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8.1.07

Interview with Michael Laffan: Contouring Islam in Indonesia

This article is retrieved from Harvard Asia Quarterly under link:
Interview with Michael Laffan


Written by HAQ Staff

HAQ: I think it would be useful if we could begin with the question of how the various religions, i.e. indigenous beliefs, Buddhism from the Majapahit Empire, and Islam, function in Indonesia. Could you provide us with a brief account regarding the inception, development, and assimilation of these beliefs?

ML: Indonesia is a state that officially recognizes five “monotheistic” religions, although monotheism is to be taken as a somewhat elastic category that includes Buddhism and Hinduism while excluding the nation’s many ancestral traditions (which can be broadly grouped under the rubric of animism). It is difficult to make even a cursory attempt at outlining how these many religious beliefs coexist in Indonesia without first recognizing that the balance of power is squarely in the hands of the Muslim majority, a majority often estimated to be in the vicinity of 90% of the total population of well over 220 million. Bearing this in mind, and given Islam’s long presence in the region, social differences in many places are to be understood not so much in terms of which local or world religion is adhered to, but rather which form of Islam is practiced.

Admittedly some of these forms are colored by local and international variants of Islam and other faiths. Sometimes polemics between them are phrased in terms that refer to Indonesia’s older traditions. Some self-declared reformers see Indonesian Islam as being hopelessly infused with Hindu-Buddhist or animist “deviation”, or predicate Islam in opposition to Christianity, the religion of the former European colonizers which, in its many forms, remains the most important minority faith in Indonesia today, certainly outweighing the modern-day influence of Buddhism and Hinduism.

The usual narrative of Indonesian religious history is one of an archipelago of peoples speaking related languages and practicing a set of related traditions exposed, by virtue of their strategic location on the maritime highway linking China to West Asia, to several of the global religions that have arisen over the past two and a half millennia. Based on the heritage in the region of Indic-derived scripts, of Buddhist and Hindu inscriptions attesting to the orientations of the courts of Srivijaya in the 7th century and Majapahit in the 13th, and the enduring popularity of stories reinterpreting the Ramayana and Mahabharata, there is much to allow one to reconstruct Indonesia’s “Indic” past and to link it to the mainland states of Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia. Early Arab geographies usually treated the region, or at least Sumatra and Malaya, as a part of India, and foreign travelers have long been struck by the cultural debt owed to the subcontinent. In fact the name coined by two Englishmen in Singapore in 1850 pays tribute to this: Indonesia is, literally, “the Indian archipelago”.

Based on this proximity and family similarity, it has often been argued that the transmission and engagement with Islam had first come through India. Furthermore, it was believed that the form adopted was somehow an inherently more tolerant and “mystical” one. In time, so the argument went, Indonesian Muslims would make the journey to religious centers in the Middle East rather than India, and import into their own homelands Arab names, Arab teachers, “Arab” forms of dress (such as the turban and the veil) and stricter, allegedly more puritanical, Arab forms of religiosity in keeping with lands that are seen as more austere by virtue of their deserts and more “orthodox” by their status as the home of Islamic culture.

And while the latter part of this vision was largely constructed in the 19th century as perturbed Dutch and English officials saw yet more Arabs arriving largely from Yemen to warm welcomes in the archipelago, it is somewhat ironic that the exemplar of “Arab” puritanism most often cited in scholarship on Indonesian Islam is that of Nur al-Din al-Raniri, who in the 1630s ordered the burning of heretical books read at the court of Aceh. I say that it is ironic because al-Raniri could easily be imagined as an Indian scholar by virtue of his place of birth, namely Gujerat, and his familiarity with Malay is proven by the fact that a work of his, the Sirat al-mustaqim, remains one of the great examples of Malay literature from the 17th century. If anything, the example of al-Raniri shows how hard it is to narrow down the ethnicity of many actors in early-modern Islamic history across the Indian Ocean.

