Mobilising Religious Identities in West Java

Under the Banner of Islam: Mobilising Religious Identities in West Java

Lynda Newland

Although it is usually claimed that 90% of Indonesians are Muslims, many scholars have characterised Indonesian Islam as ‘not really’ Islam but as only nominally or syncretically so. This paper provides a critique of Clifford Geertz’s use of the notion of syncretism followed by a description of the Muslim world as lived by Sundanese villagers in the Priangan Mountains of West Java. Mobilised in response to specific historical conditions, the Sundanese identification with Islam positions the villagers in an ambivalent relation to the state and its discourses of modernity. This relationship is more complicated by the divisions within Islam, broadly between modernist and traditionalist organisations such as Persis and Nahdatul Ulama. While the followers of Persis desire the purification of Muslim practice from local accretions through a return to direct interpretation of the Qur’an, the followers of Nahdatul Ulama interpret the scriptures through the studies of religious scholars which allows for a much broader range of practice. Consequently, notions of nominalism or syncretism have contemporary political ramifications for local arguments concerning the nature of Islam, involving not just philosophical debate but the politicisation of everyday practice.


Although it is commonly claimed that about 90% of Indonesians are Muslim (e.g. Kipp and Rodgers 1987; McVey 1983; C. Geertz 1976), scholars frequently deny Indonesian Islam authenticity by alluding to its nominal or syncretistic characteristics (e.g. C. Geertz 1975; Anderson 1972; Jay 1969). While others have already argued against this characterisation (e.g. Hefner 1999a; Bowen 1993; Woodward 1988; Roff 1985), the image of Indonesian Islam as ‘not really Islam’ continues to be a dominant one in much of the literature, especially that focusing on gender issues (e.g. Sears 1996; Wolf 1992; Errington 1990). In this paper, I explore Islam as it is practised by the Sundanese in the Priangan Mountains in central West Java. After examining Geertz’s use of syncretism in his influential ethnographic monograph The Religion of Java (1961) and the treatise Islam Observed (1971), I will introduce ethnographic material from my fieldwork of 1995-6 and discuss the relationship between local modes of Islam and the state.

Widely regarded as the most influential anthropological expert on religion in Java, Clifford Geertz introduced some basic terms still commonly used in describing Javanese society and religion. From studying one village in East Java, Geertz theorised about the nature of Indonesian society and religion in general, dividing Javanese society into three socio-religious categories: the animistic and peasant abangan, the Muslim and trading santri and the elite priyayi. Although he made the point that this typology was not pure and that they shared many common values being ‘enclosed in the same social structure’ (C. Geertz 1976:355), the divisions are nonetheless presented in a reasonably discrete form, where the abangan are represented by their ritual feasts, the selamatan; the santri by their Muslim organisation of mosques, brotherhoods, and schools, and by their practice of specifically Muslim rites; and the priyayi by their art, philosophy, and social position as current-day bureaucrats.

While many scholars have simply repeated these terms, there has also been widespread criticism of them. Some of these criticisms might be summarised as follows: priyayi is not a religious term but the term for a member of the aristocratic social class; peasants and aristocrats can all be santri although the merchant class is more likely to be orthodox Islam than others; the term abangan is derogatory and is not a term villagers identify with; abangan custom is not necessarily considered to be un-Islamic (depending on who is interpreting social differences); Christianity also exists in Java but was never mentioned by Geertz; there is enormous regional variation in the way these different strands of religious belief work in relation with each other; and these relationships have changed over time (e.g. Adnan 1994; Pranowo 1994; Bachtiar 1989; Hefner 1987; Boland 1971).

I want to add a few further points because, while the world of Geertz’s Modjukuto does have some resonances with my fieldwork area, it is his conceptualisation of animism and syncretism in opposition to a set of bounded practices he identifies with Islam which particularly troubles me. To begin with, Geertz describes the world of the abangan as evolved from elements of pre-Hindu Malay animism which later absorbed Hindu and Islamic elements. His notion of animism is most clearly articulated in his discussion of spirit beliefs which he says ‘are not part of a consistent, systematic, and integrated scheme, but are rather a set of concrete, specific, rather sharply defined discrete images– unconnected visual metaphors giving form to vague and otherwise incomprehensible experiences’ (C. Geertz 1976:17)–and this is contrasted with the visible institutional systems of Islam and the mystical leanings of the priyayi. Yet, the term ‘animism’ is itself problematic as it can be used to refer to anything ranging from d iffuse energies throughout the environment to notions of ancestor worship, thereby homogenising quite different orientations to the world. In addition, there is an assumption of social evolutionism where ‘animistic’ beliefs are somehow considered simple and primitive, being prior to the systemisation of a world religion, and these are attributed only to the so-called abangan who lack education as well as social status. This is also implied by the structure of the book, which begins with the lowly and animistic abangan, moves through the administrative structures of Islam, and then explores the arts and the philosophy of the highest and most halus or refined social class, the priyayi.

Geertz was also concerned to represent Islam in Indonesia as something other and distinct from Islam as stereotypically understood by his American contemporaries. To do this, he claimed that Javanese religion is syncretic in the sense that it encompasses all of the socio-religious classes–albeit with different effects. He first describes the priyayi and their interest in Far Eastern gnosticism and then returns to the peasantry and the trading population he calls the santri:

The peasantry absorbed Islamic concepts and practices, so far as it understood them, into the same general Southeast Asian folk religion into which it had previously absorbed Indian ones, locking ghosts, gods, jinns, and prophets together into a strikingly contemplative, even philosophical, animism. And the trading classes, relying more and more heavily upon the Meccan pilgrimage as their lifeline to the wider Islamic world, developed a compromise between what flowed into them along this line (and from their plainer colleagues in the Outer Islands) and what they confronted in Java to produce a religious system not quite doctrinal enough to be Middle Eastern and not quite ethereal enough to be South Asian. The overall result is what can properly be called syncretism, but it was a syncretism the order of whose elements, the weight and meaning given to its various ingredients, differed markedly, and what is more important, increasingly, from one sector of the society to another. (C. Geertz 1971:13)

The problem with the notion of syncretism as Geertz used it is that it implies a pure form or religion exists with which it can be compared. By focusing on the origins of the various strands of religion he identifies, by implication he denies the historicity, the regional variation, and the syncretism of every religion. In this way, Geertz inadvertently denigrates Javanese religion as less authentic; the result of a somewhat haphazard mixing of inauthentic local religious elements with authentic world religions. The result is that Javanese religion is not quite doctrinal enough and not quite ethereal enough to be classified as a true religion. Ultimately, he has fallen into the trap of comparing the way religion is lived with idealised traditions elsewhere.

Geertz’s distinction between the pre-Islamic abangan and the more purely Islamic santri also parallels the division previously made by the Dutch scholar, Snouck Hurgronje (1996-97) writing about Aceh in 1893-4, between adat or customary law and hukum or Islamic law. According to Roff, while Hurgronje understood that adat is a usual if subsidiary element of all Muslim societies, he tended to oppose ‘the actual (adat) [with] an only occasionally realised and largely alien ideal (Islam)’ (Roff 1985:10), and this became the model which was used both by scholars and by the colonial government. Indeed, because the Dutch had perceived Islam as a threat to their rule, they divided the Indies into 19 adat law circles where each was a geographical region containing people who were thought to be ethnographically and culturally homogeneous. This was in spite of, and perhaps because, the law for many of the populations in the archipelago had already begun to be informed by Islam, to the extent that Arab words such as huk um and adat had already passed into the local languages (Roff 1985). By contrast, Roff argues that the relationship between adat and hukum is more subtle and dynamic: though dialectically opposed to one another, Islam is also an important component of adat. Kipp and Rodgers point to the regional variation in the way adat and Islam are contextualised. Because beliefs and practices may be construed as adat in some areas and as Muslim in others, Kipp and Rodgers (1987:4) state that the best generalisation which can be made is that ‘adat and Islam mutually define each other’.

