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How Have Islam and Indonesian Nationalism Affected Hindu Reform in Indonesia?

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Modern Indonesia is known for having the largest Muslim population by percentage of any country in the world. Coming to Indonesia in the 13th century A.D., Islam has continued to spread, and approximately 90 % of the current population considers itself to be Muslim.Nevertheless, many forms of Islam practiced there combine animist, Hindu, and Buddhist elements from the country’s rich and varied religious past, creating an Islamic faith that looks different from that of the Orthodox Islam of the Middle East. With over 17,000 islands spanning 3,000 miles along the equator, Indonesia’s Islamic variations differ significantly not only from other countries but also from one part of its own land to another.

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Foreign Muslims had traded in Indonesia and China for many centuries; a Muslim tombstone in eastern Java bears a date corresponding to 1082. However, substantial evidence of Islam in Indonesia exists only from the end of the 13th century, in northern Sumatra. Two small Muslim trading kingdoms existed by that time at Samudra-Pasai and Perlak. A royal tomb at Samudra-Pasai, dating to 1297, is inscribed entirely in Arabic. By the 15th century the beachheads of Islam in Indonesia had multiplied with the emergence of several harbour kingdoms, ruled by local Muslim princes, on the north coast of Java and elsewhere along the main trading route as far east as Ternate and Tidore in the Moluccas. The establishment of the first Muslim centres in Indonesia was probably a result of commercial circumstances. By the 13th century, in the absence of a strong and stable entrepôt in western Indonesia, foreign traders were drawn to harbours on the northern Sumatran shores of the Bay of Bengal, distant from the dangerous pirate lairs that had emerged at the southern end of the Strait of Malacca as Srivijaya lost its influence. Northern Sumatra had a hinterland rich in gold and forest produce, and pepper was being cultivated at the beginning of the 15th century. It was accessible to all archipelago merchants who wanted to meet ships from the Indian Ocean. By the end of the 14th century, Samudra-Pasai had become a wealthy commercial centre, but it gave way in the early 15th century to the better-protected harbour of Malacca on the southwest coast of the Malay Peninsula. Javanese middlemen, converging on Malacca, ensured the harbour’s importance.

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Many Islamic schools, however, were breeding grounds for politics, and particularly politics opposing colonialism. According to one Indonesian observer, the pattern of educational movements evolving into more political forms reflected new trends in Western-style education integrated in Islamic schools, causing new types of self-reflection and competing ideas among the up-and-coming Muslim leaders.The reformist schools of West Sumatra provide perhaps the clearest example of an educational movement turning ever more political. In 1930, what had been an alliance of several dozen reformist schools called Sumatera Thawalib (Sumatran Students) transformed itself into a mass political movement open to the public. The new organization, created by young reformist teachers and heavily influenced by trends in the Middle East and on Java, called itself Persatuan Muslim Indonesia (Union of Indonesian Muslims) or Permi.82 Permi fused nationalism and religion at a time when other Islamic organizations were promoting religion only. In this way it provided a sharp critique, first of secular nationalism, which Permi leaders and other pious Muslims found objectionable for isolating Muslims in the East Indies, and second of apolitical religious activism, which Permi leaders thought did not fulfill all the requirements of Islam.83 Although it aspired to spread across the Dutch East Indies, the actual footprint of Permi was limited to West Sumatra. Its ideas on Islamic nationalism, however, had an impact on the direction of politics back on Java (Elson, 1972). Even as Permi proposed a new possible direction for nationalism, the most politically prominent strand of Indonesian nationalism was avowedly secular, with Sukarno keeping his Partai Nasional Indonesia “closed to religion,” and Christian newspapers calling for “setting aside all religions” to achieve the goals of nationalism. Facing this staunch secularism, Islamic activists felt “boycotted, ignored, not accorded their due, their ideas not considered worthy or relevant, not embraced and employed by their fellows.” At the same time, pious Muslims generally rejected the leadership of secular nationalists (Formichi, 1982).

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To sum up, Jews and Christian are specifically guarded in the Quran as Peoples of the Book, because Islam considers both the Torah and New Testament and to be revelations from God, though inaccurate in the process of human communication. An example of a difference in apprehension, Islam does not admit that Jesus is the son of God; this acknowledgement would disprove the Islamic belief in the uniqueness of God’s deity. Like Judaism, Islam has powerful constitutional tradition that describes the rules by which believers of the religious community should live. Part of these rules includes dietary restriction against eating pork which is very similar.

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Latif, Indonesian Muslim Intelligentsia and Power, 201.

Elson, “Disunity, Distance, Disregard,” 22. On Sukiman, see Abu Hanifah, Tales of a Revolution (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1972), 189.

Formichi, Islam and the Making of the Nation, 57–58; Noer, Partai Islam, 18; oral history with Harsono Tjokroaminoto, interviewed by Wardiningsih Surjohardjo, ANRI SL1 1982 #60, tape 11.

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How Have Islam and Indonesian Nationalism Affected Hindu Reform in Indonesia?
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