As far as Indonesia is concerned, though, the general narrative of engagement with Arabia, and then the more noticeable presence of Arab teachers moving into the region, often stresses an allegedly exogenous spirit of intolerance in contradistinction to a local one of syncretism and acceptance. It also replicates the Mediterranean experience of Jihad and Crusade as a dialectic of structured opposition in the region following the arrival of the Iberian powers in the 16th century, and again with the appearance of the Atlantic powers in the 17th.While there are elements of truth to these claims – for we can say that the royal traditions were first Indianized, that Islam was often paraphrased in Indic terms, and that Islam could take on more oppositional forms against Christianity in the 16th century – it is a gross overstatement, I believe, to place the stimuli of conversion solely in Indian hands, and then the imposition of “orthodoxy” in less-tolerant Arab ones alone. The evidence of the longue durée of connection with a mystically-tinted and culturally-inclusive Islam from the 13th century has far more to do first with revived connections with the South China trade, which was dominated in various periods by Muslims of diverse ethnic backgrounds, and a linking up with direct trade with Southern India and the Red Sea littoral – a trade that long included both Muslims from the west and Malay speakers from the east as active agents.

I realize that I have perhaps strayed from the intent of your question here, but I believe that it is important to outline these points because the standard narrative limits the way we can talk about Islam in Indonesia. Arguably it has an impact on the way that Indonesians who are connected to the various Islamic reformisms today see their own cultural trajectories. This is because both the modern partisans of the Wahhabi tradition of Saudi Arabia – a tradition that is actually at sharp variance with the longer history of Islam on the Arabian Peninsula – and, perhaps even more influentially, the “modernist” form that arose in Egypt in the late 19th century, owe much to Orientalist conceptions for their visualizations of Indonesian history and Islam’s role therein. For both western Orientalists and Cairene reformers alike, Islam in the region was, to quote the Dutch historian Van Leur, a “thin and easily flaking glaze” applied over a deeper indigenous tradition. For the Dutch it was a glaze to be flaked off as much as possible in favor of codifying local traditional laws and regulations, or one whose applicating brush was to be kept from such redoubts of the valorized Indic past as Bali. For the reformists who read Orientalist works, and for the Indonesians who read the same works or yet those produced by the Cairene analysts, it was a glaze to be given a sanding and far thicker coating that would both disguise past unbelief and emulate the admirable tinctures of a pristine Mecca and Medina – hues felt to have been debased by centuries of mystical “deviation” throughout the Muslim world.

HAQ: Historically, were there major conflicts between Islam and the other faiths, or among the different “denominations” of Islam which you would like to elaborate upon for us to better understand the dynamics of religious beliefs in Indonesia?

ML: Well, the first historic point that I would make is that there was no “Indonesia” as we now know it before about 1900 – by which I mean that there was neither a fully centralized state that ruled over the archipelago from the tip of Aceh to New Guinea, nor did the many peoples who inhabited that area think of each other as fellow subjects or citizens.

Even so, it is fair, I think, to speak in general terms of an underlying Austronesian commonality that was further bound together by maritime trade and, in time, by Islam. Both of these commonalities used Malay as an important medium of contact and propagation. Based on what we know of the premodern era, we can speak of the penetration of Islam via a coastal trade that was dominated by Malays and by other peoples who spoke the Malay language – including Chinese and Javanese traders. Once coastal Islam made inroads on the fringes of larger non-Muslim polities (as it did in other places around the Indian Ocean) we can also start to speak of inter-religious and intra-religious conflicts in Indonesian history.

As far as the conflict between global systems goes, we can think of the process by which Java changed hands from being under a Hindu – or better stated, Indianized – elite to one dominated by an Islamized court. The conventional story in this instance is that the post-Mongol power of Majapahit fell to the forces of the coastal Islamic state of Demak in 1527, though it is perhaps going too far to say that Java changed from being “Hindu” to Muslim overnight. Much of the east of the island continued to be Hindu in orientation, in a cultural continuum stretching onto the neighboring isle of Bali, while redoubts of indigenous belief systems – structured around the ancestors and village protectors – long remained.

Another way of thinking about a clash of faith systems is in terms of the competition between Islam and Christianity, which I mentioned above. Each of these religions was actively in competition in the eastern parts of the archipelago against the background of ongoing competition for global trade in spices. The Portuguese, for example, arrived in the region in the first decades of the 16th century and Christianized, or attempted to Christianize, many of the spice islands of the Moluccas – some of which had been Islamized only in living memory. In some cases the Portuguese (and later the Spanish) were successful; in others, they faced staunch opposition from Muslim states, some of which drew on aid from remnants of an Ottoman force that had been sent to aid Aceh in its struggles with Malacca in the 1560s. Even so, it is an exaggeration to speak of a grand struggle that unified the Muslims of the archipelago against a Christian intruder; the Portuguese of Malacca were saved on occasion by Muslim allies on the Malay peninsula, and many Muslim states were prepared to ally themselves with Dutch and English alike after they became more frequent visitors to the region in the 17th century.