Ultimately, the question concerns whether Islam is taken to be constitutive of a particular form of local identity (which may include “‘mystical” beliefs and practices,’ Roff 1985:16) or as a ‘normative or essentialist Islam set out (or understood to be set out) in texts and pursued by the ulama [religious leaders]’ (1985:16). The difficulties arise, then, in the attempt to describe Islam as lived by peasant communities in Southeast Asia in opposition to the legalistic form of Islam and the importation of norms from the Middle East. As Roff points out, Islam is a dynamic and multi-faceted religion which has had a widely varying impact on the cultures of Southeast Asia and, as a result, there are many levels on which Islam might be understood (1985:20). Because of its historical particularities, Islam in contemporary Indonesia is many-voiced, representing wide-ranging interests and represented by several different and competing codes.

A related argument aimed against Geertz is that he wrote The Religion of Java from the perspective of his own informants, not seeing the pluralism of the Indonesian Muslim tradition (Hefner 1999a). As indicative of the subjective nature of judging the presence or absence of Islam, Woodward takes an opposing view to Geertz by arguing that the selamatan or kenduri (the Muslim name for the feast) is perfectly consistent with the teachings of Islam (Woodward 1988). He does this by examining the etymology of the words used in the selamatan and comparing the ritual form and the importance of foods and values in the selamatan with those espoused by the relevant Muslim texts. However, Woodward’s interpretations could be criticised for relying too much on re-interpretation of key Muslim texts and not taking into account Islam as it is lived and understood everyday by villagers. The result of such depictions is a snap-shot effect which freezes religious values and practices in time and place as if these do not change or respond to changing historical and cultural conditions.

By contrast, historians tend to analyse the broader picture of Islam in relation to colonialism. Carey, for example, demonstrates how Islam has been the banner under which protest against colonising regimes and outside governments has long been fought. Although the Dutch East India Company officials were apprehensive about Muslim fanatics from the seventeenth century, the motif of the Holy War dates back as far as the early nineteenth century at the advent of the Java War (Carey 1979). Supported by the increasing tide of nationalism, the different Muslim orientations began to develop into organisations in Indonesia in the 1920s (e.g. Boland 1971). Beginning as political organisations, their relationships with the state, with each other, and with their followers have since been chequered and complicated. As a whole this literature attests to the importance of Islam as a motivating force for the unity of specific groups inside Indonesia, where the cultural and historical importance of the ulama is not as relig ious leaders removed from the community but as religious leaders active in contesting external interests.

Because it implies that there is a pure Islam against which Indonesian Islam can be measured (therefore reinforcing pan-Indonesian disputes about lslam), I have rejected Geertz’s notion of syncretism in favour of assuming that all religions are culturally and historically specific. In this way, it is to be expected that much of Indonesian Islam has elements which reflect its own cultural past and the regional and historical forces it has encountered. Yet, rather than dwell on origins (a method which has its own political trajectory), I want to explore some of these beliefs and practices in the context of changing power relations over the last century. For, while the villagers in the Shire of Cikajang [1] today have assumed widely recognised Muslim religious practices (e.g. praying five times a day, practising the rituals on the Muslim calendar, circumcision) and use universally acknowledged Muslim symbols (e.g. building and attending mosques, the incorporation of certain items of clothing and prayer mats), t his religiosity has been mobilised in response to specific historical conditions and therefore takes particular localised forms. These forms betray the chief concerns of the Sundanese in this region: the impact of the discourses of modernity and the subsequent characterisation of tradition; Sundanese ethnicity in relation to the state; and, more broadly, the points of identification and of contrast with Islam as it is practised in the Middle East.

Indeed, the Sundanese in rural West Java fervently consider themselves to be as Muslim as they are Sundanese. This Muslim identity provides a strong and direct contrast with the Christian religion of the Dutch who colonised them for 350 years and of those Chinese who converted to Catholicism after the troubles of 1965. Moreover, the strength of this identification implies that, while the Javanese are also Muslim, the Sundanese are more so. Being Muslim for the Sundanese, then, is associated with being indigenous to West Java, where affiliation with Islam tends to suggest a certain ethnic purity. A Muslim identity also connects the Sundanese with the wider Islamic community (ummat) theologically centred on Mecca, which has had a decisive influence on the religious and political thought of the Sundanese living in the Priangan Mountains.

Islam in the villages

Being Muslim takes endless work, a cultivating of the moral self and person in relation to the norms of the community. In the Islamic world, the moral and religious order is reiterated for the general public throughout the year with fasts, prayers and ritual devotions, which also incorporate the life-cycle events of the individual. Like Christianity in the Middle Ages and the congregational sects of the Reformation, Islam here prioritises the formation of a religious community. Moreover, for villagers, the art of being Muslim and the inscriptions of Islam onto the body contain prescriptions of gender which are inextricably interwoven with notions of purity, perfection and holiness on the one hand and of the continuation of the lineage and the survival of the Sundanese as an ethnic group on the other. In direct contrast to the representation of Indonesian Islam as nominal, much of the Muslim practice in the Shire of Cikajang, as elsewhere in Java, is instantly and internationally recognisable as a feature of M uslim worship.

Five times a day, the calls to prayer echo out from the mosques’ competing speakers over the villages and across the gardens and tea plantations. While the sometimes melodic tones of ‘Allohhu akhbar’ (Allah is the greatest) is an overt sign of the villages’ Muslim character, indications of the extent to which Islam has been incorporated into social and cultural life include the physical presence of mosques and langgar (smaller buildings for worship); the use of Arabic language in connection with worship and Arabic expressions in everyday language; the Muslim calendar to indicate specific times of worship; and Muslim laws and traditions to define practices for both worship and life-cycle events.

The most universal features are summed up by the five pillars of Islam which are; the confession of faith (sahadat), praying five times a day (salat), fasting (particularly in the month of Ramadan, puasa), the pilgrimage to Mecca (haj), and the payment of religious tax (zakat). An essential part of the prayers, the confession of faith (There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet) is televised in Arabic every evening at sunset as well as being inscribed in both Arabic and Indonesian on numerous objects such as key rings sold by peddlars on public buses. The Qur’an is available in both Arabic and Indonesian, and the family I stayed with readily found the book to list the Muslim prophets.

The five daily prayers consist of chants, personal requests, and a physical routine of different bodily positions (roka’at) and can be conducted at the mosque, in langgar, or in the home. People are most likely to visit the mosque in the evening, especially during religious periods like Ramadan, the month of the fast, but many women prefer the privacy and the convenience of their homes. Ideally, both men and women wash before praying, paying special attention to cleansing key points of their bodies. Women must draw a white gown called a mukena over their clothes which covers hair, arms, hands, body and feet, and then they kneel on a prayer mat to begin their devotions. Men and women who pray at home take turns to retire to a corner of the house, face the direction of Mecca and perform their devotions. In addition to the daily prayers, some of the village women also regularly attend the readings from the Qur’an at the mosque at 11 a.m. on Fridays which are called the pengajian (prayer readings), and the men’s pengajian is held an hour later on the same day. While villagers have ties with particular ulama and may go to them for advice regularly, ulama from other areas are invited to air their views at the mosque on a Tuesday evening or at midday on Friday.

Although the Western solar-based calendar is used for the secular life of the everyday, the Muslim calendar directs the timing of religious devotions. It is built on a cycle with five days in the week, 30 days in the month, 12 months in the year, and a grouping of eight years called a windu. Auspicious dates for both the individual life cycles of the villagers and for the community are calculated from this calendar.

The most important month in the year is Puasa which literally means ‘fast,’ and this month marks the intensified rhythm of religious activities known world-wide as Ramadan. Ramadan begins at 4 a.m. with the banging of drums which call people to the mosque. The ritual prayers are more elaborate than usual with an additional set of prayer positions called sholat tarawih. The first day, before the beginning of the fast, has a festive feel to it with young boys setting off small firecrackers. Throughout the month, all villagers who claim piety will fast from dawn at about 4 a.m. until dusk at around 6.15 p.m. Those exempted are the very young, the ill, the weak, and, if they wish, menstruating or pregnant women, but all pious adults who miss days or weeks of the fast are required to pay to the mosque a fine equal to the value of the rice they have eaten, or they must fast at another time for an equivalent period. Children begin attempting to fast anywhere between five and ten years of age, but ideally they shoul d be fasting until sunset by the age of seven. Fasting women must still cook for the young, for the feast that must break the fast after the sun has set each day, and for the mosque so that food can be distributed to the poor. The empathy gained by fasting is meant to socialise people into giving alms to the poor which is considered to be the very basis of sociality.

