During the past two decades, Malaysian Muslim female preachers have gained access to opportunities and spaces to preach Islam to the public. Their preaching activism, both through the mass media and from public pulpits, is seemingly an indication of a shift in religious authority in contemporary Islamic discourse in Malaysia. They have gained trust from the public and become authoritative voices of Islam through acquiring knowledge of the fundamental texts of Islam as well as required skills such as Arabic language, memorization of religious texts and public speaking. Just like the male preachers, they have dedicated themselves to creating a sound moral and ethical society based on Islamic framework. They preach to the public on various issues, including moral-spiritual endeavors, socio-religious advice and practices, and marital and family relations. One vents based on the Islamic calendar. Nevertheless, the female preachers have to navigate their activism within the confines of social norms and of the highly-bureaucratized religious authority and administration. By adhering to social expectations and religious orthodoxy, the female preachers are able to continue preaching to the public, as well as to build trust with both the established religious authorities and the public.
Norbani Ismail is the Malaysia Chair of Islam in Southeast Asia at Georgetown University’s Prince al-Waleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, School of Foreign Service. She has a PhD in Islamic Studies from the International Islamic University Malaysia and is currently working on a book monograph that explores twentieth-century interpretations of the Qur’an in Indonesia and Egypt. Her research interests include Muslim women’s religious activism in Malaysia and trends in Islamic reform in contemporary Malaysia.