Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Working in the Islamic Economy: Sharia-Ization and the Malaysian Workplace

Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Working in the Islamic Economy: Sharia-Ization and the Malaysian Workplace

Article excerpt

In the white-collar world of Malaysia's confident, globally oriented Islamic economy; sharia compliance has created vigorous new businesses and products. Sharia has also emerged as a novel form of corporate culture, reconfiguring workplace identities and relations in distinctly Islamic ways. Exploring the sharia premises and practices that have been institutionalized in some Malaysian work lives can provide some understanding of what could be called the sharia-ization of the Malaysian workplace. This article explores the experiences of differently placed people who work in Malaysia's Islamic economy, ranging from chief executive officers to managers, clerks, and messengers. (1) They work in Islamic banks and insurance companies and the companies that service them, such as human resources and training consultancies, and accountancies and auditing firms whose owners and directors have fully embraced the Islamic economic model. (2)

Many Malaysian Muslims today are firmly placed within the urban middle classes (Welsh 2008) (3). Many live and work in and around the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, employed by private-sector corporations which comprise the commercial and economic foundation of the nation, a legacy of 1980s-era government-led privatization projects such as Look East and Malaysia Incorporated (Triantafillou 2002). But after decades of Western-style capitalist development, many Malaysian Muslims are questioning not just the culture that Western-style capitalism has brought to Malaysia, but its very economics. And many see the growing appeal of the Islamic economy in Malaysia not just as an ethical place to bank and borrow, but as a place to work. In the words of one young woman who captured this desire well: "We want to know that the money with which we feed our children was earned morally." The men and women whose experiences and points-of-view are recorded here share with many other Malaysian Muslims (4) a growing confidence that sharia, or Islamic or divine law, should guide all economic and social transactions in Malaysia. (5) To the people I studied in Malaysia's Islamic workplaces, (6) sharia is thus not merely a guide for financial operations. It is, as Muslim jurists understand it and in the fullest meaning of the word, a "path", a way of life. (7) The men and women I met in the Islamic workplace wanted work that followed that path.

While the practices I will discuss here are currently in place at only a small percentage of companies in the Malaysian economy, they represent, I think, ideologies and norms with far-reaching social impact, as more and more Malaysian Muslims seek to calibrate their politico-religious orientations to their economic practices, a process Johan Fischer has called "halalisation" (2008). But where Fischer is concerned with Islamic consumption and "shopping", this article addresses actors in Islamic production--workers in the Islamic economy who believe, in the words of one company director, that they are producing "more of Islam". We know little about the daily experiences of people who work in these companies, the spiritual and organizational dimensions of the Islamic workplace, and the extent to which their workday lives in the Islamic economy correspond to and reflect other dimensions of their religious beliefs.

Religion and economy have long been intertwined in the high drama of Malaysian politics. The growth of the Islamic economy in Malaysia reflects the often fraught and competitive agendas of the Islamic moderate United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the Islamist opposition Parti Islam Se Malaysia (PAS). Struggles between these two political parties in the 1980s led to the promotion of Islamization on a "grand scale" by the UMNO-led Malaysian Government seeking to quell PAS claims that the ruling party was overly Westernized in its development orientation. UMNO's efforts primarily took the form of a vast bureaucratic expansion of government agencies overseeing Islamic affairs (Hamayotsu 2003) and the emergence of an "Islamic economy''. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.