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  • Islam and Politics in Indonesia: The Masyumi Party between Democracy and Integralism by Rémy Madinier
  • Jeremy Menchik (bio)
Rémy Madinier. Islam and Politics in Indonesia: The Masyumi Party between Democracy and Integralism. Singapore: National University of Singapore, 2015. 560 pp.

Islam as an object of study is extraordinarily multifaceted. A nonexhaustive inventory of study topics includes individual and collective rituals, canonical texts, theology, methods of exegesis, everyday practices, governance practices, organizations, identities, artifacts, sites of worship, activities (such as pilgrimage), ethics, and charismatic leaders.

To the scholar, then, Islam can entail an infinite variety of foci. One is the religion as imagined by those who believe it at a specific time and space. A second is its tremendous temporal variation and geographic vernacularization, recognizing that its contents vary over time and space. A third is the conjecture or disjuncture regarding how Islam is imagined by its diverse practitioners. A fourth is the conjecture and disjuncture between how it is imagined and how it is practiced. A fifth is an examination of the conditions under which “Islam” itself becomes defined; in other words, examining the power dynamics that underpin the act of defining “Islam.”

As Rémy Madinier makes clear, to no one is Islam’s diversity more frustratingly apparent than to leaders of one of the world’s largest Islamic political parties, Masyumi, in the aftermath of Indonesia’s first national elections in 1955. Masyumi saw itself as the mouthpiece for all Indonesian Muslims and anticipated that its share of votes cast would reflect the percentage of Muslims in the general population, upwards of 80 percent. In fact, however, Masyumi received less than 21 percent of the popular vote (210, 216). Honing in, then, on foci three, Madinier explains this disjuncture between the Indonesian umma as Masyumi imagined it and the 1955 election results. In doing so, he presents a textured history of Masyumi from its origins in the Muslim reform movements of the twentieth century to its contemporary legacy. And instead of conceptualizing Indonesia’s original Islamic political party as a fundamentalist, ideologically driven organization akin to the common (and similarly problematic) characterizations of the Muslim Brotherhood, he details their varied regional and educational backgrounds, provides biographies of Masyumi leaders, demonstrates their overlapping connection with nationalists and communists, makes clear their recurrent pragmatism on policy affairs, and pays close attention to their changing visions for Indonesian state and society. Instead of the ideological purity that is often assumed of Islamists, Madinier makes clear that their views were a product of their milieu and internal diversity, resulting in positions that were marked by pragmatism, uncertainty, and, at times, incoherence.

At the outset, Masyumi’s members include reformists and traditionalists. Although Masyumi was founded in 1946 on modernist principles and the party executive was dominated by representatives from modernist organizations like Muhammadiyah, traditionalists like Nahdlatul Ulama (NU, lit. “the awakening of the [End Page 139] ’ulama”; Revival of the Religious Scholars) were important members. Yet the Masyumi umbrella did not erase the memory of violent confrontations between the modernists and the traditionalists in the 1920s. Nor did their common political vehicle imply a sharing of resources: control over the Ministry of Religions was sufficiently important to NU that it broke away from Masyumi in April 1952. Those differences became even starker in the years after the split, when some NU leaders, like A. S. Bachmid and Murtadji Bisri, were willing to cooperate with the Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia, PKI) while Masyumi unleashed polemics toward Communism and sought to ban the PKI. And on another important issue, arbitrating between divine norms and democratic ones, NU envisioned the presence of ulamas (religious scholars) in the upper chamber charged with verifying the laws voted by the lower chamber to ensure their conformity with Islamic law, while Masyumi hewed to a more pragmatic vision of a “theistic democracy” (336, 343). These differences in the traditionalist’s and the modernist’s imaginaries of an Islamic state and society (foci three) contributed to the party’s facture and ultimately truncated its political influence.

The disparities between the traditionalists and modernists were in some respects a product of different educations. Madinier pays...


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pp. 139-143
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