Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (ABIM)

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Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia, or Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (ABIM), was formed on 6 August 1971 by the Faculty of Islamic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (National University of Malaysia). It held its first Muktamar (annual general meeting) in 1972. The movement was initially characterized by efforts to coordinate intensify Muslim youth activism, and its outreach focused primarily on educational activities. In the 1980s, ABIM began developing several vehicles for both missionary and economic outreach, including primary and secondary schools. Overseas activism became a feature of ABIM’s outreach in the 1990s as the organization involved itself in mission and humanitarian work in countries such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Several former leaders of ABIM are now prominent politicians in Malaysia, including former Deputy Prime Minister and current Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leader Anwar Ibrahim, and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia’s (PAS) president Abdul Hadi Awang. As a youth organization that was established in the early 1970s at the height of the global Islamic resurgence, ABIM was very much a product of its time.

Against the backdrop of a staunchly secular government and an increasingly nationalist Islamist opposition political party (PAS), ABIM sought to fill a gap by providing an avenue for the expression of Islamic ideals among Malaysia’s Muslim majority community. ABIM managed to enhance its religious legitimacy and gain international recognition by maintaining excellent relations with Islamic countries of both Sunni and Shiʿite persuasion (see International Relations). Domestically, they became one of the more significant religious pressure groups, and their popularity among grassroots and tertiary education institutions meant that their members and leaders were also courted by the main Malay-Muslim political parties, United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and PAS. ABIM’s membership has grown steadily over the years. At its formation, it had a few hundred members.

 

From there it grew to seven thousand in 1972, thirty-five thousand in 1980, and sixty thousand in 2001. Although ABIM enjoys support from urban Malays and Malay students in tertiary education institutions in Malaysia and abroad, its influence is considerably weaker among rural Malays. General Overviews There have been very few detailed studies that have focused exclusively on ABIM. Monutty 1990—a doctoral dissertation—remains by far the most comprehensive scholarly treatment of this organization, certainly in the English language, focusing on its origins and impact among Malay-Muslims.

Malay scholarship of ABIM is a shade better in terms of quantity, with a major study produced in Tahir 1993, which focuses attention on the role of ex-ABIM president Anwar Ibrahim and the splits within the organization that resulted from his departure to join the main Malay-Muslim political party in Malaysia, United Malays National Organization (UMNO). This book also details the political choices and careers of Anwar’s ABIM contemporaries such as Abdul Hadi Awang and Fadzil Noor, both of whom joined the opposition Islamist party, Islamist opposition political party (PAS), and rose to become presidents in the party. For the most part, scholarship on ABIM takes the form of sections and chapters in articles and book chapters on the broader theme of Islamic civil society and NGO activism in Malaysia. Such works include Hussein 1998, which explores the transformation of ABIM from an overt Malay-Muslim pressure group under Anwar to the welfare and humanitarian organization that it was in the 1990s.

Pithy overviews of ABIM are also available in Jomo and Cheek 1992, Salleh 1998, and Hassan 2003. Many of these works establish the point that central to the rise of ABIM was the emergence of an Islamic segment within the Malay middle-class by the mid-1970s, which included tertiary education students. ABIM positioned itself as a movement of the young, educated, Muslim middle class in order to leverage on (as well as facilitate) social activism and mobilization among this segment of the community.

A further recurring theme in many studies on ABIM is the role of Anwar Ibrahim, former ABIM president and former Malaysian deputy prime minister. Most scholars of ABIM also point to the fact that the leadership provided by Anwar Ibrahim was crucial to establishing the organization as a major entity on the Malaysian civil society and political scene.

Funston, Neil J. “The Politics of Islamic Reassertion: Malaysia.” In Readings on Islam in Southeast Asia. Edited by Ibrahim, Ahmad, Sharon Siddique, and Yasmin Hussain, 171–179. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1985.

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