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Presented By: Center for Southeast Asian Studies

CSEAS Lecture Series. Stemming the Nationalist Tide: Imperial Control and the Protection of Traditional Islam in British Malaya

Hanisah Binte Abdullah Sani, WCED Visiting Associate, University of Michigan

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Free and open to the public; register at

While early nationalist movements led by modernist Muslims were brewing on the coasts of the Malay Peninsula in the early decades of the twentieth century, a competing project – sponsored by the British colonial administration – was underway inland in the Malay states. In the Malay states, the authority of traditional rulers was enhanced through the systematic protection and regulation of Islam and Muslim subjects. Uncovering administrative reports from the colonial archives, I show that there was unprecedented surveillance over two classes of religious activities: conversions into and out of Islam, and the publication and sale of religious materials, both of which served to strengthen and protect traditional authority. With these materials, I explore a hitherto under examined yet concerted imperial project of state-led traditional religious nationalism devised to stem the tide of modernist Muslim and anti-colonial movements in British Malaya.

Hanisah Binte Abdullah Sani is a comparative-historical and political sociologist of empire and state-formation, modernization and development. She studies how law and religion organize elites and build states and specializes in the colonial and modern histories of Southeast Asia. She received her doctorate from the University of Chicago in 2019 and is currently a National University of Singapore overseas postdoctoral fellow. As visiting associate at the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies at the University of Michigan, she is working on her book project, Sacred States and Subjects: Law, Religion and Colonial State-Building in Malaya.


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April 16, 2021 (Friday) 12:00pm

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