Sharia law reforms that began in the 1980s to remake the modern Muslim family in Malaysia have had a zero-sum effect. They facilitate polygyny for men and a polygamous man’s access to his wife’s matrimonial assets to financially support his other wives. However, the reforms also expanded new avenues for women to initiate divorce proceedings that include emotional suffering as the basis for separation. A recognition of emotions as the legitimate site of women’s agency in Islam sets the stage for the exuberant media practice of Malay romance.

The foci of Alicia Izharuddin's project – female-oriented intimacies, relationships, affect, romantic desire – fall squarely within the ambit of the larger body of scholarship that historicises gender and sexuality in the postcolonial, post-globalised world. She is particularly interested in love stories and the work they perform. Love stories are productive discourses of intimacy, whose work generates value. Within the processes involved in the writing, publishing, reading, and selling of romantic fiction are aspects of women’s labour that link the domains of the domestic and the global.

At IIAS, Alicia hopes to complete this project that traces the productive tensions formed between the print culture of Malay romance and religious conservatism of Malay Muslim communities, shining a light on the cultural specificities of gender and religion in Malaysia.