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Constituting Religion
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Book description

Most Muslim-majority countries have legal systems that enshrine both Islam and liberal rights. While not necessarily at odds, these dual commitments nonetheless provide legal and symbolic resources for activists to advance contending visions for their states and societies. Using the case study of Malaysia, Constituting Religion examines how these legal arrangements enable litigation and feed the construction of a 'rights-versus-rites binary' in law, politics, and the popular imagination. By drawing on extensive primary source material and tracing controversial cases from the court of law to the court of public opinion, this study theorizes the 'judicialization of religion' and the radiating effects of courts on popular legal and religious consciousness. The book documents how legal institutions catalyze ideological struggles, which stand to redefine the nation and its politics. Probing the links between legal pluralism, social movements, secularism, and political Islamism, Constituting Religion sheds new light on the confluence of law, religion, politics, and society. This title is also available as Open Access.


'Moustafa’s fascinating book demonstrates that courts in Malaysia, as in many Muslim-majority polities, enable and catalyze as much as resolve ideological conflicts between proponents of Islamic religious principles and liberal rights. The author’s sophisticated understanding of law’s constitutive power makes the volume an important contribution to scholarship on legal mobilization, rights contestation, and popular legal consciousness. It is a brilliant achievement, and highly recommended!'

Michael McCann - Gordon Hirabayashi Professor for the Advancement of Citizenship, University of Washington

'Constituting Religion offers a strikingly innovative approach to understanding the relationship between Islam and the liberal legal order. Rather than seeing them as inherently incompatible, the book shows through a case study of Malaysia that laws and legal cases generate contests that intensify ideological differences and construct a law/religion binary that polarizes popular legal consciousness. Tamir Moustafa creatively uses socio-legal theory to provide a refreshingly new perspective on a much debated issue.'

Sally Engle Merry - New York University

'Tamir Moustafa has done his homework! Constituting Religion is teeming with insights for anyone interested in law, religion, and politics in Malaysia and beyond. He provides readers with a clear-eyed view of how 'rights versus religion' polemics are constructed, and why they matter. Moustafa does justice to an important and complex issue.'

Zainah Anwar - co-Founder of Sisters in Islam and Musawah, The Global Movement for Justice and Equality in the Muslim Family

‘The book is both slim and engaging enough to be quickly digested by policy-oriented readers as well as academics and deserves to be widely read by all those working in any form of interaction with the 'Islamic legal tradition' in Malaysia and elsewhere.’

Amrita Malhi Source: Journal of Church and State

‘Tamir Moustafa’s book, Constituting Religion: Islam, Liberal Rights, and the Malaysian State, examines the complex intertwining of law, religion, and politics in Malaysia … The book is a good example of how judicial actions continue to be explained, framed, and amplified by competing groups of political actors.’

Nurfadzilah Yahaya Source: Reading Religion

‘Moustafa provides a very interesting and detailed account of lived Islam and lived liberalism in a Muslim-majority but religiously diverse society.’

Muqtedar Khan Source: Comparative Politics

‘Constituting Religion provides a remarkable analytical model for how to study and make sense of this growing global phenomenon.’

Dörthe Engelcke Source: Journal of Law and Religion

‘… [an] important book.’

Spencer Dew Source: Religious Studies Review

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Full book PDF
  • Constituting Religion
    pp i-i
  • Cambridge Studies in Law and Society - Series page
    pp ii-ii
  • Constituting Religion - Title page
    pp iii-iii
  • Islam, Liberal Rights, and the Malaysian State
  • Copyright page
    pp iv-iv
  • Contents
    pp v-v
  • Figures
    pp vi-vi
  • Tables
    pp vii-vii
  • Acknowledgments
    pp viii-x
  • Introduction
    pp 1-12
  • Constituting Religion
  • 1 - The Constitutive Power of Law and Courts
    pp 13-30
  • 2 - The Secular Roots of Islamic Law in Malaysia
    pp 31-48
  • 3 - Islam and Liberal Rights in the Federal Constitution
    pp 49-62
  • 4 - The Judicialization of Religion
    pp 63-90
  • 5 - Constructing the Political Spectacle
    pp 91-123
  • Liberal Rights versus Religion in the Court of Public Opinion
  • 6 - The Rights-versus-Rites Binary in Popular Legal Consciousness
    pp 124-137
  • 7 - “Islam is the Religion of the Federation”
    pp 138-154
  • Conclusion
    pp 155-158
  • Bibliography
    pp 164-177
  • Index
    pp 178-187
  • Books in the Series - Series page
    pp 188-194


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