to a “public sphere.” Such spheres were organized by ulama (Islamic clerics) and
tariqa (Islamic order of mystics). Buildings established through waqf (religious endowment)
including mosques and religious schools also provided such spheres for discussion. On the
premise of the existence of plural public spheres rather than the single civil sphere advocated
by Habermas, the contemporary Islamist movement could be considered as an attempt to
recover the previously existing Islamic public spheres.
Contemporary Malay Muslim society has discussion arenas formed by the Islamist
movement, such as ceramah, usrah, khutbah, the Internet, cassette tapes, and VCD. Th ese are
similar to the counter publics discussed by Nancy Fraser. In Islamic counter publics, the discursive
resources of statements accumulated through Islamic logic are widely distributed. This
phenomenon is also found in the modernization and popularization of the Islamist movement.
In Malaysia, the “mainstream” public sphere under control of the government, and such
alternative counter publics, are intertwined. They have common terms based on Islamic
logic and are connected by several channels. Th erefore, the mainstream public sphere cannot
ignore how counter publics based on Islamic logic influence the setting of the national
political agenda. Th e process of so-called “Islamization” in Malaysia could be regarded as the
process of mutual interaction between the mainstream public sphere and alternative counter
publics. Moreover, this process is also an attempt to gradually recover functions of an Islamic
social mechanism and to realize Islamic social order, such as the role of ulama in Muslim
society and their relationship with rulers.
Keywords: public sphere, counter publics, Islamist movement, Islamization policy