Regardless of such complications, there is a tendency in modern Indonesian historiography to make all anti-colonial struggles into anti-Christian, and thus proto-nationalist, struggles. Where religion fits in this story is not always clear, but it is fair to say that over the course of Dutch expansion, culminating with the creation of the Netherlands Indies, Islam had become a powerful expression of solidarity. And as the Dutch struggled with the Acehnese resistance led by Muslim scholars in the 1870s and later, Muslims in other places in the expanding Netherlands Indies could increasingly sympathize with such struggles as being related to their own. For starters they now shared a common enemy in the Dutch; they sailed mostly in western steamers to Arabia where they could swap notes on their colonial experiences; and they could all reflect upon the maps and decrees produced by the burgeoning “tropical” Netherlands.

Yet while we can think about an Islamic struggle that goes on over time, this only makes sense when there is one, non-Muslim, opponent. Obviously things have been more complicated on the side of the western antagonist, but throughout Indonesian history there have also been conflicts between Muslims as various global impulses for the increased identification with the Islam of the Arabian peninsula and centres such as Cairo have been voiced, or as a result of accusations that local practices did not go beyond simple adhesion to its basic rules, such as the foreswearing of pork, or worse, engaged in the too-liberal dilution of the faith by the admixture of other religious practices or maintenance of the traditions of local ancestors. As I mentioned, in many instances such challenges caused conflict within already Muslim societies. To return to the example of the 17th century reformer (or zealot, depending on your perspective) al-Raniri: As I said, this figure is often cited in “Indonesian” history, but often as the intolerant outsider- Certainly he played upon his foreign status, which probably helped this Gujerati-born scholar of Arab extraction to secure a post as the leading Muslim official to the court of Aceh in the 1630s. Under the patronage of Sultan Iskandar II, al-Raniri argued that the practices of the court verged on heresy, and especially in terms of the popular adherence to an allegedly antinomian Sufism propagated in the previous century by the Malay scholar Hamzah Fansuri (d. 1527). A form of inquisition was launched, books were burnt, and lives were lost, before the coming to the throne of a new (and female) ruler, coupled with the arrival of another, more mystically-inclined teacher, spelled the end of his influence.

Again in the early 19th century, we have the Sumatran example of the Padris – led by men newly returned from Mecca, then newly under the sway of the rigorous Wahhabiyya movement. While not necessarily Wahhabis themselves, these returnees initiated attempts to reform the practices of their fellow people of West Sumatra, decrying such popular diversions as cock-fighting and the drinking of alcohol. When their calls to reform were rejected, they turned to violence, initiating a conflict that wrought havoc in West Sumatra and which ended only after the Dutch entered the side of the old traditional elite in the 1830s, turning the conflict in time into one seen today as being between Islam and Dutch colonialism acting through its feudal cronies.

Of relatively recent vintage have been the conflicts, starting in the early 1900s, between reformers oriented primarily to Cairo against local “traditionalists”, and more recently again since the 1960s between traditionalists and the graduates of the many schools in the archipelago, or yet in Arabia itself, who look to the example of the modern Saudi-Wahhabi alliance. It should be said though that such conflicts have been less often wars of arms than of ideas, whose partisans have sought to engage and recruit constituencies within the population of what is now described as a nation that it is more than 90% Muslim. The question remains though as to what form of Islam should dominate.

HAQ: If I understand your book correctly (Islamic Nationhood And Colonial Indonesia: The Umma Below The Winds, RoutledgeCurzon 2003), Islamic reforms and colonialism were inter-related in Indonesia. Could you comment on the contest between these two discourses? How did the state try to co-opt religion and how did the latter attempt to fight back?


