Towards a history of Malaysian ulama
Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman
Date of Issue2007
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
The ulama have always played an important role in the realm of the political and socio-economic development in the Muslim world. However, scholars tend to underestimate their importance in this area. As a result, it was only after the 1970s that sufficient appreciation has been shown for their role in the Muslim society in various scholastic works. It is also in recent years that interest has been shown in the study of ulama in South and Southeast Asia. In the case of the Malaysian ulama, works on them have been limited to biographical accounts of the ulama in the country. While some works on ulama did attempt to assess their religio-political role, these works tended to be limited to the discourse about the Kaum Tua and Kaum Muda ulama. However, little has been written about the religio-political role of ulama in the Malaysian society during the 1940s to the 1980s. In this regard, this paper attempts to reduce this gap. this key arguement of the paper is that historically, the ulama have maintained a symbiotic relationship with various political authorities. From the early Islamic history to the Japanese Occupation, ulama have usually worked with any power willing to secure their authority and influence. This paper will also show that even when the ulama oppose the government (exemplified by the opposition of PAS' ulama to the UMNO led Malaysian government), this opposition tends to stem from differences in politics rather than religious ideologies.
RSIS Working paper; 122/07
Nanyang Technological University