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Accepted Paper:

Punishing the passionate: intimacy under surveillance and cross-border marriages in contemporary Malaysia  
Nurul Huda Mohd Razif (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

The influential Islamic bureaucracy in Malaysia heavily polices all forms of pre- or extra-conjugal intimacy between Muslims, forcing many to contract transjurisdictional cross-border marriages in Thailand. I explore the link between the state and intimacy, and states of intimacy under surveillance.

Paper long abstract:

The omnipresence of a highly influential Islamic bureaucracy makes being "intimate" — especially in the visible, physical sense of the word — a tricky business in contemporary Muslim-majority Malaysia. The Malaysian Islamic bureaucracy is very much involved in the moral policing of its Muslim subjects to ensure that their behaviour complies to the demands of "Islam". Under the watchful eye of the Islamic bureaucracy, any forms of pre- or extra-conjugal physical intimacy between Muslims, if discovered by the relevant religious authorities, are punishable by a heavy fine and/or brief imprisonment in the Shariah Court, thus placing Muslims under significant pressure to marry first before they may get physically intimate. However, many Malaysian couples find the bureaucratic process of contracting a legal, transparent marriage — both monogamous and polygamous — to be an extensive and possibly expensive one. The many obstacles to immediate marriage — for urgency is of utmost importance here, as anything can happen at any time — thus necessitates an alternative route to the normal state-sanctioned union: under such desperate circumstances, many Malaysian couples resort to transjurisdictional cross-border marriages in the predominantly-Muslim Southern Thailand. Through the lens of these transjurisdictional cross-border marriages, this paper will attempt to explore how through a state-run Islamic bureaucracy defines and enforces the boundaries of permissibility in intimacy, and how its Muslim subjects consequently navigate their way around the demands of the state in their pursuit and experience of intimacy.

Panel P018
Rethinking marriage: exchange and emotion in comparative perspective
  Session 1