The Reflowering of Malaysian Islam: Modern Religious Radicals and Their Roots


282 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-0195-6




Reviewed by Greg Turko

Greg Turko is a policy analyst at the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and


For many, the term Islamic revival refers to the religious radicalism in such high profile nations as Iran and Pakistan. But there are also dramatic, though less newsworthy, changes occurring in other areas where Islam is established. Judith Nagata examines the Islamic revolution currently taking place in Malaysia.

She uses, as her focal point, the study of the dakwah movement. This term refers to the revival process by which lapsed Muslims are brought back into the religious mainstream and new converts are gained. In the Malaysian context, Nagata points out, this term has a more restrictive meaning in that it refers “to specific, urban based national revival movements.”

Nagata examines dakwah and more general matters of religious revival from many perspectives, using a variety of sources — from personal interviews to published documents to public speeches. It is difficult to isolate the main areas of concern, as the process is still on going, but a number of questions do strike the reader as vital and potentially troublesome for the nation either politically or culturally. How, for example, will dakwah affect the large non-Muslim (primarily Chinese) population, or how will the government balance the often very anti-Western, anti-materialist demands of the Islamic fundamentalists with its own versions of development. On a cultural level there is the question of the extent to which Arab customs (e.g., dress), Arab culture, and the Arabic language should be superimposed on Malaysia in the quest for Islamic purity. Another source of conflict could, in time, arise between Islamic precepts and adat (i.e., primarily rural Malay customs), which has diverse and deep, though very un-Islamic, roots.

There is a detailed and very well documented discussion of these questions, as well as of the general ferment presently going on in Malaysia. However, few conclusions are drawn as to where the process of Islamic revitalization is likely to lead, largely because the revolution is still being realized. Nagata does clearly show that the Islamic revival in Malaysia is neither a monolith nor a passing fad. Time will show what the final outcome of this “reflowering of Malaysian Islam” will be.

This work, for all its detail, does not provide as much of the feel of the Islamic revival as, for example, V.S. Naipaul has done in his book Among the Believers. Nonetheless, Judith Nagata has produced a very readable account describing the process and politics of religious revival.


Nagata, Judith, “The Reflowering of Malaysian Islam: Modern Religious Radicals and Their Roots,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024,