In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Divine Inspirations: Music and Islam in Indonesia ed. by David D. Harnish and Anne K. Rasmussen
  • Eliot Bates (bio)
David D. Harnish and Anne K. Rasmussen, eds. Divine Inspirations: Music and Islam in Indonesia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 408 pp.

This groundbreaking volume is framed by editors David Harnish and Anne Rasmussen as a corrective to a long-held "reductive summary" (p. 34), perhaps most famously articulated by Clifford Geertz and Benedict Anderson, that Indonesia is primarily an Indic region. All of the chapters are organized around specific local or regional musical genres, with the majority situated in Javanese regions, but most incorporate considerable discussion of other aspects of Islam in Indonesia, including clothing, mass mediation, Islamic organizations, government policy, religious practice, and movement forms (for example, dance and martial arts).

Four themes serve to connect the disparate musical forms and cultural practices surveyed in this book. First, two institutions had a seminal role in shaping the nature of Islamic practice and governmental relations with organized Islam during the twentieth century. Muhammadiyah (founded in 1912) was originally concerned with a "pure" form of religiosity based on new readings of historical texts, while Nahdlatul Ulama (NU, founded in 1926), once a rural organization, was historically more accepting of local traditions. While most of the authors implicate these organizations in the transformation to particular traditional art forms, it quickly becomes apparent that these organizations had deep and complex relations with local communities, and thus musical change and transformations to public religiosity took divergent forms. Second, many of these authors structure their analysis around a dichotomy or continuum between adat (humanly generated custom, tradition) and agama (divinely revealed organized religion freed of local customs), a dichotomy also relevant to the organizations being considered. Third, and one of the most striking aspects of the case studies here, these essays demonstrate that many traditional art forms, even those without historical roots in Islam, were reconfigured to become a tool for dakwah (proselytizing, or bringing closer to Islam, from the Arabic term "da'wa"). Arguably, the preponderance and variety of Islamic music genres in Indonesia relate to the flexible way in which dakwah can be put into practice. Dakwah is not just an index of the permissibility of individual groups but is intertwined with the major religious associations and even national governance. Rasmussen cites the example of a music and sermon cassette released in the 1990s by Gus Dur, the leader of NU at the time and later the president of Indonesia. The role of dakwah in musical change is a recent topic in the historiography of Indonesian music, and most of the scholars draw on Rasmussen's earlier essay1 that helped invigorate this new avenue for research, and which compares dakwah with da'wa in the Arab world. Fourth, these authors show that a history of changes to music and religious practices necessarily confronts Indonesia's colonial past. As such, Islam as a national project posits an Islamic modernity (more accurately, plural Islamic modernities) in relation to the legacies of Dutch colonialism—and, in the case of Lombok, Balinese colonialism.

Sumarsam's chapter explores the impact of Islam on Central Javanese gamelan and wayang kulit over a five-hundred year period. He distinguishes between tangible and [End Page 173] intangible transformations to Javanese expressive arts in relation to the morality continuum between halal (legitimate/approved) and haram (illegitimate/controversial) practices. Sumarsam notes that gamelan sekaten is believed to have been founded in the sixteenth century by a wali (Javanese Islamic saint) for the purposes of dakwah; gamelan sekaten illustrates how local traditions of heirloom worship were "appropriated and enhanced by Islam" (p. 49). Islam, rather than residing in opposition to extant musical practices, prompted an "intensive cultural development" involving new musical forms (e.g., terbangan), additionally intensifying gamelan making and leading to distortions of human depictions in wayang puppets and the introduction of Sufi mystical themes to wayang poetry. Concerning twentieth-century transformations, Sumarsam compares Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama and their changing relations with traditional expressive arts. From its founding in 1912 until the 1990s, Muhammadiyah launched campaigns to rid Indonesia of "imaginations," "innovations," and "superstitions," but started to...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 173-178
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.