There is no doubt that this fine book, Contemporary Developments in Indonesian Islam (edited by Martin van Bruinessen) is a timely anthology on the contemporary developments of Indonesia’s post-Suharto Islam and Muslim politics. Edited by Martin van Bruinessen, an eminent Dutch scholar of Indonesian Islam, this collection of essays discusses “new trends” within Indonesian Islam, namely the rise of Islamic conservatism and religiously-inspired radical-militant Muslim groupings, particularly in the aftermath of the downfall of the Suharto dictatorial regime in May 1998. To provide further evidence—and convince the ideas—of the “conservative turn” in the country’s post-New Order Muslim cultures and politics, the book presents in-depth analyses of four case studies, each of which is investigated and written by four Indonesian Muslim scholars.
The first case study (60–104), written by Moch Nur Ichwan, examines the new and shifting roles of the MUI, a semi-official institution of the country’s Islamic scholars (ulama) founded by the late President Suharto in 1975, in the post-New Order Indonesia, from being the “servant of the ruler” (i.e., the New Order regime) to serving as the “servant of the ummah” (Muslim community). By analyzing various intolerant and anti-pluralist fatwas (non-binding Islamic legal opinions), tausiyahs(counsels), and other official statements produced by the MUI, particularly since the collapse of Suharto, Ichwan argues that this organization of Islamic scholars has attempted to redefine its role and reposition itself in the nation’s transitional politics “by defending more conservative Muslim interests and aspirations.”
Moreover, Ahmad Najib Burhani’s chapter (106–144) analyzes the emergence of the “conservative blocs” in the Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organization, since 1995, a year that, in Burhani’s view, marked the beginning of a series of competing religious discourses in this body. For Burhani, the rise of Muhammadiyah’s conservatism in the early years of the twenty-first century was not inherent, but rather a product of such external factors as national politics and the resurgence of new ideologies brought by transnational Islamic movements.
The remaining two chapters of case studies focus on the KPPSI (Preparatory Committee for the Implementation of Shari’a) in South Sulawesi and on radical Muslim groups in Solo of Central Java. Mujiburrahman’s chapter (145–189) discusses the historical dynamics and political struggle of the KPPSI in their endeavours to implement Shari’a as a public law and public policy in the province. The chapter concludes that, despite some political successes (e.g., the adoption of Shari’a-based regulations at the district level), the group failed to transform the region into an “Islamic state” or even a “semi-Islamic state.” Lastly Muhammad Wildan’s piece discusses the proliferation of radical Muslim groups in the city of Solo in Central Java (190–223). Despite being a “homegrown” of militant groups, Wildan says, conservative Muslim organizations in this region “have not expressed demands for shari’a-based regional regulations” (218).
Certainly, as the editor has reminded us in his introductory notes, these four cases are only “small instances” of the recent developments of religious conservatism and militancy within Indonesian Islam. Although these “conservative trends” do not represent the whole picture of Islam in the archipelago, these developments, however, by and large, the editor has argued, have changed and challenged the image and perception of Indonesian Islam, which was previously seen as peaceful, tolerant, secular, moderate and democratic to become intolerant, violent, “religious,” “extreme” and less-democratic.
The increase of the contemporary radical Muslim groups, directly or indirectly, was the product of political reformation, liberalism and democracy that greeted the nation since the fall of Suharto. During the early period of the New Order, Suharto severely controlled and ruthlessly treated Muslim reformist-militant groups and devotees of Islamism. Suharto’s collapse was thus seen as providing momentum for these groups to express their political and religious interests. In the name of democracy and civil liberty, the conservative Muslim groups established Islamic centres, organizations and schools, which they used as a means to disseminate anti-democratic ideas and thoughts of religious hatred and intolerance, and, paradoxically, to oppose democracy, which they saw as a Western secular product.
Although post-Suharto Indonesia has been marked by the influx of trans-national Islamists and local conservative Muslim groupings, it is misleading, however, to conclude that conservatism is a new phenomenon in the history of Islam in the country. Since the eighteenth century the archipelago has been an arena of severe political struggle and harsh religious rivalry among various Muslim groupings: reformists, traditionalists, modernists, nominal Muslims, Sufis, shari’a-oriented Muslims, etc. Despite some political repressions against the radical Muslim groups committed by Presidents Suharto and Sukarno, the groups did not disappear, and in fact, they re-surfaced in the stage of Indonesian politics following the collapse of Suharto rule.
However, it is too early to say that today’s Indonesian Islam has been occupied by conservatism. The “battle of thoughts” between the conservatives and the progressives has not finished yet, and in fact plurality, even in such Islamic organization as the MUI, always takes place in Islamic institutions and Muslim groupings. There are also substantial numbers of moderate-progressive figures within the MUI. Even though the actions and views of radical Muslim groups have been dominant in the media and scholarship, the reality of society very often speaks otherwise.
It is true that militant Muslim groups are very strong in Solo or South Sulawesi, but Indonesia is not Solo and South Sulawesi; thereby both areas do not represent the image of Indonesian Islam as a whole. Even in these two regions, moderate-progressive Muslims are also very strong. The fact that secular-nationalist political parties always win national and regional elections indicates that the Muslim conservatives do not (yet) have deep roots in the society. Despite massive intolerance campaigns by Muslim hardliners and conservative Muslim figures against Joko Widodo, who was deemed to be less-Islamic, and his running mate Basuki Tjahja Purnama, a Chinese Christian, in the gubernatorial election in Jakarta, the candidate won the majority of votes cast by Jakartans.
All of these complexities and diversities of Muslim groupings and opinions teaches us that Indonesia, which has had prolonged experience of intergroup engagement and the profound vigour of pluralism, has not yet, perhaps never, been “Islamicized” by conservative blocs.
Source: Pacific Affairs