- Corporate Islam: Sharia and the Modern Workplace by Patricia Sloane-White
Many commentators and analysists are concerned about the growing Islamic conservatism in Malaysia. There is also no lack of research on various aspects of Islamization in Malaysia, including its legal, political and economic dimensions. Yet, few books have given us 'thick description', fascinating details and nuanced analysis on how, and under what conditions, processes of Islamization work on the ground and various Islamic actors expand their influence among Muslim societies. Patricia Sloane-White's Corporate Islam: Sharia and the Modern Workplace stands out as one recent ethnographic work that gives us fascinating insights into modern Muslim lives. The book is theoretically engaged, empirically rich and analytically persuasive, examining how power, businesses, relationships, gender roles, religious practices and charity work are mobilized on behalf of Islam. Thus, it is not only benefiting researchers in the studies of Muslim societies, culture and politics, but also those interested in the anthropology of religion, economic anthropology and gender studies.
Patricia Sloane-White divides her book into eight interrelated chapters. The first chapter introduces the historical, cultural, and theoretical background to the growing role and power of sharia in political, social and corporate life in Muslim Malaysia, and various actors of the sharia generation who populate what she calls corporate Islam. The three subsequent chapters respectively explore three key elements constituting corporate Islam: sharia scholar-advisors, business leaders, and ordinary personnel. In chapter 5 the author focuses on the gender role in corporate Islam. Chapters 6 and 7 respectively examine the engagement of Islamic corporations in zakat management and corporate social responsibility. Chapter 8 concludes with an attempt to connect corporate Islam and political Islam in Malaysia, by using the term 'small Islamic state'. [End Page 194]
The author convincingly argues that sharia principles in the Islamic economy produce a version of Islam that is increasingly conservative, financially powerful, and committed to social control over Muslim and non-Muslim public and private lives. She rightfully makes a distinction between the 'NEP generation' and the 'sharia generation', and the shift of concern from Malay rights to Islamic piety among certain segments of Muslim professionals and businessmen. She details how Islam and economy management interact in the modern workplace, and how such development intersects with other key social factors, including gender, ethnicity and class.
Based on her observations, the author found that 'personnel sharia in corporate Islam reflects a more conservative and uniform application of sharia and the rise of moral policing' (p. 27), 'the gendered assumptions in sharia empowering Muslim men to chastise and control women in corporate space' and 'its premise of social justice has been transformed into policies that do less to support the poor than the "human resources" who will work in such enterprises' (p. 28). Such points are valid, yet perhaps we should also not overlook there are competitions of ideas on what constitute sharia and perhaps cases where the women and the poor could empower themselves through Islamic expressions.
The notion of 'small Islamic state' is intriguing and important, urging us to think of 'Islamic state' beyond conventional legal and political approaches. The author suggests an Islamic corporation could be conceived as a 'small Islamic state', given that it is 'a structure, a regime, and a society, held to sharia and under their full control' (p. 19). Yet, the book does not provide the readers with more detailed analysis on how a 'small Islamic state' could evolve or not evolve into a 'full-fledged Islamic state'. Moreover, there are different dynamics at play for 'corporate Islam' and 'political Islam'. The 'small Islamic state' could be a voluntarily space where like-minded Muslims with similar aspirations get together to fulfil their 'Islamic way of doing business'. Yet, to make Malaysia an 'Islamic state' is a very difficult endeavour as not all Malaysians share the same values—they face opposition not only from non-Muslims, but also from many Muslims who do not want their life fully guided by Islamic norms.