What happened to the smiling face of Indonesian Islam? : Muslim intellectualism and the conservative turn in post-Suharto Indonesia
Bruinessen, Martin Van.
Date of Issue2011
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
The transition from authoritarian to democratic rule in Indonesia has been accompanied by the apparent decline of the liberal Muslim discourse that was dominant during the 1970s and 1980s and the increasing prominence of Islamist and fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. This paper attempts to go beyond a superficial reading of these developments and explores the conditions that favoured the flourishing of liberal Muslim thought during the New Order as well as the various factors that from the 1980s onwards supported the rise of transnational Islamist movements, at the expense of the established mainstream organisations, Muhammadiyah and NU. Liberal Muslim thought during the New Order developed in two distinct environments: among university students and graduates and the newly emerging Muslim middle class, whose family backgrounds connected them with reformist Islam, on the one hand, and among intellectuals and NGO activists hailing from the traditionalist milieu of the pesantren (Islamic boarding school) on the other. Nurcholish Madjid and Abdurrahman Wahid were the most brilliant representatives of these environments. Although both adopted similar positions on such key issues as the idea of an Islamic state and inter-religious relations, they arrived at these positions by different trajectories. The paper analyses the development of religious and social thought in these two environments in its changing social and political context, and also traces the development and strengthening transnational connections of an undercurrent of Islamist and fundamentalist thought during the same period. It was through the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI), established in 1990 as a vehicle for Muslim civil servants and businessmen, that the New Order regime co-opted formerly oppositional Islamists and fundamentalists and brought them into the mainstream. Liberal and progressive Muslim thought by no means stagnated after the demise of the New Order; in fact, it reached higher levels of intellectual sophistication than in the heyday of Suharto’s rule. However, liberal and progressive Muslims have lost the power of setting the terms of public debate to the numerically stronger currents of radical Islam. Considerable segments of the Muslim middle class have come under the influence of Islamist or fundamentalist thought. Those who reject those radical varieties of Islam, appear to be more easily drawn to popular preachers leading Sufism-inspired devotional movements rather than to the intellectual successors of Madjid and Wahid.
DRNTU::Social sciences::Political science
RSIS Working Papers ; 222-11