This essay investigates the surprising fact that the predominantly Muslim teater (modern theatre) artists of indonesia generally dissociate their theatrical work from their religious identities. this is in stark contrast to neighboring Malaysia, where Islam plays an overt role in the national theatre culture. Despite this reticence, Islam has indeed mattered to the development and practice of teater modern theatre in Indonesia more than nationalist and materialist histories have acknowledged. Neither Islamic iconoclastic indictments against figural representation nor Clifford Geertz’s distinction between santri (devout) and abangan (nominal) Javanese provide sufficient explanations. Conservative censorship (on iconoclastic or ethical grounds) has rarely prevailed in Indonesian history, yet not all the positions taken by Muslim artists can be explained simply by abangan syncretism. A few Indonesian dramatists, such as Mohammed Diponegoro, have viewed their work as a form of dakwah (proselytization); others, however, such as Abu Hanifah (El Hakim) and Emha Ainun Nadjib, have used teater to explore Islamic contexts and experiences of faith, yet make no claims to dakwah. These artists have preferred to subsume aspects of Islamic discourse and imagery in their work to the outer framework of secular local and national politics. This should be understood as a tactic in relation to the cultural politics of Islam in postcolonial Indonesia, and not an indication that Islam is merely an incidental source of inspiration. Rather, Islam and its disparate genealogies enter national discourse from a different angle than colonialism, producing distinct associations. For artists such as Hanifah, Diponegoro, and Roestam Effendi, the umat (the Islamic community) ultimately precedes the rakyat (the nationalized people); for others such as Nadjib, Arifin C. Noer, and Ratna Sarumpaet, religion provides vocabularies for contesting injustice as well as for challenging official state discourses of nativism and Indonesian identity, but dakwah seems too much the polarizing tool of the orthodox ulama, and the image of “insan kamil” (genuine, perfect, real men) colors the search for truth with too much of the absolute. For these Muslim artists, Islam must be softened and individualized so that it may transcend both locality in favor of a national discourse, and nationalism in favor of a global discourse.


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pp. 43-64
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