Supplementary Material

Subjects of Debt: Financial Subjectification and Collaborative Risk in Malaysian Islamic Finance

ABSTRACT This article argues the Malaysian state has developed Islamic finance in conjunction with two distinct strategies of subject formation. In its first phase, in the 1980s, a central objective was the financial inclusion of Malays. Islamic finance was part of an identity-building project and intended to integrate this disadvantaged indigenous majority into the national economy. By the 2000s the state had succeeded in fostering a Malay Muslim middle class through aggressive affirmative action policies. Currently, Islamic finance is being redeployed as a technique for the neoliberal entrepreneurialization of the Malay Muslim population. Empirically, this shift is evident in efforts by experts to move Islamic finance away from a reliance on what they call “debt-based” devices to ones referred to as “equity based.” This entails substituting devices that reformers contend replicate the credit and lending instruments characteristic of “conventional finance” with instruments instead premised on investment, partnership, and risk sharing that they argue more faithfully adhere to the discursive tradition of Islam.

1) An ATM for HSBC Amanah, the Islamic arm of the global HSBC banking giant.

2) A branch of Etiqa Insurance and Takaful, the Islamic insurance division of Maybank, Malaysia’s largest bank. The homonym “Etiqa” suggests that Islamic insurance (called takaful) is grounded in ethical principles.

3) An advertisement for Al Rajhi bank, a Saudi Arabian firm that bills itself as the world’s largest Islamic bank. The copy alludes to the notion that “sharing” is a key principle of Islamic banking. Many Islamic finance experts contend that risk-sharing and profit-and-loss sharing are constitutive features of Islamic banking. The ad is further significant because the three boys in the photograph appear to be of Malay, Chinese, and Indian descent. These are the three major ethnic groups in Malaysia. Tension between these groups has been a recurring feature of Malaysian history. The jovial scene in which the boys are sharing a cake could be read as a comment on the importance of national unity and reciprocity among citizens in contemporary Malaysia. The ad simultaneously evokes national unity and the moral principles of Islamic finance.

4) The headquarters of Hong Leong Islamic Bank in central Kuala Lumpur.

5) A branch of Kuwait Finance House in the KL Sentral rapid transit station. Note that the firm intentionally avoids the use of the term “bank” in its name, choosing the distinctive phrase “finance house” instead.

6) An advertisement for Maybank Islamic in the Bangsar district of Kuala Lumpur. The copy on the left reads “4 million Malaysians have helped Maybank Islamic become the No. 1 Islamic financial institution in Malaysia.”

7) An advertisement for Maybank Islamic advertises “more channels to facilitate Hajj savings” with a picture of the Al-Haram mosque in Mecca, where the circumambulation of the kabbah takes place. The advertisement is juxtaposed with another one from Maybank’s conventional arm that features the Manchester United football club.8) An advertisement for the Maybank Islamic MasterCard. The copy announces that every week cardholders are eligible to win umrah packages. The umrah is also known as the “lesser hajj” and refers to pilgrimages to holy sites on the Arabian peninsula that take place outside the hajj season.

9) An advertisement for the Singapore-based Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation’s Islamic Branch, called OCBC Al-Amin. The ad copy promotes rates as low as 0.71 percent per month, ambiguously referring to “rates” (kadar) instead of interest (faedah or bunga).

10) An ATM screen for Standard Chartered Saadiq, the Islamic arm of the UK-based bank.

11) The headquarters of Bank Islam in central Kuala Lumpur with a sign in front noting that the building is constructed on wakf property. A wakf is an Islamic endowment.

Note: All photographs by author.

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