Joel S Kahn
Singapore, Asian Studies Association of Australia and Singapore University Press, 2006, pp. xxv + 228, RM 48.00 pb.
Professor Joel S Kahn in this book debunks the idea of less Islamic (secular) Malaysian past. He argues, "Malay intellectuals in the colonial period, and indeed the British rulers themselves, were neither anti-Islamic, nor did they seek to create a secular Malay world in which religion would be confined to the private sphere. On the contrary, the ideal Malay world of much nationalist discourse was one in which Islamic law was strictly applied by a national authority represented, at the level of the kampung, by the penghulu. In this world the highest authority, especially in matters of religion, was the sultan. The nationalist vision thus embeds Islam within the political relationships between raja (rulers) and rakyat (people)" (p 85). Professor Kahn also argues that alternatives to the nationalist persepective - the other voices about Malay-ness - did not exist, at least as fully formed alternatives. At the outset of his book, Professor Kahn observes "other voices are not somehow already out there waiting to be discovered and narrated in a scholarly text. When we read that some text or another is giving voice to these others, we must recognize that these other voices are also authorial constructions, not the unmediated voices of the subaltern groups that such texts may claim to speak" (p xv). This is a good book for those who want to discern the origin of Malayan state and society beyond the Kessler and the Farish type of secularism debate.