Islam and socialism are often seen in some Muslim circles as inherently contradictory, with the latter being perceived as an existential threat to Islam and Muslims. Yet, other Muslims have acknowledged and actively discussed how there are deep similarities between the two. However, these discussions also reveal that any historical interaction between Islam and socialism — whether in the Arab world, South Asia, and even Southeast Asia — has often been erased or suppressed. One might then ask, why is there antagonism among Muslims towards socialism? Why are Islam and socialism seen as antithetical to one another? And is an Islamic socialism at all possible?
This webinar will briefly answer these questions through a discussion of Syed Hussein Alatas’ Islam and Socialism, a book first published in Malay in 1976. In this book, Alatas examines these very perceptions that Muslims had towards socialism, and illustrates how these perceptions were based on misunderstanding, ignorance, and prejudice. He critically looks at how Muslim scholars and public figures — whether in Malaysia or elsewhere — had contributed to a skewed understanding of socialism, effectively portraying it as a threat to Islam. Alatas then offers an alternative approach to understanding the relationship between Islam and socialism by illustrating how Islam is in fact socialist in nature, therefore making the case for an Islamic socialism. At the crux of his argument lies the need for the recognition of the overlapping values between Islam and socialism, and the inculcation and application of these values for the benefit of Muslim society in Malaysia and beyond.
About the Speaker
Sharifah Afra Alatas is the translator of Islam and Socialism (Petaling Jaya: Gerakbudaya, 2021). She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the National University of Singapore in 2018, where she read History. She then completed her Master’s degree in the Department of Malay Studies at the same university in 2020, during which she wrote about civil society’s role in the promotion of inter-religious harmony in Malaysia. She is currently a Research Officer at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, where she does research on contemporary socio-religious issues concerning Muslims in the Malay world.