Saturday, April 24, 2010

Indonesia's Salafist Sufis

Indonesia's Salafist Sufis1

a1 Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland 4111, Australia Email:


Islam's devotional and mystical tradition, Sufism (tasawwuf), is commonly cast as antithetical to Salafi Islam. Self-identified ‘Salafis’, with their ideological roots in anti-liberal strands of twentieth-century modernist Islam, do commonly view Sufis as heretics propagating practices wrongly introduced into Islam centuries after the time of the pious ancestors (the Salaf). Yet reformist zeal that fixes on the singular importance of the Salaf (particularly the Prophet Muhammad and his principal companions) as models for correct piety can also be found amongst Sufis. This paper calls attention to the Salafist colouration of Sufism in two areas of popular culture: television preaching and the popular religious ‘how-to’ books and DVDs that make the preachers’ messages available for purchase. It reprises the teachings of two of the best known Indonesian Muslim televangelists, ‘Hamka’ (b. 1908, d. 1981) and M. Arifin Ilham (b. 1969), both of whom also happen to be champions of Sufism, and analyses the different rhetorical uses each has made of references to the ‘Salaf’ and the notion of ‘Salafist’ Islam.


1 The assistance of the Australian Research Council, which supported the research on which this paper is based with a Discovery grant, is acknowledged with appreciation. The author warmly thanks Ahmad Najib Burhani, who assisted with the interviews referenced in the text, as well as colleagues who kindly devoted their time to critiquing the text: Muhamad Ali, Harry Aveling, Michael Feener, Anthony Johns, Akh Muzakki, Merle Ricklefs and the journal's reviewers. Naturally, the responsibility for any remaining errors and shortcomings is entirely the author's.


JULIA DAY HOWELL Indonesia's Salafist Sufis. Modern Asian Studies, Published online by Cambridge University Press 23 Dec 2009 doi:10.1017/S0026749X09990278

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