Experts beyond discourse: Women, Islamic authority, and the performance of professionalism in Malaysia

Open access

by DAVID KLOOS

Read Article

In Malaysia women exercise authority as they combine professional expertise with Islamic knowledge to engage with contentious religious debates. In the context of transformations caused by mass education and mass mediatization, professional experts without Islamic (seminary) education—such as doctors, lawyers, and psychologists—can successfully claim religious authority and establish themselves as part of the Islamic public sphere. This creates possibilities for women. Contemporary cultures of professionalism enable them to challenge long‐standing configurations of religious authority, including the perception that this authority is (primarily or necessarily) male. Their performances, although not without constraints, require an analysis that moves anthropological debates about women's roles and autonomies beyond a Foucauldian concern with discourse and the modes of (self‐)disciplining and resistance associated with it.

Islamic teacher and popular preacher Ustazah Fatimah Syarha (gesticulating) with one of her regular study groups. International Islamic University Malaysia campus, Gombak, Selangor, Malaysia, February 5, 2017.
Islamic teacher and popular preacher Ustazah Fatimah Syarha (gesticulating) with one of her regular study groups. International Islamic University Malaysia campus, Gombak, Selangor, Malaysia, February 5, 2017.