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Bringing together over thirty years of detailed ethnographic research on the Menraq of Malaysia, this fascinating book analyzes and documents the experience of development and modernization in tribal communities.

Descendents of hunter-gatherers who have inhabited Southeast Asia for about 40,000 years, the Menraq (also known as Semang or Negritos) were nomadic foragers until they were resettled in a Malaysian government-mandated settlement in 1972. Modernity and Malaysia begins with the ‘Jeli Incident’ in which several Menraq were alleged to have killed three Malays, members of the dominant ethnic group in the country. Alberto Gomes links this uncharacteristic violence to Menraq experiences of Malaysian-style modernity that have left them displaced, depressed, discontented, and disillusioned. Tracing the transformation of the lives of Menraq resulting from resettlement, development, and various ‘civilizing projects’, this book examines how the encounter with modernity has led the subsistence-oriented, relatively autonomous Menraq into a life of dependence on the state and the market.

Challenging conventional social scientific understanding of concepts such as modernity and marginalization, and providing empirical material for comparison with the experience of modernity for indigenous peoples around the world, Modernity and Malaysia is a valuable resource for students and scholars of anthropology, development studies and indigenous studies, as well as those with a more general interest in asian studies.

How do Islamic courts work? What sorts of cultural understandings inform judicial process and litigants' strategies? How do women's claims fare? Do these courts promote social tolerance? And how do states use them to consolidate power, build nations, and shape a modern citizenry? These are among the questions addressed in this book, which not only enhances our understanding of diversity among and within the world's Muslim communities, but also provides ethnographic, historical, and transnational perspectives on contemporary Islam in the shifting landscape of a strategically important region of the world.

Focusing on Malaysia, which has sustained more rapid development than probably any other Muslim nation, Michael Peletz explores the culture, political economy, and history of Islamic courts. He demonstrates that they are centrally involved in the creation and policing of new Malay-Muslim identities (such as middle-class urban dwellers) that the state sees as the basis for a national polity that will be highly competitive. He also shows how and why Islamic courts are key sites in struggles involving ethnic and religious groups, social classes, political parties, and others with a major stake in defining Islam's role with respect to the maintenance of sovereignty and the achievement of modernity and civil society in an age of globalization.


Peletz deepens our knowledge of Islamic political development in a country very much concerned with forging an Islamic modernity viewed by its leaders as a viable alternative to Western-style modernization.

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