Proper Islamic Consumption

Shopping among the Malays in Modern Malaysia

by Johan Fischer

  • Published: 2009
  • Pages: 280 pp.
  • 29 illustrations
  • Series: NIAS Monographs
  • Series number: 113
Available from NIAS Press worldwide
ISBN Hardback: 978 87 7694 031 7, £40.00 (June 2009)
ISBN Paperback: 978 87 7694 032 4, £17.99 ()

The West has seen the rise of the organic movement. In the Muslim world, a similar halal movement is rapidly spreading. This is the first book to explore how Malaysia’s emerging Malay middle class is being shaped by consumer practices and Islamic revivalism - and powerful linkages between class, consumption, market relations, Islam and the state.

The West has seen the rise of the organic movement. In the Muslim world, a similar halal movement is rapidly spreading. Exploring consumption practices in urban Malaysia, this book shows how diverse forms of Malay middle-class consumption (of food, clothing and cars, for example) are understood, practised and contested as a particular mode of modern Islamic practice.

The book illustrates ways in which the issue of ‘proper Islamic consumption’ for consumers, the marketplace and the state in contemporary Malaysia evokes a whole range of contradictory Islamic visions, lifestyles and debates articulating what Islam is or ought to be. Its rich empirical material on everyday consumption in a local context will reinvigorate theoretical discussions about the nature of religion, ritual, the sacred and capitalism in the new millennium.

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Johan Fischer is Associate Professor in the Department of Society and Globalisation, Roskilde University, Denmark. His work focuses on modern Islam and consumer culture in Southeast Asia and Europe.

Johan Fischer is Associate Professor in the Department of Society and Globalisation, Roskilde University, Denmark. His work focuses on modern Islam and consumer culture in Southeast Asia and Europe. A central focus in Johan’s research is the theoretical and empirical focus on the proliferation of halal commodities on a global scale. He is presently working on a monograph with the provisional title On the Halal Frontier: Consuming Malays in London that explores ways in which modern halal is formative of emerging Islamic identities; the fusion of religion and consumption; novel approaches to an anthropology of the state; diasporic material culture as well as forms of capitalism in the new millennium.

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by Patrick Jory, Walailak University
From journal:
Journal of the Siam Society, vol. 98, 2010

 Of the thousands of scholarly articles and books and academic seminars that have been devoted to the study of Islam in Southeast Asia in recent years, attention has focused mostly on issues concerning religious revivalism, politics, education, history, law, gender, morality, finance and economics, and of course, extremism and terrorism.

 Of the thousands of scholarly articles and books and academic seminars that have been devoted to the study of Islam in Southeast Asia in recent years, attention has focused mostly on issues concerning religious revivalism, politics, education, history, law, gender, morality, finance and economics, and of course, extremism and terrorism. It is surprising, therefore, that much less attention has been given to the activity that most Southeast Asian Muslims, like their counterparts in other religions, spend an ever-increasing amount of their time doing today: shopping and consuming. It is this activity that is the subject of Johan Fischer’s original study of Islam and consumerism in Malaysia. …

The focus of Fischer’s study is a number of Malay middle-class families living in the suburbs of Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. The anthropology of suburbia in Southeast Asia lags far behind the anthropology of village society, so Fischer’s attention to suburban life in Malaysia is another novel and welcome feature of the book. …

This book intends to make a theoretical contribution to the scholarly literature on consumption in Asia. Some readers will be distracted by the liberal use of theoretical jargon that derives from the outer reaches of cultural studies. … Yet if the reader is willing to plough through occasional paragraphs of admittedly challenging jargon it will be well worth the effort required to gain the many original and important insights that Fischer makes into consumption and religion in Malaysia.

by Claire-Marie Hefner, Emory University
From journal:
American Anthropologist, Vol. 113, No. 1, 2011

Fischer’s ethnography is a valuable contribution to the growing literature on middle-class identity formation and the Islamic revival in Southeast Asia. The social insights and clear presentation in Proper Islamic Consumption make this a fitting addition to a graduate or undergraduate course on class and religion in postcolonial Southeast Asia.