ML: First, I think it is important to understand that there are two major streams of reformism in Indonesia today and one form of traditionalism that stems from an earlier form of Sufi reform. They each have their own sources and historical trajectories that nonetheless interact. The oldest tradition of reform yet equally one that has come to draw on the colonial experience, is that of reformist Sufism. In his widely-influential doctoral thesis, the current rector of the State Islamic University of Jakarta, Azyumardi Azra, demonstrated how Indonesian scholars of the 17th and 18th centuries were often personally linked to the teachers, or had studied the techniques of, the mystical orders known as tariqas -- being fraternities with exercises and teachings that emphasize the inner, mystical experience of the Divine mediated personally at the hands of a learned master -- and that these scholars were welcomed at many of the courts of the archipelago as authorities for both mystical Islam and normative, Sharia-oriented, piety. Of particular note were Malay scholars like Abd al-Ra’uf of Singkel (1615-93), Yusuf of Makassar (1627-99), Abd al-Samad of Palambang (1704-ca.1789), and Muhammad Arshad of Banjar (1710-1812). All had spent significant periods of study in Arabia, and all were associated with such orders as the Shattariyya, Naqshbandiyya and Khalwatiyya. (It should also be noted that Azra connects al-Raniri to these later scholars as a paragon of Sufi-reformism in the Malay World).

But while Sufism has a long history in the archipelago, the increasing availability of such facilitators of modernity as trains, steamships, and print allowed certain orders, or at least certain shaykhs, to enlarge their consistencies beyond the limited scope of the learned or royal elite to the masses. Crucial in this endeavor was a claim to a more direct connection with the Holy Places of Mecca and Medina, and the means to spread their teachings more widely. They also propagated a more standardized form of praxis, one that was to conform more and more across time and space and be mobilized against local, and putatively less standard, modes.

For example, whereas the Shattariyah order had long claimed adherants in Java, in the latter half of the twentieth century, various sub-branches of the Naqshbandiyya, and especially the Khalidiyya, were making inroads into formerly Shattari areas. Their claims of superiority were doubtless helped by the fact that the Shattariyya was no longer active in the Hijaz and that there were several Khalidis occupying the prominent Sufi centre of Abu Qubays, which many Southeast Asians visited when performing their visits to the Holy Places. Moreover it seems that these often wealthier shaykhs, or at least their local agents, were better connected to the pilgrimage trade itself, and were well aware of the new means of reproducing Islamic texts by lithography.

Yet if the simple means of modernity made available by the penetration of western capital and power allowed certain orders to increase in influence in the late nineteenth century, it was the subsequent rise and dissemination of Cairene reformism, the second major stream active in Indonesia today, that was far more interlinked with the colonial experience. Its advocates often asked why their lands had been colonized in the first place and drew on western narratives of despotism and Sufi degradation over the centuries as much as they critically mined and reread the textual sources of Islam, in particular the Qur’an and Hadith (the collected words and deeds of the Prophet as found in canonical collections), as opposed to the allegedly corrupted texts composed by Sufi masters of much later times. The past was also linked to the imagining of martial success, and the notion of a Muslim empire stretching from Morocco to Delhi which was so much admired by western historiography was equally important in their writings. Past greatness entailed a past purity of practice, it was argued by western scholars and Cairene reformers alike. Hence by reviving such practice, greatness would return. In Indonesia the advocates of such views were able, at times through the alliances they often made with western scholars with whom they interacted as informants, and indeed as fellow Muslim friends sympathetic to all forms of “modernism”, to gain recognition as authorities on “true” Islam. They agreed on the nature of Indonesian Islam as a distant and much varied form that differed markedly from the Middle Eastern source. Theirs was an Islam which agreed in principle to pay less heed to the absolute authority of the mystical shaykh, was geared to social action in education and welfare, and that – under the principle of preserving order for the common weal – paid respectful adherence to the rule of law; even if that law was made by foreigners. After all, it was the law that sometimes gave space for their campaigns against their allegedly backward enemies.

This is not to say that they agreed in all respects and respected all laws in spirit. Their ultimate aim was for recognition and ultimate independence. And while some Orientalists had sympathy for the first aim and perhaps even a little for the second (at some distant point in the future), the colonial states they served certainly had no time for the second and little for the first. As time went on, and, particularly with the rise of an indigenous nationalist movement in the 1910s that was increasingly articulated in terms of Islamic identity, first led by Sarekat Islam, such activists moved further and further away from any acknowledgement of the colonial framework that had recognized them as valid voices of Islam or that had supplied them – albeit indirectly and unintentionally – with the arguments for the amelioration of their positions. A hardening of the attitude of the Dutch colonial regime in the 1920s, particularly in the wake of leftist uprisings loosely affiliated with Sarekat Islam, also caused the most avowedly reformist strands of the movement, that is the Muhammadiyah and al-Irsyad movements, to concentrate on quietist reform of public practice.

