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117 7 INDONESIAN MUSLIMS AND THEIR PLACE IN THE LARGER WORLD OF ISLAM Martin van Bruinessen With over 220 million Muslims, Indo­ nesia has the largest community of Muslims in the world. Nevertheless, Indo­ nesian Muslims do not play a role in global Muslim thought and action that is commensurate with their numbers. Indo­ nesian Muslims have been eager to learn from Arab as well as Indian, Turkish and Persian thinkers, but do not seem to think they may have something valuable to offer in return. In Indo­ nesian bookshops one finds the translated works of classical and modern Arabic authors, as well as studies of and by major Indian, Pakistani, Iranian and Turkish authors. But Malaysia is the only other country where one can find works by Indo­ nesian Muslim authors, and there are virtually no serious studies of Indo­ nesian Islam by scholars of other Muslim nations. The Arab world has shown a remarkable lack of interest in Asia in general, let alone in the social and cultural forms of Islam in Southeast Asia.1 Though more outward looking, other Muslim * The author wishes to thank Martin Slama, Ulil Abshar-Abdalla, Mona Abaza and Tony Reid for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. 1 The sole Egyptian academic to have published serious studies on Malaysian and Indo­ nesian Islam, as well as on the relationship between the Middle East and Indo­ nesia, is the German-trained sociologist Mona Abaza. Her overview of Arabic writing on Asia reveals how shallow and uninformative most of the existing literature is (Abaza 2011; see also Abaza 2007). She makes an exception for an encyclopaedic work on Islam among non-Arabic speakers by Ahmad Shalabi (1983), who spent many years teaching in Indo­ nesia in the 1950s and 1960s. 118  Indonesia Rising: The Repositioning of Asia’s Third Giant regions of Asia have not taken a serious interest in their Southeast Asian co-religionists either.2 Indo­ nesians are pursuing Islamic studies in India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, as well as in the Arab world and in the West. Indian and Turkish Muslims travelling to Indo­nesia, on the other hand, are not going there as students but as teachers and missionaries. Missionary movements such as the Ahmadiyya and the Tablighi Jama’at (both originating in India) and the Nur and Gülen movements (which started in Turkey) are active all over the world, as are the various transnational movements originating in the Arab world. But no corresponding Indo­ nesian movement is attempting to spread its message beyond the confines of the country. The apparent lack of interest in Indo­ nesia as a great Muslim nation, and the reluctance of Indo­ nesian Muslims to make their religious culture better known in the wider world, calls for an explanation. Indo­ nesian Islam has a number of traits that have struck outside observers as unique and even enviable. One such observer was the late Pakistani-American scholar Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988). He was the intellectual mentor of a number of prominent young Indo­ nesian intellectuals, most notably Nurcholish Madjid and Syafi’i Ma’arif. His rationalistic and analytical approach caused him problems in Pakistan but seemed to appeal to many Indo­ nesians, and he was invited to the country several times. He liked what he saw in Indo­ nesia, and certainly did not consider Indo­ nesian Islam to be inferior to or less authentic than Arab or Indian Islam. Fazlur Rahman made friendly comments about Pancasila as an Indo­ nesian exegesis (tafsir) of Islam that was suited to Indo­ nesian society and culture.3 The Pancasila state, he said, provided precisely the climate of religious tolerance that would enable free development of religious thought. He was very pessimistic about the state of intellectual debate in the Muslim world in general but saw two exceptions that gave reason for hope: Indo­ nesia and Turkey. He was convinced that if there were to be a renaissance of the Muslim intellectual tradition, it would begin in those countries.4 Another critical reformist scholar of Islam was the Egyptian Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (d. 2010). Like Fazlur Rahman he had to leave his country of birth and spend his last years in exile, but he too found dedicated groups of admirers in Indo­ nesia and Turkey and regularly visited both countries. 2 One exception is Göksoy’s (1995) work on Islam in Indo­nesia under the Dutch. Originally a dissertation submitted to the School of...


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