Colonialism and the Dialectics of Islamic Reform in a Malay State: Pengasoh and the Making of a Muslim Public Sphere in Kelantan, 1915 - 1925
This dissertation focuses on an important Muslim periodical "Pengasoh" and the role it has played in the Muslim ‘reform’ discourses in early 20th century Malaya. The periodical was first published by the Majlis Agama Islam Kelantan (Kelantan’s State Islamic Council) in 1918. Within the context of Malay-Muslim society, Kelantan was, and in some ways remain, a particularly important centre for Islamic culture and learning, attracting teachers and students from across the region.
The Majlis itself was established by some of the leading ulama on the Peninsula at the time. Many were educated in the Middle East and had close associations with some of the major Muslim reformists in Egypt and the Haramayn. The standing of the Kelantanese 'ulama' within Malay-Muslim Southeast Asia, and the role of "Pengasoh" within that community meant that the periodical gives a unique glimpse into the world of these intellectual-theocrats. In this sense, the study of “Pengasoh” is a prism which could further our understanding of the dynamics of Islamic intellectual culture in Kelantan – as well as the surrounding region – during the early decades of the 20th century.
What this dissertation attempts to show is how the ideational aspects of this community may be better understood if two important factors are taken into account - the linkages throughout the Indian Ocean littoral which form the cultural and religious milieu which shaped the thinking within the Kelantanese ‘ulama’; and how this sits in a wider conversation between "Islam" and "modernity". This moves away from existing studies which sought to clearly demarcate these Islamicate discourses as one between ‘Modernist’ Muslims and their ‘traditionalist’ counterparts.