In this field, however, they met with greatest resistance not from the colonial state, but rather from the earlier generations of teachers linked to the schools that maintained the corpus of “classical”, but now largely printed, texts that had been produced by the scholars coming after the first “pious generation” (al-salaf al-salih), and that were still being produced with reference to both the works of Islamic jurisprudence and mystical piety. For example, ethical compendia, such as the Ihya’ `ulum al-din of al-Ghazali (1058-1111) and numerous other texts based on his jurisprudence, such as the Muharrar of al-Rafi`i (d. 1226), loomed large, as did basic books of dogma, such as the Umm al-barahin of Muhammad al-Sanusi (d.1490), and indeed al-Raniri’s landmark Malay work the Sirat al-mustaqim. These in turn had generated, and continued to generate, works of commentry and paraphrase in Malay by scholars like Abd al-Ra’uf of Singkel and Abd al-Samad of Palembang, or indeed in Arabic for Indonesian audiences. At his death in 1897, for example, the Mecca-based scholar, Nawawi of Banten, was regarded by many Javanese as the greatest exponent of learned works for an Indies audience. Indeed Nawawi’s works are still widely available and are to be found in practically every traditional pesantren in Indonesia; pointing to the lasting vitality of the tradition. It was also from within this traditon that the reformist challenge would be answered with the formation in Surabaya in 1926 of an organization of their own interests, the Nadhlatul Ulama or NU.

It is fair to say that as they withdrew from colonial engagement in favor of concentrating on societal reform, the Cairene reformers increasingly disagreed with their erstwhile allies as to the sources of Islam in Indonesia. And unlike the narrative of Indian origin still favored by men like Snouck Hurgronje, they deliberately stressed – much like the Sufi reformers – a direct transmission of Islam from the land of the Prophet, if not in the days of Muhammad himself. Indeed the days and emulation of the Prophet form the absolute model for all Muslim movements, even though they may differ on the details of what those days were like. To this extent there are broad similarities between them. However there are also substantive differences. Sufis, such as the many tariqa shaykhs loosely affiliated with the NU, will argue that they maintain an exclusive knowledge passed on directly by the Prophet to his immediate followers of the salaf, while the Cairene reformers argue the exact opposite: that Muhammad created no body of the privileged elect, and that all can attain equality in Islam regardless of their family lines, or indeed their ethnicity, by emulation of the salaf.

Identification with the salaf, and thus maintaining the adjectival appellation of being a true salafi, has been most actively propounded by the third stream now active in Indonesia – the mode that many observers within and outside Indonesia see as the real “fundamentalists” while still validating their claims to authority by calling them the salafis. Partially an offshoot from the “modernist” reformists with whom they are often conflated, but far more indebted to the Wahhabiyya, this minority movement emerged in connection with the wake of various Islamic uprisings against Sukarno in the 1950s and early 1960s, but more especially with the constant pressure on all forms of non-governmental political activity under Suharto. In part, they were seeking recognition as the true voices of oppressed Islam, but some strands also gained recognition and patronage via the petro-dollars of an ascendant Saudi state. While they were concentrated at certain Islamic boarding schools, their real strength was founded in various cells around the mosques of university campuses, typically those connected with the sciences.

HAQ: One of the most intriguing strands of scholarship relating to the Islamic faith concerns the theory of secularization. Though the theory itself has been proven less than axiomatic, nevertheless, no less a scholar than Ernest Gellner commented of the seemingly exceptional status of Islam in resisting the secularizing winds of change. Keeping this in mind, what do you think are the key differences in the “church”-state relationship in mediating reformism and traditionalism in Indonesia today?

As a historian who specializes in the colonial period, I always feel a bit out of my depth when tackling questions of more recent vintage, or yet of theories of secularization. However, if we were to generalize about the post-independence experience of “church”-state relations, keeping in mind that there is no “church” as such in Islam, it would have to be said that each regime has tried to manipulate the idea of Islamic unity more than the practice of Islam; though naturally the Islamist opposition of Indonesia’s various secular presidents would beg to differ with this view, busy as they are with trying to claim that their Islam is the “true” Islam, and that oppression of them is therefore oppression of religion itself. And regardless of whether their claims are accepted or rejected, it is quite apparent that religion remains an intrinsic part of public practice and a vital signifier of identity in modern Indonesia.

