Gender and Islam in Southeast Asia Women’s Rights Movements, Religious Resurgence, and Local Traditions By Susanne Schroter, ed. (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2013. 335 pages.)

Main Article Content

Megan Brankley Abbas



Emerging from a 2005 conference at the University of Passau (Germany),
Susanne Schroter’s edited volume brings together an interdisciplinary group
of scholars, from anthropologists and historians to literary scholars and Muslim
female activists, to examine this complex subject. The book is organized
into four country-specific sections on Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines,
and Thailand, respectively. The fifth and final section, consisting of only one
chapter, adds a transnational dimension by analyzing the Tablighi Jama‘at.
Despite the volume’s breadth of disciplinary and geographic contributions,
its authors share a common project: the recuperation of Muslim women’s history,
and especially female Muslim agency, amidst the rise of Islamization in
Southeast Asia.
In her introductory essay, Schroter works to unite the country-specific
contributions under a broader regional framework. She argues that whereas
Islam in Southeast Asia has traditionally been “moderate, especially with regard
to its gender orders” (p. 7), the recent “upsurge of neo-orthodox Islam
poses a threat” (p. 37) to women’s rights. With characterizations of conservative
Muslims as “religious zealots” (p. 16) and “hardliners” (p. 19), she
presents Islamization as a process in which “orthodox” Muslims, often with
international ties, have imperiled the moderate Islam of traditional Southeast
Asia and the liberal Islam of Muslim reformers. The majority of the volume’s
contributors embrace this framing narrative. On the one hand, this global
story enables them to shine new light on the region’s pressing debates over
Islam and gender. Yet, on the other hand, the framework consistently places
female agency in absolute distinction with so-called orthodox Islam, thereby
eclipsing a more complicated landscape of ethical contestation and cultural
Building on Schroter’s framework, the book’s opening section on Indonesia
features four chapters, each of which emphasizes challenges Muslim
women face in asserting their rights an identities in various Indonesian Islamic
spheres. To begin, Nelly van Doorn-Harder investigates the Harmonious Family
Program of ‘Aisyiyah, Muhammadiyah’s sister organization, as “a tool to
transmit the reformist views on gender and women’s position within marriage” ...

Abstract 3 | PDF Downloads 1