The Dynamics among Traditionalists in Response to the Development of Modern Indonesian Islam

Endang Turmudi (LIPI)


The character of Indonesian Islam as expressed in the religious practice of the traditionalists is accommodating to changes or be open to adopt local cultures alive in the community. Such a character has not only been able to create new cultures, in which the local culture was furnished with Islam, but it also shows the syncretics tendencies of Indonesian Islam. Indonesian Muslim community in this regard has given rise to cultural enrichment, and on the other hand it has presented a bit different Islam as that practiced in the Middle East. The community has been practicing Islam in accordance with the culture brought from Arab countries, in addition to its presentation of a local culture that has been colored with Islam. Thus, Islam that is appeared in Indonesian society is the one that is rooted in the theological substance brought about by the Prophet Muhammad himself with five basic principles as well as accommodating to the local culture. This pattern of Islam introduction is a key to success so that Islam is embraced by almost 90 per cent of the people in the archipelago.

Nonetheless, this accommodating characters seem to be undergoing changes now after the second wave devastating Wahhabization hit their religious life. With the birth of trans-national organizations leaning to Wahhabi ideology, the traditionalists who constitute a bigger part of Indonesian society look defensive, because the attack of the Wahhabis was so intense. Even with perspective “takfiri” (declaring another Muslim as infidel) flung by the figures of transnational organizations, the traditionalists seem to be hesitated to maintain the religious practices so far they did. Thoughts with essentialist character finally  appeared to respond the attacks of the Wahhabis thinking they are not practicing true Islam. In this case the traditionalists also criticize the Wahhabis who are considered as identifying Islam with Arab. In the essentialist perspective, it is argued that Islam in Indonesia, with all its cultural innovation has the same position as that in Arabic community put forward by the Wahhabis. According to the traditionalists, the Islamic theological essence is alive in their religious practice, surrounded by local culture. The traditionalist reaction against the Wahhabis, however, is exaggerating because they seemed to view that Islamic culture was not there. What exists, according to them, is Islamic theological substance encased by local culture of the Arab, Indonesian and others. They call Islam Nusantara to refer to Indonesian Islam that has been influenced by the local culture without losing its theological substance.