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  • The Salafi Movement in Indonesia:Transnational Dynamics and Local Development
  • Noorhaidi Hasan (bio)

In the mid-1980s Indonesia began witnessing the expansion of the so-called Salafi Da'wa movement, made evident in the appearance of young men wearing long beards (lihya), Arab-style flowing robes (jalabiyya), turbans (imama), and trousers right to their ankles (isbal) and women wearing a form of enveloping black veil (niqab) in public places. Identifying themselves as Salafis, followers of the pious ancestors (Salaf al-Salih), members were inclined to stand distinctly apart from the "anything goes" open society around them. They lived in small, exclusive tight-knit communities. Under the changing political circumstances of the 1990s the movement evolved rapidly, to the extent that it succeeded in establishing an exclusivist current of Islamic activism eager to organize various Da'wa activities openly on university campuses and in mosques located both in city outskirts and in villages in the countryside.1 As a result of this expansion, enclaves, which served as the main areas of concentration of the movement's members, sprang up. The growth of the enclaves was followed by the construction of mosques and Islamic schools (pesantrens) under the banner of the movement.

Following the collapse of the New Order regime in May 1998, the Salafi movement that hitherto remained relatively consistent in developing a stance of apolitical quietism began to engage in realpolitik. Through various mass religious gatherings (tabligh akbar), its proponents lost no time in attempts to engage in the changing political landscape, responding to current political issues. Under the leadership of Ja'far Umar Thalib, they set up the Forum Komunikasi Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama'ah (Forum for Communication of the Followers of the Sunna and the Community of the Prophet, FKAWJ) in February 1999. Subsequently, they issued a resolution to call Indonesian Muslims for jihad in the Moluccas, a province in eastern Indonesia that had been afflicted by communal conflict since the beginning of 1999. This call was legitimized by fatwas, religious legal opinions, given by a number of prominent Salafi ulema in the Middle East. On 6 April 2000 they gathered in the Senayan Main Stadium in Jakarta to state their determination to fight jihad. Under the auspices of the Laskar Jihad (Jihad Force), thousands in fact enlisted to venture to the frontlines to fight against Christians. It is the interest of this article to examine how this movement has developed to become one of the most conspicuous phenomena in present-day Indonesia, what factors have made its proliferation possible, and to what extent the transnational dynamics have contributed to this local development. [End Page 83]

Reconstituted Wahhabism

The efflorescence of the Salafi movement has marked a new trend in Islamic activism in Indonesia. As indicated earlier, this movement initially adopted a stance of apolitical quietism, even while members were eager to display their distinctive identity. Their main concern embraced the question of the purity of the concept of the oneness of God—that is, the acceptance of and belief in the oneness of God and His absolute authority considered the foundation of Muslim life—and a number of other issues centered on the call for a return to strict religious practice and the subsequent moral integrity of individuals. Seemingly trivial, superficial issues such as jalabiyya, imama, lihya, isbal, and niqab have constituted the main themes in their day-to-day discussions. A commitment to wear the jalabiyya by men and the niqab by women, for instance, has been viewed as much more important than taking part in political activities. They believe that Muslim society must first be Islamized through a gradual evolutionary process that includes education (tarbiyya) and purification (tasfiyya) before the comprehensive implementation of the Sharia can be realized. As a strategy to achieve this end, they have been fervently committed to Da'wa activities, participating in the establishment of halqas and dauras.2

The prototype of the Salafi movement to a large extent resembles what Olivier Roy refers to as neo-fundamentalism, which he defines as a nonrevolutionary Islamic movement attempting to re-Islamize society at the grassroots level without being formed within an Islamic state. In his analysis, this phenomenon arose...


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