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Title: Religious conversion and reconstruction of identities: The case of Chinese Muslim converts in Malaysia
Keywords: Religious Conversion; Chinese Muslim; Malaysia; Ethnic Identity; Identity Negotiation
Issue Date: 29-Mar-2006
Citation: LAM YUEN YU, JOY (2006-03-29). Religious conversion and reconstruction of identities: The case of Chinese Muslim converts in Malaysia. ScholarBank@NUS Repository.
Abstract: The general issue addressed by this thesis is the processes and dynamics of religious and ethnic identity construction and how identity construction mediates religious conversion amongst Chinese Muslim converts in Malaysian society. Chinese Muslim converts are often considered something of an enigma in Malaysia. This is mainly because of the imbrications between ethnicity and religion in Malaysia, based on the strong association between Muslim and Malay identity and a history of tension and conflict between the Malays and Chinese. Chinese Muslim converts interviewed perceive both identities as crucial to their self-concept. The identities, being Chinese and being Muslim, may appears as exclusive in the context of Malaysia; however, they are also considered too important to surrender for the converts. Accommodation of discrepant identities does not always result in an either/or decision that destroys one of the identities. Rather, identity negotiation can be constructed as a process in which much of these identities remain intact. Through a process of socialization, Chinese Muslim converts constructed and negotiated the boundaries and definitions of their religious and ethnic identity to include Islam into their daily life. The case study explores how Chinese Muslim convertsa?? religious identity is constructed through negotiation with their ethnic boundaries; and how these ethnic boundaries are reconstructed after their conversionSignificant changes were found in Chinese Muslim converta??s daily life regarding their habits, their religious practices and their involvement in learning about Islamic doctrines. Religious identity for Chinese Muslim converts are constructed through the change of name and habits, which signify their Muslim identity publicly. However, Islam is strongly associated with the Malay ethnic identity thus the Chinese Muslima??s explicit behavior associated with Islam is always being understood as a betrayal of their ethnic traditions. Hence, negotiation and certain adjustments have to be made in order for converts to obtain their new religious identity while remaining Chinese. Three different attitudes were found among respondents toward the issue of changing their name to an Islamic one after conversion and whether they use the Islamic or Chinese name to identify themselves in their daily life. It is found that the stronger hostility a convert faces from their family towards their conversion, the more hesitant s/he is to use their Islamic name and the more conscious s/he is on maintaining their Chinese name. Family hostility serves as the main motivation for Chinese Muslim converts to reconcile the dissonance between their ethnic and religious identity. Two major practices demonstrate how Chinese Muslim converts negotiate their ethnic and religious boundaries. Firstly, they participate in Chinese festivities yet not taking part in religious rituals in order not to contravene their new beliefs. Secondly, in response to their familiesa?? concern of losing ties with their kinsmen, some respondents consciously maintained their surname and passed it on to their children. This research provides an in-depth analysis on how religious converts negotiate between the new religious identity brought by conversion and their other (non-religious) existing identity. Although the case of Chinese Muslim converts is a unique situation, it raised the question of whether this same process occurs in diverse religious situations or conversion events. In conceptualizing religious identity change or conversion as an either/or proposition, it is also important for us to look at the subtlety of the individuala??s identity negotiation.
Appears in Collections:Master's Theses (Open)

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