Sunday, June 3, 2012

Muslim Puritans, Cultural Dakwah and Reformation

This is a random excerpt taken from: Chapter 5 (Muslim Puritans, Cultural Dakwah and Reformation) of Timothy P. Daniels. 2009. Islamic spectrum in Java. Burlington, VT: Ashgate. pp. 95-113.

How are local Muslims to apply principles, rooted in textual sources, they believe to be eternal and universal to beliefs and practices in current times? Where and how do they draw the line between forbidden and allowable cultural elements in events such as Sekaten and Gerebeg? Muhammadiyah, a revivalist and reformist organization often characterized by members and non-members alike for its rationalist approach, has witnessed its rationalism being pushed to new heights in emerging debates about interpretations of local culture, about the interface between Islam and culture. How are Muhammadiyah leaders, scholars, and local members dealing with efforts to make their organization more relevant to changes occurring in Indonesian and global society? How are they attempting to remake Muhammadiyah in the era of Reformation?

Finally, let us assess the possible effects of this conception of “cultural dakwah” as a “modernizing” and “rationalizing” force upon government/palace events, dangdut, and structures of inequality. Of course, we must note that this concept is still in formulation and there are many other social agents that will have an impact on these ceremonies, cultural arts, and social structure. Nonetheless, their intention of turning the “fetish of cultural difference” events into mere adat, hiburan or some other form of budaya devoid of “religious” meaning would definitely weaken the support and legitimacy of the sacerdotal local leadership of DIY. The political significance and authority of the Sri Sultan would gradually vanish and the palace would be turned into a mere symbol of traditional culture and not Islamic culture. This could serve to move in the direction of equalization eliminating some of the hierarchical feudal relations which still exist between ordinary people and royalty.

On the other hand, they would attempt to fill up the cultural form of dangdut with “religious” meanings, while removing the sensual goyang and fully clothing the female performers. This would make them more like Nasida Ria, Nida Ria and many other female bands from Central Java, especially Semarang, who sang songs full of religious meaning with a dangdut beat. However, the masses of “abangan,” upper and lower classes have largely lost interest in these groups, and rarely listen to “religious” music except during the month of Ramadan and other special religious occasions. Muhammadiyah activists would try to enter into a dialogue to change the behavior of youth who dance, often in a drunken stupor, in front of the stages interacting with the female performers. This imposition of an educated elite conception of proper “religion” upon budaya rakyat would constitute a suppression of the deviant-filled resistance of the masses against normative Islamic rulings and organizations and their perceived accommodation with the long, hard years of Suharto’s authoritarian regime. Furthermore, while the elimination of the goyang fetish could have the effect of raising esteem and respect for women curbing the exploitation of their bodies, it could also have a negative effect on economic benefits women receive as a central part of this entertainment labor force. Sexual minorities would also lose dangdut as a space of inclusion and acceptance. However, this depends, like other projections here, upon the form of cultural dakwah implemented, since some Muhammadiyah interpretations emphasize focusing on helping oppressed and marginalized groups in contemporary society just as K.H.A. Dahlan did during his times (see Mulkhan 2002, 41).

On a national level, cultural dakwah can serve to weaken the ideological basis for Pancasila and government-instituted Javanism as greater emphasis would be placed on agama over adat and budaya. This may serve to equalize the political playing field between Islamic and nationalist parties, reopening the debate over images and models of the nation. Similarly, Java as the center and Javanese as the preferred ethnic group would lose ideological supports as well with the enhanced stress laid upon Islam and Muslim identity; however, the question of the position of other religious groups in the broader diverse society would have to be addressed. From my field experience listening to Muhammadiyah religious scholars speak, I have a strong impression of their promotion of religious tolerance and mutual respect. For instance, in one sermon given at Masjid Agung Kauman, the Muhammadiyah speaker interpreted the chapter al-Kafirun (Q. 109/The Non-Believers) as holding the meaning for Indonesian Muslims that they must respect the rights of members of minority religious and ethnic groups. Clearly, Indonesian Muslims, often dismissed as “salafi” or “scripturalist,” make some interpretations of texts which project inclusive multicultural images of Indonesian society.

On a global level, cultural dakwah would seek to enter the world market with different sorts of cultural forms as commodities. Nasyid, kasidah, and “religious” dangdut could be developed, perhaps, as tourist objects representing Yogya as a “cultural city” and as products to be exported into other markets, Muslim and non-Muslim societies. In any event, Muhammadiyah’s conception of cultural dakwah could serve to use local cultures in such a way as to block some of the flows of Western cultural models and values, creating a kind of global “pluralism” in which local forms of culture would coexist with more dominant forms on a global level. Indonesian models of beauty, clothing, body style, and morals could be perpetuated alongside Western models, and instead of fetishizing difference as an exotic commodity, substantive differences in terms of economic and political models and values could be given greater opportunity to take root and grow.

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