The relationship between Sukarno and Islam is often seen as one of basic antagonism between a secularist state and an Islamic opposition embedded in his removal of any specific reference to Islam in an early draft of the constitution in 1945 and then in the Dar al-Islam revolts of West Java, Aceh and Sulawesi in the 1950s and 1960s. Once again though we see the false optic of one Islam versus one enemy. To start with the revolts themselves, they were diverse in orientation rather than united in ideology – stemming as they did from the separate existence of militias that had not been incorporated into the new national army. And while the forces of Daud Bereueh were aspiring for Acehnese independence, those of Kartosuwiryo in West Java sought to replace Indonesia’s secular state with an Islamic one, though one that maintained the same borders (which included Aceh). Further, Islamic resistance had a political face in the form of the Masyumi party. Formed under the Japanese war-time administration, this block was committed to the Islamization of the Indonesian state; but like the rebels of the Dar al-Islam with whom its leaders sympathized, it was constrained by an increasingly dictatorial Sukarno in the 1960s, who banned the party and imprisoned its leaders. That said, however, Islam was not thrown into the wilderness and was represented, if that is the right term, under Sukarno. Both the “reformist” Muhammadiyah and “traditionalist” Nahdatul Ulama (NU) continued to vie for dominance of the post-colonial (and lucrative) posts in the Ministry of Religion. And as Sukarno came under increasing threat from the Communist Party (PKI) he sought to balance its impact by trying to balance Islam and Communism – famously declaring himself a committed Muslim and a Marxist.

When Sukarno fell from grace in the events surrounding the putsch of October 1965, the emerging strongman Suharto made use of the youth wing of the NU in his purges of the PKI. Still, while Muslim politicians were released, Islamic politics were constrained for much of the New Order. It was only in the early 1990s, and as the issue of the succession continued to boil away, that Suharto and his cronies began a process of appealing to Indonesia as an Islamic constituency. Responding in part to an increasingly active Islamic mood on university campuses and within the ruling structures of the army, the bureaucracy and his own party, Suharto made the pilgrimage to Mecca, encouraged his not-so apparent heir, B.J. Habibie, to establish the self-defined All-Indonesia Association of Muslim Intellectuals, and looked favorably on the creation of the bi-partisan Council of Indonesian Ulama as a “regimist” body that would give Islamic sanction to its developmentalist agenda.

Suharto’s fall in May 1998 and the brief incumbency of Habibie saw a major opening up of the Indonesian public sphere against the background of major fragmentation of state order – particularly in regions where recent migrants were felt to have usurped the prosperity of more embedded communities, especially in places like West Kalimantan or the Moluccas. Even before the coming to power of Abdurrahman Wahid after a compromise struck between several Islamic factions in parliament, the combining of various forces – remnants of Suharto’s New Order, Islamist insurgents descended from the Dar al-Islam, and new alliances of Salafist puritans – combined in a fatal cocktail in the killing fields of Ambon and Poso, where local Christian gangs were presented as leftovers of colonial collaboration or, worse, as the vanguard of a global conspiracy against Islam and the territorial integrity of the nation. Such fratricidal disasters continued into Megawati’s rather ineffectual tenure, and were all the more exacerbated with the events of 9-11 and the Bali Bombing of October 2002.

Concentrating on such big-picture clashes, however, obscures the recent (yet never overwhelming) gains in Indonesian politics for parties that emphasize their Islamic credentials. It is an undeniable fact that there has been an ever greater linking of Islam and Indonesia as mutually intertwined, though one should be aware that Islamic parties like the PKS (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera) have achieved greater gains by virtue of their discipline and campaigns against corruption than on account of any general consensus for the activation of a program to Islamize the state by the formal adoption of the Sharia. After all, like the interpretation of what Islam is, and consequently how one can be defined as more or less Muslim, there is no one vision of how Sharia and state combine, nor yet what mode of interpretation (reformist, traditionalist, or salafist?) best represents an Indonesian way of doing things.

Perhaps the only sensible thing to be said of Islam in Indonesian politics today is that its expressions are as diverse as its population, with or without a state that looks down with benign or malign intentions. Indeed, constraining a faith that lacks a church and that is inherently polycentric is an impossible task. For much as one seeks to define Indonesian Islam by juxtaposing it against other faiths, other peoples and other Islams (not least of which is a canonical vision defined at the geographical centre of global practice), or as one attempts to perceive the fault-lines between its many localized forms, one is invariably forced to step back as the partisans of whatever apparently antagonistic categories we have constructed stand together on occasion to share the same platforms at public meetings or gather to bury members of families to which they are all so often linked.