Called Lebaran, the last week of Ramadan has an atmosphere of mounting excitement because the end of the fast is celebrated on the last day, Idul Fitri. Train and bus stations become jammed as people return to their home villages, and the day before Idul Fitri women stay at home to cook in preparation for the feasting. When night falls, men chant and sing over the speaker system until dawn. By 6 a.m., a large turn-out congregates in their best clothes at the mosque. Because of the sheer size of the congregation in Cipayun (a pseudonym for the village I lived in), men went into the mosque and the women stayed outside. There followed a sermon which ended with each person acknowledging the rest with the Sundanese greeting and the utterance of the formula ‘Mohon, ma’af lahir dan batin’ meaning ‘Please forgive me, outside and in.’

If Ramadan is the most extended period of religious intensity, other major calendrical events are Hari Raya Korban (The Day of Sacrifice) and Mohammed’s birthday, which will only be briefly touched on here. Hari Raya Korban celebrates the story of Ibrohim who showed his willingness to sacrifice his only son, Ishmail, for Allah. For his devotion, Allah allowed him to substitute his son with a ram. Ten days before Hari Raya Korban, the most pious villagers begin fasting, but this is not obligatory and only those who have been on the pilgrimage to Mecca feel the moral obligation to complete it. Once again, throughout the preceding night ‘Allohhu akhbar’ is chanted and sung over the speakers, but this time men alternate with boys. At 6 a.m., villagers congregate at the mosque, and afterwards the richest in the village offer their goats for sacrifice.

The grid of Islam is also traced on to each individual’s body, mapping religious and gender identity on to major life-cycle events such as circumcision and menstruation. Circumcision is symbolically linked with Hari Korban, the Day of Sacrifice, the covenant between Ibrohim and Allah and is considered to be the major distinction between Muslim and heathen, so that only the circumcised may enter a mosque to pray. It is also one of several measures which is strongly associated with the notion of cleanliness. One of the ulama, Bapak Syamsudin, described circumcision this way:

Circumcision is included in the five types of cleanliness. Firstly, Khitan or circumcision is given as an example by Prophet Abraham [Ibrohim] who came before Prophet Mohammed. Prophet Abraham was circumcised at 80 years old at the governing of Allah. At that time, there was no equipment, so Prophet Abraham was circumcised by an adze of stone.

Circumcision originated from the word khotana, that is, throwing away the bud, so that the defiling filth that sits in the bud is thrown away. So circumcision is cleansing. [The second type of cleanliness is] shaving the armpits. The third type is cutting finger and toenails, the fourth is shaving the genitals, and the fifth is shaving the moustache. With shaving the genitals, [cleanliness] is assured for 40 days.

Although Bapak Syamsudin’s allusion to shaving armpits or genital hair was the only time I heard about these practices, the notion that circumcision was the most important in a range of cleansing acts to remove dirt or filth was commonly emphasised. In fact, circumcision seems to carry self-referential symbolic resonances with other cleansing practices so that, for example, washing particular parts of the body before each set of prayers five times a day or cutting or shaving hair is, in a sense, analogous to repeating the act of circumcision as it is metonymic of being clean and pure before Allah.

Though boys are circumcised at seven, the operation is carried out on girls when they are babies of not more than six weeks old. Bapak Symasudin, an ulama for the Muslim organisation, Persatuan Islam, usually contracted to Persis (The Islamic Union), tried to explain why girls are included:

Rasulullah [Mohammed] governed that his wives should be circumcised. Circumcision for women, that is, getting rid of ‘the eye of holang’ or a little bit inside the vagina. Circumcision for women is connected with sexual enjoyment. So for circumcision, there is sexual enjoyment, cleanliness, and performance of acts of devotion.

While other ulama echoed the notion that female circumcision enhances sexual enjoyment women were shocked when I asked them why they thought the operation was necessary because they directly equated both female and male circumcision as a necessary devotional act for Allah and as a mark signifying that the person belongs to the Muslim community. For example, Ibu Acih responded, ‘If you’re Muslim you must be circumcised, because circumcision is the direction given by Islam. If you’re outside Islam, it’s not necessary to be circumcised. If children aren’t circumcised, they’re not allowed to join the prayers at the mosque.’ Likewise Imas responded, ‘Circumcision is the identifying feature of Islam. Boys must be circumcised, girls also. The old people said circumcision is for throwing away what’s dirty. I often heard that at pengajian [meetings for recitation of the Qur’an]’.

If both men and women are physically marked and made into appropriate subjects of Islam by circumcision, both men and women are barred from the mosque in the event that men have semen on them or that women are menstruating. Both semen and menstrual blood are considered dirty as, according to Bapak Rahmat, substances from the genitals cancel out the effect of the prayers. Women also explained that it was feared a menstruating woman would dirty the floor, which presumably would lead to the defiling of the mosque itself. Entering the mosque is just one of many acts prohibited for women during menstruation which were easily listed for me not only by the ulama but by several women. The chief prohibitions for menstruating women are that they cannot pray or have sex and are not allowed to read the Qur’an. Other less important restrictions which seemed to be followed in varying degrees by menstruating women included a ban on combing their hair and cutting their fingernails until after their periods have finished. If a woman should decide to cut her hair while menstruating, Imas explained that she had to ‘gather it together. After menstruation finishes, you wash the cut hair when you do the ritual bathing.’ Clearly, all these acts relate back to the notion of cleanliness and purity and its symbolic relationship with Allah through the Covenant.

From one perspective, Islam treats both men and women as equals in that both must rid the ‘defiling filth’ from their bodies in order to come before Allah. Moreover, the treatment of this topic is considered relatively equal in importance to a number of other, practices dictated by Muslim ethics and published in the countless booklets on ethics available in the city bookshops. Menstruation is not singled out as a demeaning facet of women’s lives any more than semen is for men’s. Yet, the consequences of evaluating body secretions and substances such as semen and blood as dirt have much wider implications for women’s relationship to Allah than for men’s. In the mosques, women are partitioned away from men and are often physically further away from the front. Because of the duration of menstruation, women are also prohibited from entering the mosque for greater periods of time than men which hampers women’s religious practice, and certainly there seemed to be no such person as a female ulama (although Marcoes 1992, and Horikoshi 1976, both mention women working in analogous roles). However, generally women seemed quite contented with these codes as the prohibitions enable them to continue with household chores like cooking and looking after the children which otherwise have to be done around worship.

Women are also more intensely affected by dress codes and notions of modesty. In this area, both men and women must cover their torsos and their upper legs at almost all times, but, as is true of Islam elsewhere, the edict on modesty is much more restrictive for women. On the street, women are expected to cover themselves from their necks to below the knees. Their dress should also cover shoulders and the upper arm with the intention of never revealing the armpit. Older women tend to wrap their hair in scarves or fitted headcloths, but not in the jilbab (the Arab headdress which covers the hair and falls to the shoulders). In a neighbouring village, the ulama, Bapak Rahmat, argued that women should cover their hair and, while most women do not, at least five of the young women I played volleyball with covered their hair with the jilbab although, despite the increasing emphasis on female modesty, veiling the face was never mentioned and no woman did so even while praying at the local mosque. [2]

Modest attire is connected with notions of aurat, meaning certain parts of the body such as the genitals must be covered. To allow such an area to be uncovered is to make that area public which is considered sinful. For women, the problem of aurat is more intense than for men, being focused on notions of respectability and reflecting communal concerns about preserving women’s fertility for the specific ends of continuing the lineage. Therefore, female genitals are focal points for anxiety, which is perhaps not unconnected with the notion that women are particularly vulnerable to spirits entering their wombs. In an idiosyncratically Sundanese twist, however, while normally a woman must cover her breasts, if she should offer them to her child in public, then generally speaking she would not be considered to be breaking these codes of modesty.

Although men and women are treated more or less equally with regard to the relationship between body substances and notions of pollution, the way that gender is interpreted also depends on the views of the local ulama. The two ulama from the Persis organisation, Bapak Didi and Bapak Syamsudin, both see the husband and wife as a team where the wife has the potential to be brighter than her husband and can earn a living for her family. Bapak Didi, a generation older that Bapak Syamsudin, nonetheless felt that men and women have different natures where women are easily offended and must ‘have grace and wisdom, because the female hati [literally the liver, but in this context, meaning the same as heart in English] is gentle not like men’s.’

