Michael Laffan's picture
Research fellow within within the framework of the programme Islam in Indonesia: The Dissemination of Religious Authority in the Twentieth Century
Michael Laffan

Having been engaged in both the tarekat and fatwa subfields of the dissemination project, I am working on a study that seeks to contexualise these subfields in a history of reformist-traditionalist interaction in Indonesia, and in East Java in particular. It is intended that this research will produce a monograph to follow up on my doctoral dissertation highlighting the Islamic components of Indonesian nationalism prior to the foundation of NU in 1926 (forthcoming, Routledge, 2002).
This research will re-examine theories of reformism in Indonesia and the presentation by Indonesian reformists of their traditionalist rivals. Throughout the book, I seek to question the extent to which this dichotomy holds true in Indonesia and to consider the differing emphases of personal authority vs. textual authority. I would suggest that these differences may not necessarily preclude cooperation in certain fields of endeavour, and even allow for the mutual recognition of Islamic authority.
I plan to divide the work into two parts, historical and contemporary.

Part 1. Historical backdrop
1.1 Tarekat and tradition. Current scholarship suggests that there was a noticeable upsurge in Sufism in the Netherlands Indies in the latter half of the 19th century. The position of Indonesian khalifas and shaykhs in Mecca was crucial to maintaining that system. I would hope to build a tentative map of the orders in East Java and locate their external/local foci. Here an important distinction needs to be made between those orders explicitly connected to the Hijaz, such as the Naqshbandiyya, and those with more localised authorities, such as the Shattariyya, and how exactly either should be regarded as 'traditional'.

1.2 The Salafi offensive Here I would seek to give a more nuanced reading of the relationship between the emerging reformist movement and the traditional networks of the `ulama. One of the earliest propagators of a Salafi-style anti-sufism was the Singaporean journal al-Imam. Still it is worth noting that an exiled Naqshbandi shaykh, `Abd Allah Zawawi, was closely associated with its editors, and was even described by them as 'a champion of the sunna and enemy of bid`a'. This brings us back to the question of the 'traditionality' of the Naqshbandiyya. Further I would seek to explore more closely the representation of the tarekat in other reformist journals based in Indonesia, such as al-Munir, and then the later al-Zachirah al-Islamijah under Ahmad Surkitti. Did reformist writers, in their articles or fatwas, condemn sufism per se, or was there in reality a more ambivalent message being generated? Did their attitude even remain constant? After all, Rashid Rida was a stauncher opponent of sufism (or perhaps aspects of mystical practice) than Muhammad `Abduh.

1.3 Tarekat and nationhood Throughout we may indeed ask how the tarekat were placed in relation to the emerging idea of Indonesia. Were the tarekat forces for unification or fragmentation by virtue of their memberships, which often crossed ethnic boundaries in Mecca? Or did they remain diffuse in the Indies?, reflecting more localised aspirations for justice and constellations of authority.

1.4 Crisis and diaspora Here I wish to discuss the shock of the wahhabi occupation of Mecca in 1924 with close reference to the papers of the Netherlands consulate and the statements of eyewitnesses who were members of the tarekat. I hope to identify the figures who either fled Mecca or remained there. I also wish to again ask how the current literature has (mis)informed us about this period, how the Cairene community of Southeast Asians reacted to the conquest, and what assertions need to be corrected. It seems that the Saudi ascendency allowed reformers of a more militantly anti-Sufi mindset to gain a political voice, which in turn refocussed the ire of many traditionalists and rehardened positions in Indonesia.

Overall, we might also ask what impact this ultimately had on the idea that Mecca was a centre for Southeast Asian Islam, whether in its juridical or mystical aspects, especially with the emergence of new Muslim schools in Indonesia, and an active press that sought in some ways to supplant the authority of the expatriate `ulama by responding to questions of faith in the pages of their local journals.

Part 2. A change of heart: contemporary views on the divide and religious authority in East Java
In the second part, based on interviews in Cairo and Indonesia, I will discuss Indonesian perspectives of the divide and aspects of internationalism as revealed through techniques of authority, including the tarekat and fatwa-production. I intend at this stage to focus on East Java with special reference to networks based around Jombang, Gontor and Solo and their connections - local, regional and international. Following interviews with various authorities in the region, I hope to be able to discuss the claims of their authority and the scholarship they represent.
I also intend considering the ongoing national and international connections underlying Indonesian Islam. Questions to be considered may revolve around Indonesian sufism in Mecca today, the phenomenon of the so-called 'muktabarah' orders in Indonesia and the impact of the Muslim World League on Southeast Asia. In the concluding section I will discuss the place of al-Azhar, the current Indonesian community in Cairo and the increasing importance of that community for Islam in Indonesia in the coming decades.

Field

  • Indonesian History

Country of origin

Australia

Period of stay at IIAS

01/01/2002 to 31/12/2004

Research topic

Sufis and salafis: A century of conflict and compromise in Indonesia with special reference to East Java

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