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Moderate Islam In Southeast Asia: Origins, Theory, and Practices

Call for Papers

Moderate Islam in Southeast Asia: Origins, Theory, and Practices


Currently, a call for “Islam moderat” (moderate Islam) has received renewed significance in Indonesia and its neighbouring countries, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority regions. Throughout these regions, Muslims standing in academic forums, government offices, religious buildings, coffee-shops and (social) media talks, have argued for the significance of behaving, showing and promoting an Islam that is taking a middle path, often referred to as the wasatiyah Islam, or more popularly known the moderate Islam.

To an extent, their clamorous call for moderate Islam can be seen as a response to the increasing number of Muslims in the regions and around the globe, who do not longer show the tolerant and smiling faces of Islam, but choose to interpret Islam as a religion that is exclusive, strictly-fundamental, and permissive to the use of violence (Bruinessen 2014). The 9/11 attacks and other violent actions involving Muslims as the confirmed perpetrators are proved to be causing more damages to Islam and Muslims themselves rather than to others. Example of such damage is the growing assumption around the world that Islam is synonymous with terrorism. Indonesia and the Malay world in general are assumed to be the home for ‘laid-back’ Muslims, referring to the ways in which Islamic teachings are casually practiced in daily lives. The rise of strict and violent Islam in Southeast Asia and elsewhere has in turn encouraged many in the regions to speak about showing and promoting the moderate nature of Southeast Asian Islam: as it is how the Malay Muslims have identified themselves for centuries.

However, the call for religious moderation comes in the regions with some complications. Firstly, it tends to be directed only to Muslim societies as if religious extremism is an enterprise exclusive to Islam, and does not exist in other religions and civilizations. Such tendency misleads the fact that problems of extremism can occur in any religion, culture, and society. Therefore, the call for moderate Islam should be revisited as part of the global effort to establish “religious moderation”, involving societies of all ethnics, cultures, and faiths. In this regard, we need to seek the roots of religious moderation in Muslim societies (especially in Southeast Asia), as well as its resonances and interactions with both local and global politics and cultures.

Secondly, the term is often political. While there is an agreement that moderation is the core teaching of Islam, Muslim groups of different ideologies are in contention when it comes to defining “what-is-and-is-not-about-moderate-Islam”. It is common among Muslims of different political aspirations, for example, to label each other as being either extremists or liberals. This is not to mention the role of the ruling government in shaping Muslim public debates on religious moderation.  Considering this fact, we need to question, among others, how do the foundational texts of Islam talk about moderation, and how as such is interpreted differently among Muslims of various backgrounds and in divergent socio-political contexts? How and to what extent has the ruling governments in Southeast Asian countries played their roles in shaping or influencing Muslims’ conceptions about moderation?

Thirdly, ‘Islam moderat’ (moderate Islam) is a Western term. The fact that it is more popular than its Arabic equivalence, “wasatiyah Islam”, for example, reflects Said’s criticism toward the structural domination of the West over the East. In reality, it is hardly possible to address the issue of ‘Islamic moderation’ in an international stage, without entering into the Western’s discourse of war against terrorism led by the US government toward Muslim majority countries. This means, our theoretical frameworks to define “moderate Islam” are largely shaped by unequal power relations, in which the West is allowed to dominate the Muslim east. If this is true, we need to revisit our conception about “moderate Islam” so that it gives more voices to Muslims whose aspirations and experiences (of being Muslims) are heterogeneous and socio-historically situated. In this regard, we need to address the following questions. Is the use of Arab-Islamic term of “wasatiyah” aptly translatable into the English-secular term of “moderation”? To what extent Muslims can learn from the experience of their Western counterparts about religious moderation, and vice versa? Are there any other terms and experiences coming from local cultures and traditions, for example in Southeast Asia, that could inspire us to conceptualize core principles of “moderate Islam” that are palatable to the contexts of Southeast Asian Muslim? Should a theory of moderate Islam conceptualized by Muslim scholars in a given time and place of human history be applicable to Muslim societies of all times and spaces?

Last but not the least, to the extent that Islam in Southeast Asia is often regarded as peripheral to the Arab-heartland’s Islam, experiences of being Southeast Asian Muslims are largely underestimated in the world of academia and media reports. If any, international media coverage on Muslims in the Malay Archipelago is more interested in reporting violent actions of its loud minority Muslims, leaving behind the laid-back and smiling natures of Southeast Asian Islam, let alone its close interactions with local cultures, traditions and faiths. Because of this, we have an interest in sharing with the world about the experiences of Southeast Asian societies and traditions with regards to the formulation of embracing Islam the middle ways. How has religious moderation been so far experienced among and across generations of Muslims in Southeast Asia? How and to what extent do their oral traditions, folklores, and old manuscripts inform us of the moderation topics? In addition, we are also interested in questioning the ways in which the notion of Islamic moderation can be possibly applied in areas such as human rights, inter-ethnic relations, environmental issues, land reforms, sciences and technology, consumer culture and lifestyle, and religious dakwah movements.

Based on the above backgrounds, the second edition of RIICMUSSS (Raden Intan International Conference on Muslim Societies and Social Sciences), which will be held on 09 through 11 November 2021, is inviting researchers, lecturers, graduate students, practitioners, policymakers and scholars of whatever backgrounds but working on Islam and Muslim societies in Southeast Asia, to submit and discuss their ideas and papers on the origins, theories, and practices of Islamic moderation in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. Below is list of the panels that we aim to organize. However, we also accept submission that is not mentioned in the list, but still within the topic of religious moderation.

1. Religious Moderation in Southeast Asia’s Local Culture

2. Religious Moderation in the Contexts of Islamic Law

3. Moderate Islam and Sufi Tradition in Nusantara

4. Religious Moderation in the Qur’an and Other Foundational Texts of Islam

5. Religious Moderation as Ordinary Practices in the Malay World

6. Moderate Islam in Pesantren Societies and Tradition

7. Religious Moderation in Islamic Southeast Asian Manuscripts

8. Religious Moderation in the Contexts of Conflict Resolution

9. Religious Moderation and Strategy of Diplomacy in Southeast Asia’s International Politics

10. Moderate Islam, Politics, and Issues of Citizenship

11. Moderate Islam, Science, and Technology

12. Moderate Islam, Media and Pop Culture

13. Moderate Islam and the Environmental Issues

14. Moderate Islam in the Contexts of Economy and Social Prosperity

15. Religious Moderation in the Contexts of Jihad and Dakwah

16. Religious Moderation and Gender Equality

17. The Role of Islamic Higher Education in Developing Religious Moderation

18. Other topics related to issues of religious moderation.


Pusat Kajian Moderasi Beragama

Universitas Islam Negeri Raden Intan Lampung

Jl. H. Endro Suratmin, Sukarame, Bandar Lampung, 35131.



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Raden Intan International Conference on Muslim Societies and Social Sciences is organized by Pusat Kajian Moderasi Beragama (PKMB) Universitas Islam Negeri Raden Intan Lampung, INDONESIA.