By contrast, the ulama from Nahdatul Ulama (NU, Association of Moslim Scholars), Bapak Karta and Bapak Rahmat, both strongly felt that men must always perform the role of household head. In Bapak Rahmat’s words:

In the household, women may be clever but they cannot become leaders and must turn to their husbands. According to Islam, in spite of the state [which has attempted to make some inroads into changing women’s status], if the highest leaders are women, it will rapidly decline–Hadith Rasul [a narrative about Mohammed, his Companions and contemporaries]. Men are given higher mental powers by God. The sexes are the same [in worth before Allah]. Only the work is different. The woman cannot be allowed to lead but a clever wife can give input. However, the husband can’t be subordinated. He is like the king to his people. The wife can’t tell the husband what to do except by using courtesy. The husband can tell the wife what to do but he must appreciate that she is not a servant. Between husband and wife there has to be appreciation.

Bapak Rahmat went on to explain that women and men were both treated the same by God according to their deeds, but that women were more inclined to go to hell because of their disobedience towards their husbands, because they have not acquired the necessary permission to leave the house or because they do not show the appropriate appreciation for their husbands’ work in maintaining an income. By contrast, Bapak Karta did not focus on problem women but rather on problem men, saying that, ‘If women think about the consequences of economic problems, men become lazy. According to Islam, the husband will be tortured by Allah because he hasn’t been responsible.’ In other words, women should not be responsible for the financial upkeep of the household because it is chiefly the domain of men, and men must learn that being the head of the household comes with these responsibilities. Clearly, then, in the eyes of the NU ulama, while equal before God, men and women are not considered equal before each other. Instead the y are expected to conform to complementary roles where men have economic responsibility and must maintain their roles as kings of the family. Made of the same ethical substance, men and women are born into the sexual castes of male and female with a clear set of guidelines on appropriate behaviour for each. [3] Legitimated by contemporary norms in the Middle East, the NU leaders’ emphasis on gender hierarchy maintains village values such as the segregation of men and women now under threat by co-education and factory work. Their concern also extends to marriage, division of inheritance and treatment of the ancestors.

Thus, the Islamic code is the main code which defines the structure of marriage, although the government has attempted to make modifications to the legal form of Islamic marriage by making the Ministry of Religious Affairs responsible for collecting data and instituting the law down to the local level. Couples to be married are expected to visit the KUA (Office of Religious Affairs) in Cikajang with their parents in order to register their marriages in an attempt to raise the age of girls at marriage; to make it more difficult for men to enter into polygamous relationships; and to slow down the incidence of divorce.

The division of the inheritance at death is also meant to be done through the KUA with strict rules according to the gender of the relative and the closeness of the kinship tie with the deceased. A chart permanently hangs in the office at Cikajang which the officials explained to me through the following example: if the father dies with wealth of Rp 100,000, the wife would receive an eighth or Rp 12,500 and the remainder would be shared between the daughter and the son so that the son receives two-thirds (Rp 58,340) and the daughter receives the remaining Rp 29,170. However, this method conflicts with another method used in the villages which dictates that daughters and sons should receive equal parts of their parents’ wealth. If the inheritance is divided unequally, it is thought to threaten the moral perfection of the person who has died. In cases like this, the dead may return to possess the living (usually female relatives) in order to express their dissatisfaction.

If Islam dictates the timing of rituals for both the individual and the community, its values are reinforced spatially and linguistically in everyday life. The mosques and langgar in most of these villages are built among the houses, very much as part of the community rather than separate from it. As most of the families are related, the close proximity of the houses enable women to move between them easily without feeling that they have entered public space. Once women walk on to the laneway, they are considered to be in public space and, if of reproductive age, they are expected to be accompanied, thus reinforcing notions of female modesty and the sexual segregation of domains. While the physical presence of mosques (mesjid), langgar, and associated buildings are obvious anchors to the faith about which the villagers move, Arabic religious language has also entered the Sundanese language of the everyday, so that the response to the usual greeting of, ‘Kumaha, Ema, damang?’ (‘How are you, Mrs? Well?’) is ‘A lhamdullilah’ (‘Thank Allah’). With numerous religious expressions dotted through Sundanese speech like ‘Insya ‘allah’ (‘As Allah wills’), Allah is invoked many times in every conversation. In this way, a major part of the grid on which the villagers in Cikajang organise their lives is a distinct and orthodox Islam which is universally recognised as such. However, many of these manifestations of Islam–the mosques, the relatively strict observation of the five pillars of Islam and injunctions of modesty regarding women’s dress–are fairly recent. Islam has a complex history in this region which has, at times, impinged upon the ambitions of the state.

From mysticism to Dar’ul Islam

First arriving in Java through visiting coastal traders from India in the fourteenth century, Islam was incorporated by the courts over the next two centuries. Whereas historians record a peaceful acceptance of Islam, informants in the villages say that the religion was introduced to the Sundanese with the conversion of Prabu Kian Santang, the son of Prabu Siliwangi who ruled the kingdom of Pajajaran. Having journeyed to Arabia where he was converted and trained in the art of Muslim fighting magic, Prabu Kian Santang returned to defeat his father’s tiger magic, whereupon his father’s retreat to Pameugpeuk created the geographical features of the Priangan mountains. While many villagers profess knowledge of tiger magic handed down to them, most now have either suppressed or redirected this knowledge to conform with their interpretation of Islam.

During the nineteenth century, in response to the expansion and subsequent colonisation by the Dutch, Indonesian Islam began to crystallise into an anti-colonial movement through the agency of the pilgrimage to Mecca, the pesantren (Muslim boarding school), the tarekat (mystical Muslim brotherhoods) and the internal market system. If religion had once been central to the values of kingship, colonialism produced a bifurcated system which separated religion from the colonial bureaucracy. As the priyayi (court officials) were successfully absorbed into the bureaucracy, the rural elite united forces through the pesantren and tarekat which were becoming progressively anti-European and anti-priyayi. The tarekat, in particular, were propagating the coming of the Messiah and the inevitability of Holy War (McVey 1983; Carey 1979; C. Geertz 1971).

With the Japanese occupation of Indonesia in World War II, only one Islamic party, Masyumi, was permitted to operate. The Japanese trained the specialised Muslim fighting unit, Hizbu’llah (Allah’s Army) which would have a role to play in Dar’ul Islam (‘the abode/domain of Islam’ and would re-invigorate the Muslim ideal of an Islamic State (for fuller accounts of this period, see Nakamura 1996; Van Djik 1981; Horikoshi 1975; Van Niewenhuijze 1958). The Japanese occupation also brought extreme hardship bordering on starvation to the villagers in Cipayun.

Although only the oldest villagers could remember experiences from Dutch colonisation before World War II, many remembered the desperate poverty of the Japanese era. Themost terrifying period of all, however, was the Dar’ul Islam rebellion which was led by Kartosuwiryo in response to the return of the Dutch after the Japanese had capitulated. Within six months of returning in 1947, the Dutch had taken control of all the areas of Java where they had economic interests (about two-thirds of the island). With the Renville Agreement in 1948, the Dutch set up the Pasundan government and insisted that the Siliwangi troops (who were regarded as the Sundanese wing of the Republican army) evacuate West Java. The rebellion began when Kartosuwiryo, in command of the Hizbu’llah, declared a Holy War which at first aroused immense popular support but which also disrupted the lives of thousands of villagers in the Priangan from 1947 to 1962, resulting in the deaths of 40,000 Indonesians who were mostly Sundanese (Jackson 19 80).

Although the Dar’ul Islam units originally fought alongside republican forces, the differing objectives of its leaders began to emerge when Sukarno and Vice-President Hatta were taken captive by the Dutch in 1948. At conferences held in Tasik Malaya, disparate fighting units were brought together under the umbrella of Tentara Islam Indonesia (the Islamic Army of Indonesia) or TII, and Kartosuwiryo declared himself Imam for the new Islamic state (Negara Islam). Within a few months, Dar’ul Islam or DI/TII controlled most of the mountainous areas from Banten to the Priangan. When the Dutch finally withdrew under international pressure in 1949, the Siliwangi troops returned from Central Java to find themselves confronted by the DI/TII which was now a vast guerrilla network fighting a Holy War for an Islamic state. If Muslims had unified to oppose colonial forces, they were now pitched against each other, where those loyal to a central republican state under Sukamo were defending themselves against those aspiring to found an Islamic state under Kartosuwiryo (Jackson 1980; Horikoshi 1975).

From 1950 to 1962, the DI/TII was primarily based in Garut, Tasik Malaya and Ciamis in the Priangan Residency. From their bivouacs on mountains, they attacked and burned villages, government offices, TNI (Republican army) posts, cars, buses and trains. In most years, the rebel army is estimated to have had around 4,000 active guerrillas and the popular support was such as to be able to replace the 1,000 fatalities occurring each year. Garut suffered 5,000 incidents in 1952 alone, resulting in the deaths of 443 officials and commoners and the evacuation of 83,000 people. The strength of the DI/TII forces peaked in 1957 with an army estimated to be 13,000 strong, equipped with 3,000 firearms which had been stolen from local government-supplied forces (Jackson 1980).

In the villages around Cikajang, the DI/TII were also referred to as ‘the group,’ and were known more for their banditry than for their ideological goals. Certainly, many unregulated bands joined the movement for their own purposes (Jackson 1980). During an interview, Bapak Kosasih attempted to separate ‘the group’ from the DI/TII, which suggested to me that, like many devout Muslims, he may have originally shared some of the DI/TII’s ideals but found their later atrocities inexcusable (cfllorikoshi 1975):

The DI/TII existed in 1952. After the DI/TII they were called ‘the group’ and were led by Kartosuwiryo. The government had taken the religion out of governing but DI/TII wanted religion in government ‘the group’ intended to destroy wealth and people. Houses were burnt, wealth was taken. [The people in ‘the group’ came] from us: from the south, from C [a village], from a lot of places, from P and S. They were still our people. It was because they wished it to be like GPK [Gerakan Pengacau Keamanan, a guerrilla group in the news at the time of my fieldwork] in Irian Java. It was just the same. [They were here until] 1962.

On another occasion he added:

The era of ‘the group’ was the most horrifying It was horrifying because the community wasn’t there. At 3 p.m., you had to leave the house to hide in a hole. The economic problem in the era of ‘the group’ was the most horrifying, 1 feel. Very early in the morning you were up looking for nafkah [income, food]. At 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock you were preparing [to hide] again. The people who didn’t leave for the city hid in holes. [However] there was enough [to eat]; [the economy] wasn’t disorganised.

Increasingly, Dar’ul Islam forces attacked whole villages. Their attacks were always at night as government forces came through during the day. The nightly spectre of Dar’ul Islam proved more horrific for villagers living in hamlets outside the town, surrounded by jungle and neglected tea plantations.

By 1961, the violence suffered by communities in the Priangan was justified in a vision Kartosuwiryo experienced, ‘that the road to the Islamic state would be covered by mounds of corpses’ (Jackson 1980:17). Soon after, he gave the order for the ‘war from which there was no return,’ where all who did not actively assist were to be killed. At the same time, having put ‘Guided Democracy’ into effect, Sukarno directed all his resources at the DI/TII and focused the Siliwangi Division on a massive military and civilian operation which resulted in 1,236 surrendering, 215 killed and 207 captured (Jackson 1980). The civilian operation consisted of apagar betis (literally ‘a fence of human legs’), where villagers armed only with a small drum called the ketongan would surround mountains where DI/TII forces camped.

Recalling that the leader of the local branch of ‘the group’ was reputed to have mystical powers, Bapak Dedi explained, ‘The leader of ‘the group’ was named Yunani and they said he was supernatural because he could go inside a bottle.’ Kartosuwiryo was also rumoured to have made generals fly through the air before sceptics (Horikoshi 1975), to have the ability of vanishing with the speed of light, to be invulnerable to bullets (Jackson 1980), and to possess two magical swords which would make him victorious and bring him prosperity. Represented as the Ratu Adil (‘Just King’) of an ancient prophecy, six of his officers were said to have seen the phrase la ilaha illa’ ‘llah (‘there is no God but Allah’) radiating from his eyebrows for three hours (Van Dijk 1981). The relationship between fighting magic and a mystical Islam provides the setting for the magical realism which Taussig describes as intrinsic to realms of terror (Taussig 1987). Yet, in contrast to the Colombian experience of colonialism that Taussig relates, the most awful of terrors did not come directly from colonisation, but from the attempts to repudiate it.

Kartosuwiryo was finally captured in June 1962, and secretly executed for treason in September, but not before ordering his forces to surrender, for which they received amnesty. Speaking about that time remains sensitive and potentially divisive in the villages because the admission of involvement in activities aligned with DI/TII leaves people vulnerable to charges of treason, despite the amnesty. Moreover, while the DI/TII was the most terrifying period to live through, there was yet another swell of disruption in the form of the PKI (the Communist Party of Indonesia) which followed.

Because of increasing tensions between landed and landless, officials and common people, orthodox and mystical Muslims, by 1963 a reported 75% of subdistricts in Priangan went from DI to PKI and PNI (the National Party of Indonesia; see Jackson 1980). Involved in the implementation of land reforms, the PKI had deeply antagonised conservative Muslim groups throughout Java (Fealy 1996; Weiringa 1988). The tension peaked in the September of 1965 when six conservative generals were abducted and murdered near Jakarta. Rumours related the incident to the activities of the PKI and its feminist partner-organisation, Gerwani In the subsequent unrest, over half a million people were killed and three quarters of a million arrested, some being detained for up to fifteen years without trial (Weiringa 1988; cf Feillard 1996). As Communism remains a highly sensitive issue, I was not free to pursue the topic with my informants, but rather had to be grateful for the trust shown to me when certain aspects of the conflict were related to me. Bapak Kosasih remembered:

At the beginning of 1965, fires were lit by the university students of Cikajang. They were worst in Garut because there were many Chinese there. The kiosks owned by the Chinese were burnt. At that time there were many who were punished, that is, those pro-Kartosuwiryo, PKI–eh–Subandi. It was very strained here because they had a crisis.

In a separate conversation, Bapak Dedi elaborated: ‘In 1965 there was the PKI. It was here too as a large number of the plantation workers were in the organisation … At that time there were a lot who entered that organisation at the plantation.’ [4] If the PKI’s influence reached into the plantations and universities of the Priangan, however, it did not do so for long. Under Soeharto, Communism was outlawed and it then became a matter of some urgency to be identified with a state-recognised religion (ironically leading to the ‘Islamisation’ of regions that previously had not identified themselves as such; see Pranowo 1994). The apparent uniformity of Islam in the Priangan is more recent than it seems, and it belies the deep divisions between the different Islamic organisations now operating in the area and their uneasy relationship with the state.

Local discourses on Islam: realms of existence and the structure of creation

While mystical forms of Islam arrived in Java in the fourteenth century and have grown in strength since the sixteenth century, institutionalised worship only reached the villages in the years following independence. [5] Bapak Kosasih remembered that, ‘the [local] mosque was built in 1978. At first, the people here did the Friday prayers in Cikajang [town] from 1950 to 1955 and in 1957 they went to S [a closer village]; in 1960 to M [a village at the bottom of the lane]; in 1972 to the top of C [this village].’ Although mosques had been built in surrounding villages, Bapak Karta remembered the challenge of bringing Islam into this village:

When I was in class 1, SMP [junior high school – which he probably attended in the early 1970s], you could count the people at the Friday prayers–there were maybe five. I often recited the Qur’an there because there wasn’t anywhere to do it here. Ah, it was dark in the ways of religion here; there weren’t any boundaries between the haram [the forbidden] and the halal [the permitted]. There were animal competitions [for gambling]. The fast as well-people rarely fasted in the fasting month. If I’m not mistaken, it was 1975 when I went to school in the madrasah. I didn’t have friends. I was alone there.

With the building of mosques, the translation of the Qur’an into Indonesian, and more people going on the pilgrimage to Mecca, [6] local interpretations of the scriptures diversified and resulted in two religious organisations operating in the Shire: Nahdatul Ulama (NU) and probably later Persis. Almost all the people I knew and dealt with belonged to NU. [7]

The NU organisation formed in 1926 in Surabaya in response to the modernist movement which had been expanding over the previous decade. Having begun as a socio-religious organisation, it then operated as a political party or as a component of one and, while it was the only major political party to survive the Sukarno era, it was sidelined when Soeharto came to power. With the tighter government control and military intervention after 1971, NU retreated from politics to return to socio-religious activities. It is now the largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia (indeed, the world) with a membership of 35 million (Fealy and Barton 1996; Nakamura 1996).

Although the opposition between modernists and traditionalists is far from rigid under the New Order and has become more blurred in recent times (Hefner I 999b; Lubis 1995), the villagers’ experience of NU and its competitor, Persis, can still be fairly accurately slotted into the modes of traditionalist (or conservative) and modernist Islam respectively. Describing these modes in East Java, Clifford Geertz delineated the differences between the conservatives and the modernists in terms of an emphasis on the notion of fate versus self-determination; the notion that religion is ‘totalistic’, encompassing all aspects of everyday life, as distinct from placing boundaries between the sacred and the secular; the tolerating and incorporating of local practices versus the notion that Islam should be ‘purified’; [.8] the emphasis on religious experience over the instrumental aspects of religion; and the justification of practice through adat (custom) and scholastic learning rather than relating practice to pragmatic values that are loosely interpreted from the Qur’an and the hadiths (C. Geertz 1976; cf Lubis 1995).

In conformity with these differences, Bowen reports that the most common difference articulated in the Gayo highlands of Sumatra is that modernists rely only on their own interpretations of the Qur’an and hadith, denying the authority traditionalists give to other written religious texts. By contrast, traditionalists look to the ‘collective wisdom of past scholars’ (Bowen 1993 :23) because they do not find scripture to be clear and self-sufficient as do the modernists. Suwardiman (1994) makes a similar distinction in contrasting Persis and NU in Cicadas, West Java. Likewise, the locals in the Shire of Cikajang also commonly assert that while the followers of the NU look not just to the books of the Qur’an and the hadith but also to the interpretations of ulama for guidance, the followers of Persis do not. As a result, the relationship between the followers of NU and Persis in the villages is often volatile.

If, at the national level, the modernist religious vision of the future has had much in common with the state’s push for modernisation, nationalism, industrialisation, and rationalisation, the traditionalists are highly suspicious of these changes, seeing them as close to Westernisation, an immoral way of life closely aligned with the colonialism of their past. By contrast, it is the traditionalists’ spirits and mysticism that the modernists try to exorcise, leading to enormous antagonism between the two groups because ‘the modernists are generally associated with the fight against [what they interpret as] heresy, saint-worship, animistic beliefs, adaptations to local situations and adherence to practices of the pre-Islamic period in general’ (Van Dijk 1981:27). Thus, the relationship between adat and Islam cuts to the core of local disputes about the nature of Islam between Islamic organisations. And, therefore the notion of syncretism is also problematic in that it buys into local disputes about the nature of Islam and which traditions (Middle Eastern or Indonesian) are more authentic.

Locally, this distinction is perhaps most vocally expressed in terms of different ideas about the way prayer ritual (ubudiah) should be performed, especially with regard to the death rites. The arguments about rites at death signal very particular views about what happens in the grave. NU followers expect that, at burial, the tahlil and the talquin (a chant and advice given at the graveside) will be conducted. While Persis followers believe that after death the person falls into a state like a deep sleep until aroused on Judgement Day, NU followers are more likely to believe that, after death and burial (in a corner of a family garden close to the home), the soul of the deceased wanders between the grave and the house for forty days before going on to the next stage of afterlife. Bapak Rahmat explained this process as follows:

From the texts, the roh [soul] is taken by an Angel. When people die, the roh leaves the body which is then washed and buried. In the following 40 days, the roh, with the permission of Allah, paces between the grave and the house. It’s given mukasafa by Allah. The meaning of mukasafa is that Allah gives it omniscience so it can see the family circle: who prays and who uses the inheritance for what. It’s like that for 40 days. For this time it’s in the family circle. After 40 days the roh is in the grave circle. After one year, if I’m not mistaken, if the roh of that person has faith, it is taken straight to iliyir: that is, the highest place there [the highest level in the grave]. If the person is an unbeliever the roh is put in to sijin [the lowest level in the grave].

According to NU followers, Allah frees the spirits of the dead from torture to visit their family and friends on Thursday evenings at sunset as well as during Ramadan. Although Persis rejects the notion of a wandering soul and, indeed, of experiencing anything in the grave, both organisations seem to agree that after Judgement Day each person is sent to the level of heaven or hell most matched to their deeds on earth.

The different ways of conceiving the afterlife have further repercussions for burial practices. Whereas for Persis followers the dead do not return to communicate with the living, for the followers of NU the living (the children) are held responsible for aiding the dead (their parents) in their journey towards a just place in the afterlife. If they do this, then merit is also bestowed back on the living with the result that the difficulties with their own journey through the afterlife will be eased. Because of this responsibility, the relatives are gathered in order to conduct the ritual feasts at the appropriate times. Bapak Rahmat stressed the importance of continuing this tradition:

For example, people who die. People who die, according to Persis, don’t visit those who are alive or dead so they don’t need [the rituals] at three days, seven days, 40 days and 100 days. ‘For what? It should be sadness, this 40 days. It’s to be taken seriously. It’s not a party to cut chicken!’ But with the NU it’s not like that. People who die need the prayers from the living. In fact, it’s a priority of the Prophet’s community so that the benefits of prayer go from the living to the dead. It’s like this: we have mothers who have already died and we pray for them after [the standard prayers]… Allhhumagfiraha warhamba waafiha waafuariha and so on. Straight away it gives merit to the children for being pious. They [the children] aren’t dead. They are still alive. You must pray for your father and mother.

The belief that the souls of the dead can communicate with the living is both strong and widespread among the villagers. At school, children learn that Holik (Arab for God) created mahluk (creatures) through the process of the Word. These creatures are divided into hidup or animate creatures which include humanity, animals, and plants; and mati or the inanimate constituted by the categories solids, gas and liquids. But, when talking with villagers, a mediating level appears between Holik and mahluk which includes the existence of spirits called mahluk halus, hantu [Indonesian], or jurig [Sundanese]. These include jinn or Islamic spirits such as a giant green genie which is said to like living in the ceilings of mosques, melaikat or angels, and hantu or spirits called setan because of their tendency to trouble the living. Among the latter category are the spirits of the dead and more nebulous beings called down with black magic. [9] In addition, two beings of divine royal ancestry commonly referred to in Sunda nese mystic life are Dewi Sri and Roro Kidul. The Goddess of Rice, Dewi Sri, has become caught up in disputes about the nature of Islam, and is now commonly referred to as Nyai Sri (‘Miss Sri’), if she is referred to at all, but Roro Kidul’s presence remains too strong to contest. As Queen of the South Seas, Roro

Kidul periodically takes humans through drowning to become servants in her kingdom off the south coast.

Although Geertz describes a rice goddess and other spirits (1976) for Modjukuto, he does not relate them to the dead and nor does he realise that certain forms of Islam accommodate them (cf Hefner 1999a). Moreover, if such spirits and entities do suggest a rich and diverse religious history, they are not a passive remnant of ancient beliefs as the notion of syncretism might imply but play an active part of Muslim belief in this region. Whatever religious orientation such spirits were conceived by, villagers today identify them all as hantu which have a place in the scheme of Islam as interpreted by NU, as much as they are contested by organisations like Persis.

Anderson’s (1972) delineation of the Javanese conception of power must also be slightly modified to fit concepts of spiritual potency as they are demonstrated in the villages. One evening, I was taken to witness a silat (martial arts) exercise in mysticism. In this exercise, youths learn to draw potency (alluded to as ‘the force’) from Allah into themselves and then focus it into objects in such a way that the objects become saturated with potency. Attackers cannot approach the youths in this concentrated state nor can they pick up the objects. While this exercise is a demonstration of fighting magic, it also demonstrates the way in which potency is not seen to exist in the environment unless others have put it there. Instead of a conception where cosmic power is diffused through the landscape, things are considered to be just things until an adept transmits potency into them. Likewise, this potency is not drawn from energy diffused throughout the landscape but from Allah who has the authority to give such p otency (and who is therefore often referred to as ‘The Authority’). [10]

Lastly, the method for transmitting such potency relies not only on concentration but on Islamic prayers. In the villages, words are not neutral objects but carry potency in themselves whether in the formulation of a prayer, a chant or ordinary speech. While prayers have the capacity to call down the force of Allah, careless speech may call down some of the more fearful spirits of the dead–tiger spirits or Roro Kidul–and it is often warned against, especially in areas considered as the dwelling places of such spirits (e.g. graveyards, sites of accidents, jungle, rivers and ponds, clumps of bamboo, the beaches on the south coast). Speech is also able to shape the future and especially events of misfortune. As such, speech does not merely reveal an intent separate from action or the individual’s wishes in a neutral world but rather activates the future in a specific orientation. For NU followers, then, Allah and the world of the dead are in constant interaction with the living unlike the more distant God of Persis. Moreover, the beliefs which Geertz referred to as ‘unconnected visual metaphors’ (C. Geertz 1976:17) actually inform a vibrant local cosmology which, far from being the most simple, fragmented and primitive form of religion in Java, competes with modernist interpretations of organisations like Persis.

However, if the quarrels between ulama in this district over the acceptability of particular beliefs and practices has attracted a notoriety that stretches as far as the city of Bandung, they have also divided the community, destabilising villagers’ understanding of their religion and of their place in the cosmos. Although the building of mosques has led to a normalisation of religious practice, disputes continue over interpretations of the scriptures, the correct performance of prayer ritual, and morality (such as the relationship between husband and wife). However, perhaps the most anxiety-provoking concern is the attempt by Persis to distance the dead because it has resounding effects on all community relationships and most especially the relationship between parent and child, changing the nature of relationships from an emphasis on obligations between the generations (especially those between the living and the dead) in favour of relationships between those who are currently living. As this reordering of social relations is more compatible with the ideology of development promulgated by the state under Soeharto, NU followers are forced into a precarious position of having their beliefs contested and documented as past traditions which are no longer relevant. In effect, NU cosmology has been placed in direct opposition to the state’s notions of modernity.

Because of the local experiences of colonisation and guerrilla warfare, this new threat to the social order holds salience for NU followers as their interpretation of Islam appears to draw from Mohammed’s teachings when he, his wives and followers fled for Medina. Emphasising the importance of continuing the Islamic community, the local teachings attempt to guarantee the survival of the lineage and the survival of Sundanese ethnicity (in ways that, it might be inferred, Persis followers will not). In the Shire of Cikajang, the concepts of religion, family, and future have become so closely interwoven that they are a self-referential set. Bapak Ralimat explained that:

According to Islam children can’t be limited. In fact, Islam arranges it so that the Islamic community has many children. It’s called the Islamic community. So it means the Islamic community if, according to the terms of Syara Law, Islam follows the order of God’s law. [11]

This need to have many descendants implies a need to maintain and secure the Muslim community against outside oppressors. As a result, while Islam has become as important as nationalism for many Indonesians, for the Sundanese of the Priangan who identity themselves with NU, it has developed a special ethnic significance.

As NU and Persis compete for both followers and legitimacy, the ulama are divided on many issues. To a large degree, Persis finds it advantageous to co-exist with state development morality, claiming that Islam is also a modern religion which expects initiative from its followers. This gives Persis a powerful basis from which to modernise Islam in the villages, wiping away practices they view as superstitious and pre-Islamic. Because the volatility between the organisations is not just about competing claims to authority within the villages but indicates differences at the much deeper level of cosmology, the NU followers among whom I lived and studied felt under threat in almost every aspect of their lives.

Islam: strategic discourses and identities

Throughout this paper, I have argued against the usual representation of Islam in Java as divided between the syncretic abangan practices and the Muslim santri orthodoxy. Instead, I argue that Islam has been mobilised in a multiplicity of ways according to specific historical and cultural contexts in different regions. Religion, like any regime of values, is therefore incorporative but the question as to which values are incorporated and which are rejected depends on the way the religion (or regime of values) is introduced into the community, the kind of dialogue which ensues, and the way values may be of strategic or tactical use with regard to local power relations. In addition, because there is more than one Muslim organisation in Indonesia, the notion of a pure religion, an Islam untarnished by local influences, is fuelling contemporary divisions between these organisations. Thus notions like syncretism now have political consequences in debates beyond but increasingly formed by academic discourses. [12]

In one sense, Islam is a discourse about moral ontologies and cosmologies. Certainly, this is reflected in concerns about the validity of using the writings of previous religious scholars for legitimating arguments over the correct performance of ritual. In local disputes, these differences are reflected in issues such as the correct treatment of the dead at and after burial and whether or not the tingkeban and the birth rituals are legitimate. However, at the broader level, the discourse about how Islam should be oriented is neither contained within Indonesia nor within scholarly borders but flows across institutional and national boundaries towards Mecca. Every year, the haj (pilgrimage) is a massive government-organised operation in which hundreds of thousands of Indonesians (including people like Ibu Ecin and her husband) visit Saudi Arabia. [13] Hundreds more women (like Ibu Opoy) join organisations which offer them work as maids in Saudi-Arabia, exposing them to different ideas about Islam. The effect of this circular migration to the geographical ‘centre’ of Islam is to further intensify questioning about the correctness of ritual and belief. For instance, while most young women in the Shire of Cikajang do not cover their hair, the NU ulama, Bapak Rahmat, insists that all women should wear the jilbab. In his conception of Islam, women’s hair is part of aurat (a body part which should not be seen in public) and, in conformity with this, several young women in the villages wear the jilbab even while playing volleyball. In this instance, Middle Eastern norms are used to maintain and legitimate local practices of sexual segregation, therefore showing the righteousness of Bapak Rahmat’s teachings as a whole.

Yet to propose that Islam is merely a discourse on ethics positions it as separate from politics, a positioning which the nationalist governments have used to their own advantage. At independence, the Sukarno government began the process of weakening Muslim political effectiveness with the introduction of the Pancasila (Five Principles). In the face of the Dar’ul Islam insurrections all over the archipelago which demanded a Muslim state, the Pancasila was plainly inadequate to Muslims as, rather than declaring a Muslim state or defining a space in which Islam is predominant, it stated only that Indonesians share the belief in one God (McVey 1983). Throughout the Soeharto era, the regime made several strategic moves to keep the Muslim organisations in check such as reorganising the political parties (including parties representing the Muslim organisations) into three blocs (Golkar, PPP, PDI) and restricting their political activity; and replacing the NU Minister in the Office of Religious Affairs with a Golka r technocrat (Hefner 1987). However, not all of the efforts to undermine the political strength of the Muslim organisations have been successful. The introduction of the 1974 Marriage Law proved to be a rather serious miscalculation by the government (and, on this occasion, its urban feminist support) because it was a direct intrusion on ethical grounds that had been conceded to Islam (McVey 1983).

Nonetheless, a certain process which scholars have called Islamisation developed alongside the New Order (Soeharto) regime, triggered by the events of 1965. The more cynical interpretation describes the conversion as a way of avoiding suspicions of subversion after the massacres and the mass executions of suspected Communists (Pranowo 1994). A second interpretation highlights the intensification of mosque-building as part of a new orientation on the part of NU leaders when they were blocked from political effectiveness (Feillard 1999; Hefner 1999a). Although these were factors in the increasing identification with Islam across Java, they do not account for the historical identification the Priangan Sundanese have held with Islam, even if the moves to build mosques and langgar and to regulate and normalise ethical behaviour have been relatively recent. While Dar’ul Islam was a literal call to arms against colonialism, this later Islamising process seems to be a call to unity through the transnational symbols of Islam (such as mosques, langgar, the jilbab, and the regulation of the Five Pillars) which represent a legitimacy that extends beyond national borders.

By using the legitimacy of Islam as a religion of ethics, Muslim leaders from all of the organisations effectively engaged in an indirect critique of the nationalist regime and its program of modernisation as potentially immoral and corrupt. Certainly, for the rural Sundanese, modernity carries overtones of urbanisation, Westernisation, and corruption. This is reinforced by factors such as the images of urban Indonesian women in scant clothes singing about unrequited love in dangdut (Indonesian disco music), B-Grade American films in the cinemas which hint at sex outside of marriage, immodestly dressed female tourists many have witnessed in the cities or in the tourist town of Pangandaran, and the arrival of AIDS). As white-skinned tourists (bule) carry connotations of a history of colonialism and are thought to have unlimited wealth, the Westernisation of values can also connote the striving to acquire wealth by questionable means for individual gain.

In fact, the use of internationally recognised Muslim symbols as a moral critique of colonisation and, later, of modernisation and Westernisation is a widespread phenomenon occurring throughout the Muslim world at different times. In the Middle East, this movement has often been phrased in terms of returning to or purifying Islam. In analysing women’s return to the veil in Egypt, Ahmed concludes that: ‘The notion of returning to or holding on to an ‘original’ Islam and an ‘authentic’ indigenous culture is itself, then, a response to the discourses of colonialism and the colonial attempt to undermine Islam and Arab culture and replace them with Western practices and beliefs’ (Ahmed 1992:237). As I have demonstrated, this notion of a return to an authentic Islam is highly problematic in the Indonesian context because indigenous Islam is not the same as that lived by Muslims in the Middle East (and, as Ahmed points out, the idea of an authentic Islam in the Middle East is equally problematic), resulting in a co ntest for legitimacy between the traditionalists (such as NU followers) who argue that the local elements are worthwhile additions to the core of Islamic belief and the modernists (like Persis followers) who want to purge Muslim practice of local elements. Moreover, although modernists strive towards an authenticity derived from the Middle East, they see the potential benefits of state-driven modernity including prosperity and (for women) equality. However, while the fight for legitimacy between factions continues, all the organisations have drawn increasingly from the trans- national stock of recognised symbols. If the use of these symbols and practices enhances the credibility of the organisations within local communities, it also elicits a transnational Muslim identity which represents Muslims across the globe as united into one ummat or community able to take on national governments and Western capitalism.

The recent election of Abdurrahman Wahid, the Head of NU, to the office of President reflects the success of Indonesia’s last few decades of Islamisation although Wahid’s leadership remains precarious as it faces the challenge of securing the nationalist military forces under General Wiranto. Even if Wahid succeeds, it will be difficult for him to endorse or to change the values implicit within government-run development programs upon which Indonesian industrial and international relations are built. Indeed, if Wahid’s leadership stabilises, it may produce some uncomfortable ironies for rural Sundanese communities because NU Islam as lived by rural populations is largely co-extensive with the peasant subsistence lifestyle now under threat from modernising and urbanising tendencies of state-encouraged capitalism. Yet, for manifold reasons, the values within programs such as family planning are likely to continue to contrast with the values that are lived by rural communities in West Java.

Filling the landscape with the calls to prayer five times a day and filling rooms where rituals are conducted with supplications for Allah’s protection, Islam in the villages is highly auditory. However, for many of the villagers, if Allah can be called down into the human world, so can the spirits of the dead. NU Islam thus represents a particular cosmological outlook for the villagers, incorporating a world which includes a mother earth, a father sky and spirits of the dead (Newland 1999). For villagers in the Shire of Cikajang, Islam prioritises the maintenance of a religious community in keeping with the continuity of familial relations (including the spirits of the dead) implicated in bilateral kinship. In all, Islam is experienced as a set of competing discourses about the way ethics should be interpreted and modernity should be integrated; a set of unifying discourses which challenge the moral authority of state, modernisation and westernisation thus providing a convenient idiom for rejecting unwanted interference from the government; a performative identity inscribed onto bodies; and a specific cosmological outlook. Religion is thus central to the way rural Sundanese communities construe the world and position themselves within it in connection and in opposition to outside forces.

(1.) From 1995-6 I conducted fieldwork in the villages that fall into the administrative district of the Shire of Cikajang in the Priangan Mountains, West Java. Almost all people here are of Sundanese ethnicity.

(2.) Veiling signals the complexity of interpreting Islamic practice whether in Indonesia or elsewhere. While veiling can be interpreted as an alternative modernity for urban university students or for urban women entering the workforce (Brenner 1996; Ong 1995, for Malaysia; Macleod 1992, for Egypt), it can also reinforce profoundly conservative ideologies (which these authors acknowledge). In the rural areas of Indonesia, this new emphasis on veiling appears to legitimate religious leaders’ interpretations of Indonesian Islam as aligned with Islam of the Middle East, as well as maintaining traditions of sexual segregation.

(3.) This strongly orthodox interpretation of Islam directly contrasts with another notion of gender relations which exists throughout Java, where women are conservers of wealth and lineage and therefore manage household finances and hold a dominant role in trade (e.g. Brenner 1998; Siegel 1986; H. Geertz 1961), a view which is present but somewhat muted in these villages. It also contrasts with the views of the national branch of the NU headed by Abdurrahman Wahid (now the Indonesian President–thanks to Robert Hefner for this point).

(4.) From the time the plantations had been set up, migrants travelled into this locality for work. However, it is not clear from these interviews if the PKI drew most of its members from this migrant population or from the local peasant population.

(5.) This lack of mosques and other internationally recognised features of Islam prior to this period does not suggest that the villagers were any less Muslim than elsewhere. In the light of the force of identification with groups such as the tarekat (brotherhoods) and Dar’ul Islam, the idea that Islam as lived by the Sundanese has been a flimsy edifice or a nominal set of beliefs would seem a presumptuous judgement (cf Van Niewenhuijze 1958). Furthermore, while tarekat and the Dar’ul Islam may be interpreted in some contexts as institutions, in this instance, I do not call them such because I want to emphasise that conformity of Muslim practice appears to have steadily increased with the building of mosques. Thus, here I equate institutionalisation with a normalisation of religious practice which was not so evident in the years prior to mosque-building.

(6.) Hefner (199b:88) records that in East Java, ‘the number of mosques increased from 15,574 in 1973 to 17,750 in 1979 … and 25,655 in 1990’ and, in Central Java, the number of mosques built almost doubled from 15,685 in 1988 to 28,748 in 1992. Based on my interview with Bapak Karta, the same process seems to have occurred in the Priangan.

(7.) I lived and worked with peasants and knew a few of their relations who were traders, nearly all of whom were NU. The only Persis followers I knew were two ulama and one or two of the women I interviewed who had married into Persis families.

(8.) By contrast, the attempt by modernists to strip Islam of practices not referred to in the Qur’an allows for a reinterpretation of the scriptures in the context of modern life, although paradoxically modernists tend to revert to many of the norms currently practised in the Middle East. Brenner, who also writes from a largely modernist perspective, suggests that this project is an attempt to create an alternative modernity from that imported with Westernising processes of development (Brenner 1998).

(9.) How these beings are interpreted depends on how the person is positioned within Islam. Mang Encep, a rather flamboyant dukun (healer), had the view that these beings are formed when a person dies, at which time part of the soul returns to Allah while the remainder stays in the form of a hantu that reflects the values the person had lived by. For example, if the person was worldly in life, at death they would become a ngepat or monkey spirit; if the person had performed magic to gain wealth, they become a yegik or a pig spirit (for more detail, see Newland 1999). While some of these descriptions are idiosyncratic, they consistently link the spirit-world with the dead.

(10.) This is an important concept with implications for the interpretation of relationships in other settings. For instance, Brenner describes how Javanese batik workers are expected to submit to the authority of their superiors so that the desires of their superiors flow through them. As a result, the quality of the work is attributed not to the worker but to the superior (Brenner 1998).

(11.) This was a response to a question about whether or not family planning was a good practice for Muslims.

(12.) Idah showed me that Clifford Geertz’s book, The Religion of Java, had been translated into Indonesian as Abangan, Santri Priyayi dalam Masyarakat Jawa (Bachtiar 1989) and is currently used in anthropology courses. Perhaps because of translations like this, Dewi Sri is now being rejected as Hindu, a view which is taught in schools.

(13.) For 1996, 194,707 Indonesian pilgrims are reported as travelling to Mecca (Jakarta Post, 27/3/96).


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