Southeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Ethical Alternatives: Islamic Private Education among the Malaysian Middle Class

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Madison A, Mezzanine Level

Although Malaysia has one of the highest-educated populations in Southeast Asia, its public education system has faced intense scrutiny, with some in the Muslim-majority country claiming that it emphasizes rote memorization and glosses only perfunctorily over Islam’s most important lessons. In particular, members of a rapidly growing Malay middle class argue that public education only prepares Muslim youth to flounder when faced with the challenges of contemporary life in Malaysia marked by struggles with debt, under- and unemployment, listlessness, dissatisfaction, and lack of respectful comportment and recognition of Islamic ethics. Consequently, alternative educational practices are on the rise, including Islam-themed homeschooling, Permaculture (sustainable ecological design) and nature-based “un-schooling,” and Montessori-style education. This paper contextualizes the rise in popularity of these perceived ethical alternatives among the Malay Muslim middle class, examining the effects of inter-generational disagreement about notions of effective Islamic schooling. It also investigates how each of these alternative educational settings is meant to cultivate a desired subjectivity within Muslim youth that differs dramatically from that of their own parents, who see qualities of alternative education as desirable and conducive for a specific kind of cosmopolitan Islam practiced among their generation and class cohorts. Ultimately, I aim to explore how, when parents pursue an ideal Islamic education for their children, they turn to methods and settings that draw together a variety of ethical visions and attachments. In some cases, I suggest, religious education for today’s Malaysian Muslim youth may also involve the dreams and desires of those doing the educating.

Sarah Kelman

University of California, Santa Cruz, California

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