Fischer’s ethnography is a valuable contribution to the growing literature on middle-class identity formation and the Islamic revival in Southeast Asia. The social insights and clear presentation in Proper Islamic Consumption make this a fitting addition to a graduate or undergraduate course on class and religion in postcolonial Southeast Asia.

by Karim Douglas Crow, International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia
From journal:
Islam and Civilisational Renewal (Special Issue: Religion, Law, and Governance in Southeast Asia), Vol. 2 (1), 2010

 This is an excellent study both in substance and in conceptual refinement, opening up important perspectives on the particular mode of Islamic modernity being achieved in Malaysia, and the dynamics of implanting globalised capitalist values within a major Muslim society.

 This is an excellent study both in substance and in conceptual refinement, opening up important perspectives on the particular mode of Islamic modernity being achieved in Malaysia, and the dynamics of implanting globalised capitalist values within a major Muslim society. … Modernity assumes a variety of forms shaped by deeply embedded cultural and religious patterns across a wide spectrum of societies. This reflects the diverse reality of our pluralist cosmopolitan planet. The manner and direction in which growing Muslim middle-classes embrace consumerist attitudes and priorities, blending these with key aspects of their own Islamic practice and identity, is one of the great unfolding realities of contemporary Islamic societies. Fischer has made a valuable contribution toward understanding what the rise of the consumerist middle-class in civil society portends for emergent modes of modernity in Muslim majority nations. The distinction of Fischer’s analysis of the Malaysian pattern is to demonstrate clearly how this process is being managed and exploited by the State.

by Gerhard Hoffstaedter
From journal:
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 16 (4), 2010

 Fischer is not the first to study the Malay Muslim middle class in Malaysia, which has a fertile history of scholars, both from Malaysia and outside it, explaining the seeming contradiction of an increased Islamic religiosity along with increased materialism or consumption of all things modern.

 Fischer is not the first to study the Malay Muslim middle class in Malaysia, which has a fertile history of scholars, both from Malaysia and outside it, explaining the seeming contradiction of an increased Islamic religiosity along with increased materialism or consumption of all things modern. However, his rich ethnography provides vital clues as to how the state and individual consumers operate within the Islamic marketplace on a local level. He deconstructs the everyday consumer choices and decisions against a backdrop of the Islamization of society and the market. … The greatest achievement of this monograph lies in the way it weaves together a convincing narrative of the competing and conflicting ontologies of consumption and the different modes of being a middle-class Malay Muslim. It is a useful addition to the canon of research on the middle class(es) in Malaysia and of Islamic consumption in general.

by Mona Abaza, Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University, Sweden
From journal:
International Sociology, 25:673, 2010

The incorporation of consumer culture as a field in cultural studies is relatively new, and few studies have been undertaken in that field in developing countries. In this context, Johan Fischer’s work is certainly welcome as a significant and timely contribution.

The incorporation of consumer culture as a field in cultural studies is relatively new, and few studies have been undertaken in that field in developing countries. In this context, Johan Fischer’s work is certainly welcome as a significant and timely contribution.

The book remains an enriching and stimulating sociological endeavour, full of thoughtful reflections about class and status.

The empirical findings are not simply inspiring, they also open new horizons regarding the incredibly rapid social mobility of the new rich in Asia and the paradoxes they transpose in making the transition from Kampung to city life.

by Timothy P. Daniels, Hofstra University
From journal:
Contemporary Islam, 2010 (2)

Fischer’s venture into the terrain of economics in the everyday life of Muslims makes some important contributions.

Fischer’s venture into the terrain of economics in the everyday life of Muslims makes some important contributions. He shows us that the Malaysian state, as part of its effort to ‘out Islam’ the dakwah organizations, has actively sought to dominate discourses about proper Islamic consumption and in the process they have produced an alternative form of Islamic neoliberal capitalism. Meanwhile, Muslims negotiate a variety of other discourses combining Islam and consumption in their daily lives. … [T]his book provides significant insights into some political and religious dynamics in contemporary Malaysian society.

by Nancy J. Smith-Hefner, Boston University
From journal:
Journal of Asian Studies, 69 (1), 2010

Proper Islamic Consumption addresses issues that are both timely and important. Fischer convincingly argues that the Malaysian state has taken on the certification of halal commodities as part of its attempt to nationalize Islam and has effected a Malaysian ontology of consumption that is poised between individual consumer desires, social anxieties, and halalization (p. 102).

