Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Post-Authoritarian Diversity in Indonesia's State-Owned Mosques: A Manakiban Case Study

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Post-Authoritarian Diversity in Indonesia's State-Owned Mosques: A Manakiban Case Study

Article excerpt

Indonesia's Muslims display a remarkable diversity of religious observances and interpretations. But the performances, expressions and observances taking place in state-owned Islamic infrastructure have, in the past, never given an accurate impression of this diversity. Rather, the visibility of an observance or expression in state-owned mosques has been subject to conditions of access and permissibility determined by gatekeepers with authority over that infrastructure. Under the New Order regime, public Islamic observance was shaped by a developmentalist ideology enforced through authoritarian structures. In his historical and anthropological study of Gayo religion, John Bowen observed a mutual accommodation between a forward-looking nationalism and a program of religious modernisation gathering momentum in a supra-local ethos. This combination resulted in the exclusion of a 'broad range of village practices' from state-owned infrastructure. (1) Robert Hefner's observations of religious change in Java's eastern mountain subdistricts revealed a state-sponsored program of religious transformation that set itself in opposition to deeply rooted Islamic conventions of the region, which included the regular holding of selamatan (ritual meals) and ritual offerings at shrines. Government support, available mostly to supporters of the nationalist Golkar party, was not made available to practitioners of those rites. (2) Ahmad Baso identifies similar developments in his critique of Indonesian bureaucratic modernity: New Order developmentalism demanded a 'critical/rational' public sphere, which found its religious counterpart in the scripturalist methodologies of modernist Islam, and simultaneously stigmatised other forms as 'primordial' and 'mystical'. (3) These analyses make it clear that during the New Order there was an authoritative consensus that certain religious forms, symbols and performances were considered appropriate for public space, while others were not.

This picture requires updating: several scholars have described significant developments in religious life, along with political change, since the Reformasi period. First, the fall of the authoritarian Suharto regime in 1998 enabled the public expression of identities--ethnic, religious and other--that had been previously submerged beneath the regime's top-down national project, but which were rapidly politicised in the newly autonomous regional political spheres. (4) Second, the normative models for religious identities shaped by the New Order's developmentalist ideology lost some of their grip on public religious expression. (5) Third, Indonesians are now witnessing virulent public competition amongst Islamic groups for moral supremacy, especially around issues involving religious freedom, Islamic sects, women, marriage and sexuality. (6) Fourth, while various sections of the Indonesian mass media had been expanding before Reformasi, post-1998 deregulation stimulated the diversification of media forms and an unforeseen plurality of expression. (7) Fifth, consumption and commodification have dramatically transformed many religious practices and observances, (8) and sixth, Islamic political groups exert far more influence in public and political life than they did previously. (9)

This article adds to this literature through an analysis of a significant change in Islam's public manifestation that has emerged since the end of the New Order. We have observed that West Javanese public Islamic infrastructure is now host to a far wider range of Islamic expressions and practices than during the New Order. Using a specific Islamic observance as an example, we focus here on the contextual changes that have broadened access to state-owned Islamic infrastructure (mesjid ray a, provincial mosques and mesjid agung, regency/municipal mosques). Why has a specific religious observance, for so long excluded from being performed within officially sanctioned Islamic infrastructure, quite suddenly begun to be practised within that infrastructure? …

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