Religion as an Organic Entity: The Emergence of Fundamental-Liberalism in Islam in Indonesia and in Japanese Shinran Buddhism

By Kato, Hisanori | Comparative Civilizations Review, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview
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Religion as an Organic Entity: The Emergence of Fundamental-Liberalism in Islam in Indonesia and in Japanese Shinran Buddhism

Kato, Hisanori, Comparative Civilizations Review

...Mysticism intends a state of "possession, " not action, and the individual is not a tool but a "vessel" of the divine. Action in the world must thus appear as endangering the absolutely irrational and other-worldly religious state.


Millions of Japanese people visit Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples on the first day of January every year, wishing to receive from gods or Buddha such worldly benefits as prosperity, longevity, or financial security, which are collectively known as gensei rieki in Japanese.

It is also a common practice for Indonesian Muslims to go on a pilgrimage to the burial site of a saint or wali to ask for protection from unfavorable occurrences and the realization of their worldly wishes. In authentic Islamic tradition, however, the practice of supplication, known as tawassul, is only allowed by appealing to Allah and not any other entity. Nonetheless, the practice of incorrect tawassul is popular among Indonesian Muslims, who expect to be granted some fortune (kabul) from their patron wali.

In Jakarta, a popular sanctuary for fcaowZ-seeking pilgrims is the five-hectare complex of the grave of Mbah Priok, a descendant of Nabi Muhammad. This complex is situated in Koja of Tanjung Priok, the bustling port area of north Jakarta, and has been maintained by the family of self-proclaimed descendants of Mbah Priok, Habib Ali and Habib Abdullah.

The name of Mbah Priok has become even more prominent nationally ever since the clashes on April 14, 2010 between young pious Muslims living in the complex and local residents of Koja and Jakarta police forces on the other. The land on which Mbah Priok's grave is built is legally owned by a state-owned enterprise, P.T. Pelabuhan Indonesia II, or Pelindo II. With the intention of launching a development project in the area including the complex of Mbah Priok, this company has requested that Habib Ali and his family vacate the site. The family, however, refuses to leave me site, insisting that the ownership of the land had been illegitimately approved by the Dutch colonial government. This conflict regarding the ownership of the land has caused the clash between the two parties.

Since this incident, the site of Mbah Priok has become even more popular with visitors. Religious gatherings held both inside and outside the complex attract a huge number of followers. Pilgrims from all over the country visit the site every day. The incident on April 14, 2010 did not produce any concrete solution to this land dispute, with the situation remaining much the same as it has been since the colonial era.

Rather than focusing on the issue of the land dispute per se, this paper is an attempt to account for the popularity of the religious group based in Koja where Mbah Priok is thought to be buried. In other words, it is our interest to explain how religion and civilization interact in a given society.

Religion has two distinct domains: theological and sociological. The former is more closely related to the understanding of what constitutes authentic doctrines to adherents, while the latter is concerned with their socio-religious behaviors. From the sociological perspective, doctrines are flexible, given that they may be influenced by the condition of society, the course of civilization, and probably the psychology of the people. It is our assumption that the social aspect of religion would be a determining factor in the behaviors of both Japanese visitors to the temples on New Year's Day and the followers of Mbah Priok. Hypothetically speaking, religion as a social construct would somehow function to enable people to adapt to changes in a given society.

The content of Habib Ali 's teachings and that of a 12 century Japanese Buddhist group led by Shinran show impressive similarities. They both deal with the worldly interests of the people and offer tolerance and forgiveness for any human beings, including evildoers.

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Religion as an Organic Entity: The Emergence of Fundamental-Liberalism in Islam in Indonesia and in Japanese Shinran Buddhism


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