Proper Islamic Consumption addresses issues that are both timely and important. Fischer convincingly argues that the Malaysian state has taken on the certification of halal commodities as part of its attempt to nationalize Islam and has effected a Malaysian ontology of consumption that is poised between individual consumer desires, social anxieties, and halalization (p. 102). As part of a neoliberal paradigm within the framework of a “Malaysianised mode of millennial capitalism,” the state has continued to deliver a steady stream of privileges to the Malay middle class in return for patriotic consumption or “shopping for the state.” These privileges have come at a cost, however. The price of proper Islamic consumption in the case of Malaysia, Fischer observes, is deepening state authoritarianism.

by Carla Jones, University of Colorado, Boulder
From journal:
American Ethnologist, 37 (1), 2010

In spite of a long line of social theory analyzing the spiritual in the economic, and vice versa, very little of the recent increase in scholarship on Islam addresses its relationship with capitalism. Johan Fischer’s book, Proper Islamic Consumption, begins to fill this gap.

In spite of a long line of social theory analyzing the spiritual in the economic, and vice versa, very little of the recent increase in scholarship on Islam addresses its relationship with capitalism. Johan Fischer’s book, Proper Islamic Consumption, begins to fill this gap. […] Fischer’s detailed description of lives and choices that are often out of sight is to be commended. There remain too few ethnographies about the multiple ways of being middle-class, perhaps because of anthropological anxieties about sameness or assumptions that the middle classes are uniformly unaware of their privileges.

by V.T. (Terry) King, University of Leeds
From journal:
ASEASUK News 46, 2009

 This volume does make an important contribution to our understanding of the responses of socially mobile, religiously committed communities to the opportunities and perils presented by modernisation. It also tells us something about the debates concerning the meanings and practices of Islam within an aggressive, globalised, secularised modernity.

 This volume does make an important contribution to our understanding of the responses of socially mobile, religiously committed communities to the opportunities and perils presented by modernisation. It also tells us something about the debates concerning the meanings and practices of Islam within an aggressive, globalised, secularised modernity. In Malaysia this is an especially intriguing issue because it is the Malay‐dominated state which has been crucial in generating and shaping a particular kind of modernity in order to address the problems posed for nation‐building by a quite radical form of ethnic pluralism.

by Prof. Abdul Rahman Embong, Institute of Malaysia & International Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
From journal:
Asian Anthropology, Vol. 8, 2009

 [T]his book is an excellent study that is lucidly written, strongly informed by theory, rich in ethnography, and empirically grounded. It has blazed a new trail in employing the tools of both religious studies and cultural studies to dissect the complex subject of “proper Islamic consumption”.

 [T]his book is an excellent study that is lucidly written, strongly informed by theory, rich in ethnography, and empirically grounded. It has blazed a new trail in employing the tools of both religious studies and cultural studies to dissect the complex subject of “proper Islamic consumption”. It is a must-read for researchers and students alike, especially those who want to pursue their study on the middle class, Islam and consumption.

by Keith Hart, Goldsmiths College, University of London
From journal:
Blurb

Johan Fischer reveals here the cross-currents of Malaysia’s ambitious experiment in Islamic national capitalism.

Johan Fischer reveals here the cross-currents of Malaysia’s ambitious experiment in Islamic national capitalism. …a heady mixture of patriotic shopping, ethnic politics and religious morality whose implications have global significance.

by Faisal Devji, The New School for Social Research, author of Landscapes of the Jihad
From journal:
Blurb

Fischer’s description of religious consumerism in Malaysia demonstrates that no study of Muslim revivalism today can have any salience without considering its intimate relations with global capital

Fischer’s description of religious consumerism in Malaysia demonstrates that no study of Muslim revivalism today can have any salience without considering its intimate relations with global capitalism.

by Shamsul A. B., Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
From journal:
Blurb

This is a path-breaking work … [an] incedibly rich and finely textured ethnography.

This is a path-breaking work … [an] incedibly rich and finely textured ethnography.

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