Islam in Indonesia: Contrasting Images and Interpretations

By Platzdasch, Bernhard | SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, November 2013 | Go to article overview

Islam in Indonesia: Contrasting Images and Interpretations


Platzdasch, Bernhard, SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia


Islam in Indonesia: Contrasting Images and Interpretations. Edited by Jajat Burhanudin and Kees van Dijk. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2013. 279 pp.

This book is a collection of papers delivered at a conference held in Bogor in January 2011. It examines the variety of manifestations of Islam in Indonesia and an ongoing discussion among representatives of different streams of the religion. The contributions are arranged in three sections: broader assessments of the characteristics of Indonesian Islam, liberal Islamic issues including feminism, and case studies of Salafist activities.

In the first section, the chapters by Kees van Djik and Najib Burhani ask whether Indonesian Islam is different from the Islams elsewhere in the world. Van Djik approaches the question via the opposing views of two classic scholarly interpreters of Indonesian Islam: Clifford Geertz ("yes") and Christiaan Snouk Hurgronje ("no"). He comes to the--somewhat expected--conclusion that the truth is to be found somewhere in between. Burhani highlights the distinctiveness of Indonesian Islam through the political thought of Abdurrahman Wahid and Nurcholish Madjid, a topic that has also been covered in various other studies and thus quite inevitably triggers a feeling of deja vu. Robert Hefner perceives Islam in today's Indonesia as "entirely different" (p. 49) as the country has become more religious in previous decades. He argues that Indonesian Islam can teach the broader Muslim world important lessons through its dynamic and open form of religious education, the success of its Muslim welfare organizations and the embrace of constitutional democracy. This discussion is often intriguing, and Hefner's chapter is focused and well organized.

Azyumardi Azra's chapter starts with the premise that Indonesian Islam was "much less rigid than Middle Eastern Islam" (p. 63). Like Burhani, he highlights Indonesian Islam's distinctive aspects. Similarly, too, much of the material will probably be familiar, at least to scholars of Indonesian Islam, as Azra reiterates many of the insights and arguments of his other writings. Taufik Abdullah declares his chapter to be a "historical reflection" on "Islam, state and society in democratising Indonesia" (p. 75), and so it is. He offers some intriguing observations on the rivalry between militant and liberal interpretations of Islam. The reflections are wide-ranging and the prose refreshingly straightforward, but some sections again might be overfamiliar to parts of the targeted readership.

Case studies occupy the second half of the book, beginning with liberal interpretations of Islam based on the themes of gender and feminism. Dian Maya Safitri's study addresses contradictions between hegemonic religious interpretations and the identities of waria (male transvestites). It is a fine and focused study based on interviews with six waria attending a pesantren (Islamic boarding school) in Yogyakarta, but it could have done with a little less theorizing. In the next chapter, Nina Nurmila challenges the literal approach to the Qur'anic verses on the division of inheritance. A "Muslim feminist" who believes that "while the Qur'an is the source of women's liberation it has been mistakenly used to subordinate women" (p. 113), Nurmila accuses literalist interpreters of the Qur'an of practicing "deception" (p. …

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