Becoming Better Muslims

David Kloos, Becoming Better Muslims : Religious Authority and Ethical Improvement in Aceh, Indonesia, Princeton University Press, 2017

How do ordinary Muslims deal with and influence the increasingly pervasive Islamic norms set by institutions of the state and religion? Becoming Better Muslims offers an innovative account of the dynamic interactions between individual Muslims, religious authorities, and the state in Aceh, Indonesia. Relying on extensive historical and ethnographic research, David Kloos offers a detailed analysis of religious life in Aceh and an investigation into today’s personal processes of ethical formation.

Aceh is known for its history of rebellion and its recent implementation of Islamic law. Debunking the stereotypical image of the Acehnese as inherently pious or fanatical, Kloos shows how Acehnese Muslims reflect consciously on their faith and often frame their religious lives in terms of gradual ethical improvement. Revealing that most Muslims view their lives through the prism of uncertainty, doubt, and imperfection, he argues that these senses of failure contribute strongly to how individuals try to become better Muslims. He also demonstrates that while religious authorities have encroached on believers and local communities, constraining them in their beliefs and practices, the same process has enabled ordinary Muslims to reflect on moral choices and dilemmas, and to shape the ways religious norms are enforced.

Arguing that Islamic norms are carried out through daily negotiations and contestations rather than blind conformity, Becoming Better Muslims examines how ordinary people develop and exercise their religious agency.

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