chapter  12
12 Pages

The hospitable Muslim home in urban Malaysia: A sociable site for economic and political action


The Muslim notion of the hospitable home is based on the Quranic injunction that the Muslim home shall always be open to guests, and that travellers shall never be turned away from food or shelter. In traditional rural life among the Malay-Muslims of Malaysia, the home was a powerful, evocative symbol of sociability, a locus for private and public incorporation and social exchange that brought families and communities into circles of attachment. However, what happens to the meanings of ‘home’ in a transformed Malaysian setting, as Malays today engage in the ‘Asian miracle’ of economic development and urbanisation, and are affected by the increasing power of capitalism and politicised national and ethnic identities? This chapter explores how the Malay-Muslim home in middle-class,

urban, contemporary life is used as a site to transact, affirm, exchange and justify new social, economic, and entrepreneurial identities. It demonstrates that the Malay-Muslim idea of ‘home’ and its imperatives for hosts and guests can be reworked to meet the needs of new economic, political and social roles. It suggests that a modern Malay-Muslim home can have economic utility, but that its utility can be manifested via a traditional cultural idiom. Emerging from a traditional Malay-Muslim definition, a modern home in Malaysia can provide ‘earnings’ and ‘proceeds’ through host/guest exchanges. However, in this cultural context it is not money that is exchanged between hosts and guests in a commercial home, but ‘capital’ of another kind: the capital of status, social ambition and political control. As such, I suggest that ‘profiting’ from a private home can transcend the strictly monetary and obvious commercial realm. It can potentiate both personal reputations and anticipated or future financial returns through ‘investments’ in sociability. In this way, the commercial home paradigm can be extended when analysing what appear to be non-capitalistic and even egalitarian and traditional hospitality transactions in a modern, urban Muslim setting. The chapter therefore suggests the ways in which self-interested transactions can be submerged in traditional, ritual and even rural dimensions of ‘home’ and ‘hospitality’.