The Newsletter 97 Spring 2024

News from Southeast Asia

Norshahril Saat

Trendsetters of Islam: Examining emerging mediums of religious exchange

Over the last decade, Islam in Southeast Asia has encountered significant changes. The impact of radicalism from the global ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) movement attracted some sympathizers from the region. However, aside from the security lens, there are other aspects from which Islam in Southeast Asia can be analyzed. 

Various trends have emerged which call for a different approach to studying developments in the region. First, the use of social media and the Internet for Islamic preaching has become common, transcending traditional mediums such as mosques and madrasahs. COVID-19, which led to lockdowns and mosque closures, forced religious classes to shift to online domains. Second, middle-class Muslims are also emerging and making their voices heard on Islamic matters, challenging the authority of traditional ulama. Third, Islamic NGOs are also losing their monopoly in representing Muslims. They have been overtaken by popular preachers who do not require institutional resources and backing to present their thoughts in the public sphere. Focusing on these emerging trends, the Regional Social and Cultural Studies programme at ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute has embarked on a study of trendsetters of Islam in Southeast Asia, examining emerging mediums of religious exchanges, popular religious personalities, and contemporary Islamic discourses beyond terrorism. The articles below are some of the research outputs of ISEAS fellows working on these topics, and the ones selected here focus on how personalities impact politics, religion, and society. The articles were originally published in Fulcrum, an opinion-editorial website run by ISEAS to showcase commentaries on current events. The articles selected discuss case studies from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. 

Norshahril Saat is a Senior Fellow at ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute. Email: