Monday, December 8, 2014

The Contested State of Sufism in Islamic Modernism: The Case of the Muhammadiyah Movement in Twentieth-Century Indonesia

Journal of Sufi studies 3 (2014): 183–219, doi 10.1163/22105956-12341269

The Contested State of Sufism in Islamic Modernism: The Case of the Muhammadiyah Movement in Twentieth-Century Indonesia
Herman L. Beck
Tilburg University (The Netherlands)

AbstractThe Muhammadiyah in Indonesia is commonly known not to be very sympathetic towards mysticism in terms of its manifestations in mystical religious fraternities and pantheistic identity mysticism. Although its stance versus these religious phenomena seems to be very clear, many of its members are struggling to determine their attitude towards the issue. The continuing uncertainty about its legitimacy is evident from the questions Muhammadiyah members send to the Suara Muhammadiyah regarding this topic. In this article I focus on the Muhammadiyah’s ‘official’ vision through its first hundred years of existence. My thesis is that its rigidness in rejecting ‘mystical and spiritual’ manifestations is not only caused by its fear of unbelief and heresy, but also closely related to the political and social circumstances in which it is confronted with these ‘mystical and spiritual’ manifestations in the first place.

Keywords: aliran kepercayaan – Indonesia – Islamic modernism – kebatinan – Muhammadiyah – mysticism – polemic – religious diversity – Sufism – tarekats

In answering the three questions formulated at the beginning of this contribution, it should be concluded that Hardjono Kusumodiprodjo’s opinion regarding the Muhammadiyah’s rejection of Sufism and ‘tarekat’ teaching requires some nuance. Throughout its history, the Muhammadiyah has accepted Sufism in its ‘ihsan form’ but Sufism and ‘tarekat’ teaching containing ‘heretical’ aspects were always repudiated. Kusumodiprodjo presented a rather biased view on the Muhammadiyah’s stance towards mysticism, Sufism, and tarekats. However, it cannot be argued that a kind of ‘officially’ defined Muhammadiyah position vis-à-vis mysticism, Sufism, and tarekats ever existed. The Muhammadiyah’s attitude to mysticism, Sufism, and tarekats could change depending on the contemporary social and political context, the ‘spiritual’ needs of the Indonesian Muslims, and the ‘denominational spirit’ of the Central Board in charge. This Central Board is elected once every five years and is supposed to represent, more-or-less, the mind ofthe majority of the members of the Muhammadiyah. It is important to take into account that, within such a huge organization like the Muhammadiyah, the existence of different denominational and political currents is unavoidable.137 Understandably, the Muhammadiyah’s policy was subject to fluctuation. Indeed, after its 43rd Muktamar in 1995, a ‘spiritual spring’ seems to have dawned with the election of a so-called ‘progressive’ Central Board. However, whether this ‘spiritual spring’ will continue is questionable because a ‘conservative turn’ seems to have taken place again since the election of the new Central Board in 2005.138 In any case, whoever wants to make a guess at the Muhammadiyah’s future attitude towards Sufism and tarekats would be wise to keep in mind the lesson the Muhammadiyah’s history teaches us: as long as Sufism is sharia-abiding and promotes morality it will be tolerated by the Muhammadiyah, but as soon as it becomes heterodox and heteroprax it will be challenged.

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