Muslims in Singapore are becoming more conservative
Bernhard J. Trautner
Dr. rer. pol., born 1964; 2001 - 2003 Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Development Research at the University of Bonn, most recently deputy professor for political science and political management at the University of Bremen.
Address: Hohle Gasse 12, 53177 Bonn.
Email: [email protected]
Numerous publications on politics, sociology and culture in the Islamic world.
I. Introduction 
Around a fifth of the approximately 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide live in the Southeast Asian periphery of the Islamic world. In three countries, Muslims currently make up the nominal majority of the population. However, this majority is only clearly pronounced in Indonesia, while Muslims in Malaysia and in the dwarf state of Brunei each form only a slight majority; in some peripheral parts of Malaysia they are even in the minority. Islamic minorities also live in the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand; but there, for example in the south of the Philippines, they make up the majority locally. Collectively, there are more Muslims in Southeast Asia than in the entire Arab world.
In contrast to the core area of the Islamic world, i.e. the Arab states, Turkey and Iran, the West paid little attention to the Southeast Asian periphery of Islam for a long time. In retrospect, this is all the more astonishing as in Malaysia, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed seemed to succeed in nation-building under the comparatively difficult starting conditions of multi-ethnic and multi-denomination - at least until the severe domestic political crisis in the wake of the Asian crisis in 1997. And Indonesia, after all, given its population size largest Muslim country in the world, had been considered a reliable partner of Western foreign and development policy - until the fall of President Suharto in 1998. These discontinuities, the Asian crisis and the fall of Suharto should then draw the West's attention back to this region - at least more than the earlier debate about the so-called "Asian values". It was argued that these would have enabled the economic success of states like Malaysia or Singapore by means of an alternative, non-Western development path.
The long-standing image of flexible, per se more tolerant, and even apolitical peripheral Islam in Southeast Asia has recently been shaken by two opposing tendencies:
- On the one hand, the potentially disintegrating power of Islam became more and more evident, for example as a separatist leitmotif for the establishment of an Islamic state in the southern Philippines and in the Indonesian Aceh.
With the replacement of Suharto by the Muslim philosopher King Abdurahman Wahid, however, Islam also demonstrated its integrative potential: the feared collapse of the Indonesian island empire has so far failed to materialize, as has the nationwide introduction of Islamic law, the Sharî'a, over the province of Aceh out.
After all, it could no longer be assumed that Islam had lost its normative influence in the course of the moderately successful modernization, that Islamically motivated movements and groups had at best marginal importance and, as a by-product of modernity and as a temporary fundamentalist reaction to it, dissolved themselves.
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