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The Malaysian Shi‘a: A Preliminary Study of Their History, Oppression, and Denied Rights

From: Journal of Shi'a Islamic Studies
Volume 6, Number 4, Autumn 2013
pp. 411-463 | 10.1353/isl.2013.0039



Malaysia is one of the largest strongholds of Sunnism in the Islamic world, and, frequently, the existence of Shi‘a in the Malay archipelago in the pre-modern era or the existence of any sizable number of indigenous Malay Shi‘a is denied; this is done explicitly in the context of legislation outlawing Shi‘ism. Nevertheless, Malay cultural practices show evidence of the influence of Shi‘ism; this suggests a stronger historical presence of Shi‘ism than is commonly acknowledged. Applying the oral historiography framework of Jan Vansina, this study unearths evidence of Shi‘ism in Malaysia going back centuries through anonymous interviews. It also highlights the contemporary lack of religious freedom that the Shi‘a minority in Malaysia faces, particularly after the 2010 raid on the Hauzah Ar Ridha Alaihissalam community centre near Kuala Lumpur. Ultimately, this study hopes to put the situation of the Shi‘a in Malaysia today into a larger historical context and refute the argument that Shi‘ism is a recent arrival to the Malay archipelago.

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