Contemporary Islam

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 315–340 | Cite as

Sonic discourses on Muslim Malay modernity: The Arqam sound



Not only has Nasyid music been successful in addressing questions about what it is to be a modern Muslim youth in Southeast Asia, reconciling piety with a “funky but shariah” consumerist lifestyle; it also has been expressive of political aspirations for a utopian-style communal society. This essay focuses on how, from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, the Malaysian missionary movement Al-Arqam used nasyid music to articulate ideas of Muslim Malay modernity and on how nasyid music became one of the main interfaces to spread the Arqam message beyond its model villages. The focus is on Arqam’s main ensembles, Nadamurni and the Zikr, and, with the 1994 ban on Arqam’s activities, the celebrated pop group Raihan. Raihan’s sonic explorations into Muslim Malay modernity have challenged orthodox Islamic ideas, but also the entertainment industry and the secular Malaysian state at large. Nasyid culture provides us with an understanding of the larger changes that have occurred within Southeast Asian Islam, away from a previous Islamic revival and toward a post-Islamist chic and new cultural performances that successfully blend entertainment and education.


Dakwah Nasyid Southeast Asia Modernity Popular music Edutainment 



Research for this article was made possible by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and undertaken in the framework of a Leiden-based research project. This 4-year project, “Articulation of Modernity,” offers new ways of studying peninsular Southeast Asia by foregrounding the circulation of popular music, ideas, and technologies that historically took and still take place among the region’s cosmopolitan centers. This contribution is based on a chapter for a forthcoming book on the subject of nasyid. I would like to express my gratitude here to the two anonymous reviewers providing some very useful comments and suggestions to an earlier draft, as well as to the editors of this theme issue, who organized a wonderful and much appreciated September 2011 workshop at Lund University. A final word of thanks is directed to the board of the Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA) of the National University of Malaysia, which provided me with the facilities to gather most of the fieldwork materials provided here.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cultural Anthropology and Development SociologyLeiden UniversityLeidenthe Netherlands

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