Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Imagining the Land of the Two Holy Mosques: The Social and Doctrinal Importance of Saudi Arabia in Indonesian Salafi Discourse

Academic journal article Austrian Journal of South - East Asian Studies

Imagining the Land of the Two Holy Mosques: The Social and Doctrinal Importance of Saudi Arabia in Indonesian Salafi Discourse

Article excerpt


The emergence of Salafi Islam within Indonesia has, for its adherents, shifted the imaginary and ethical boundaries of Islamic identity. Although relatively small in numbers, Salafis propagate a religious discourse linked to scholars and educational institutions in Saudi Arabia that they believe emulate the Salaf al-Salih (which they interpret as the first three generations of Muslims). While it cannot be regarded as merely a type of 'Saudization', the Land of the Two Holy Mosques plays a pivotal part in the Salafi imaginary, balancing a historical Islamic past with an ideal religious future. Frequently exemplified, Saudi Arabia is not only the caretaker of Islam's most holy sites, but provides a model for an imagined pious society (compared to the perceived immorality of Indonesia) as well as pragmatic solutions on how to deal with contemporary issues from justice to terrorism.

Based on fieldwork conducted from 2011 to 2012 in Yogyakarta, this paper explores the importance of the Saudi kingdom among Salafis as a source of educational and financial sponsorship, but also, more interestingly, as a place of religious authority and ideals. 1 approach the subject through a focus on religious literature and study sessions (kajian) prevalent in Yogyakarta. My line of enquiry does not relate to a singular foundation or group, but rather looks more widely at a variety of agents active under the label 'Salafi' within the religious landscape. In doing so, 1 maintain that Salafism is a broad, translocal, multi-layered, and multi-stranded social movement that encapsulates a variety of different actors, institutions, and foundations. It is sustained not through any singular organizational structure, but through the lived experiences, divergences, and multiple ways in which it is 'enacted' within a given locale. In Yogyakarta, its proponents include (but are not exclusive to) Wahdah Islamiyah, the Yayasan Majelis At-Turots al-Islamy (AtTurots al-Islamy Foundation, AtTurots), and Yayasan Pendidikan Islam al-Atsary (YPIA, al-Atsary Islamic Education Foundation). These actors often differ and disagree in the modes and methods through which they promote Salafi teachings, not shying away from contention in relation to religious practice. Yet, they nevertheless share similar global linkages and utilize Saudi Arabia in remarkably similar ways. Indeed, the use of Saudi sources and imaginaries in order to promote specific religious practices is perhaps a crucial overarching characteristic that conjoins a variety of 'Salafi' strands throughout Indonesia.

Through a description of the ways Salafi doctrine 'travels' (Said, 1983) and is 'framed' (Benford & Snow, 1986), 1 argue that the image of Saudi Arabia is used by actors to construct an imaginary ideal through which social and religious issues are reflected. For Salafis, any religious decision must find its legitimacy in Saudi sources. Further, Saudi society itself is utilized as a model of piety that adherents should strive towards. Yet, while this imaginary is built on real links and experiences, it fails to move beyond a normative set of values and look at the complexities and nuances of Saudi society itself. Moreover, as Salafism is not based on any unifying organizational and hierarchical 'center', its spread depends as much on global linkages as it does on the ability of local agents to adapt religious resources to a given context. Consequently, the need to recompose global sources at the local level inevitably requires a level of adaptation that creates a degree of distance from any idealized image of Saudi Arabia. This does not render the image ineffectual, but rather, for Salafis, it becomes part of an 'emancipatory desire' constantly insisted upon, even if impossible to enact.


Prior to analyzing the modes through which particular socio-historical images of an Islamic society and Saudi Arabia penetrate Indonesian Salafi discourse, a descriptive account as to what 1 mean by the term Salafism (and Salafism in Indonesia, more specifically) is needed. …

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