Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Beyond "Chinese Diaspora" and "Islamic Ummah": Various Transnational Connections and Local Negotiations of Chinese Muslim Identities in Indonesia

Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Beyond "Chinese Diaspora" and "Islamic Ummah": Various Transnational Connections and Local Negotiations of Chinese Muslim Identities in Indonesia

Article excerpt

Both Chinese and Muslim identities in Indonesia have transnational dimensions, connected to the "Chinese diaspora" in Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other locations and to the "Islamic ummah" in Malaysia, the Middle East and elsewhere, respectively. Each of these identities also displays regional variations--between, for example, Chinese in Jakarta and Chinese in Medan, or Muslims in Surabaya and Muslims in Palembang. The interplay of global flows, particularly the rise of China and of global Islamism, and of local politics, such as the expansion of democracy and regional autonomy in the post-New Order era, shapes the contexts for the formation of both identities. This interplay also shapes the forces and dynamics at work in forming Chinese and Muslim Identities in Indonesia. This article examines Chinese Muslim identities in contemporary Indonesia as ongoing processes of interaction between Chinese ethnicity and Islamic religiosity and as mediation between transnational imaginings and local negotiations.

As Appadurai (1996) and Gupta and Ferguson (1992) argue, identity formation in contemporary society is not only situated within boundaries of a territorial space, but also configured across and between spaces. It is informed by the interaction between locally specific practices of selfhood and the dynamics of global positioning (Friedman 1994, p. 117). Studying Pakistani Muslims in Manchester, Werbner (2002) examines the complex and interconnected relations between transnational flows and local forces. She suggests that multiple transnational orientations characterize such local communities. In Indonesia, there are divides between Muslims who are in favour of "purification" or "Arabisation" of Islam (Ghoshal 2010; Rahim 2006) and Muslims who promote "indigenisation" (Wahid 2007) or the "Indonesianness" (Madjid 1987) of Islam. Yet a simple dichotomy between transnational affiliation and local belonging does not reflect the complexities of the formation of Muslim identities in Indonesia.

Instead of seeing transnational influences and local dynamics as contradictory or competitive, this article examines the interaction between and the interconnectedness of these influences and dynamics in the making of Indonesian Chinese Muslim identities. It explores the spatial dynamics of Chinese Muslim identity in three dimensions.

First are the transnational connections and local negotiations of Chinese Muslim identity in post-New Order Indonesia. In the past, Chinese Indonesians who converted to Islam were seen as less "Chinese". They often assimilated into local ethnic-majority populations. Today, political openness towards Chinese cultural expression has given Chinese Muslims an opportunity to maintain their Chinese identity along with their Islamic religiosity. Through the establishment of the Cheng Hoo Mosque, a Chinese-style mosque in Surabaya, the Indonesian Chinese Muslim Association (Persatuan Islam Tionghoa Indonesia, PITI) has tried to manifest a public image of Chinese Muslim identity by connecting Indonesian Chinese Muslims to Muslims in China, while at the same time reconfiguring Chinese Muslim identity in the local context. (1)

The second dimension is the translocal formation of Chinese Muslim cultural identity. Following the success of the Surabaya Cheng Hoo Mosque, many Chinese Muslims in other localities in Indonesia have made plans to replicate the effort in that city to establish a Chinese-style mosque. Both organizations and individuals have undertaken such efforts. As Chinese Muslims are members of a minority group dispersed across Indonesia and as they practise different local cultures, this effort may contribute to the construction or imagination of a unifying Chinese Muslim identity in contemporary Indonesia. This unifying identity is a relatively new, translocal ethno-religious phenomenon, one that stands in contrast to other, local traditional Muslim identities--for example, Javanese Muslims and Minang Muslims--in Indonesia. …

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