Demarginalizing the Sharia: Muslim Activists and Legal Reforms in Malaysia

This article examines the active roles played by Muslim activists in agitating for the expansion of the functions of Sharia (Muslim legal and ethical code) within a given country’s constitution and in society at large. Using the Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM) – the largest Muslim youth movement in Malaysia – as an illustrative case study, the article examines a process which I term as “demarginalizing the Sharia” by Muslim activists, which connotes an endeavour to reformulate and reassert the position of the Sharia to cover all aspects of the country’s laws.

Building upon recent works on Islamic activism and drawing from various strands of social movement theory, this essay attempts to conceptualize and explain the various tactics which Muslim movements such as ABIM had adopted to make the case for the Sharia to wield a wider influence in the public domain. Among the tactics which will be discussed are institutional subversion, ideological collaboration and dramatic contention, all of which have been utilized by Muslim activists since the advent of global Islamic resurgence in the 1970s.