Re: Call for Papers -- the Athropological Canon on Indonesia.

Ronald and Katryne Lukens Bull (
Sat, 05 Oct 1996 16:16:44 -0700

Gerold Firl wrote:
> Interesting; I wonder if you could amplify on what you mean by
> "anti-islamic".First, I mean a bias against Islam based on Europan folk-theories. Clifford Geertz's
seminal work _Religion in Java_ was heavily informed by missionaries. These kindly folk
defined Islam in a particlaur way s othat there work could continue. To admit that
Islam had entrenched itself in Java would mean that they would have failed. So, by
anti-Islmaic I mean a historically constructed position that defines the other in a may
contrary to self-definition. Islam is far more what is practiced in Saudi Arabia
today. But, I regress.

John Bowen observes that, until recently, Indonesianists ignored the study of
Islam in their preparation for field work. This happened in spite of that fact that
those, €working in mainland Southeast Asia had immersed themselves in the study of
Theravada Buddism, and all South Asianists were conversant in matters of caste€
(1993b:3). Woodward argues €the systematic neglect of Islamic studies by
Indonesianists has deep roots in British and Dutch Orientalism" (1996:14). Therefore
it is useful to briefly explore the development of this tendency.
In 1811, Stamford Raffles came to the island as Lieutenant Governor General.
Raffles' previous assignment had been to India and his work shows internal evidence of
the influence of India on his thoughts. Raffles had strongly anti-Islamic views that
shape his study of Java. Raffles€ biases were part and parcel of the general European
view of Islam. Robert Fernea and James Malarkey write that early European impressions
of the Arab world were colored by the historical opposition between Islam and
Christianity (1975:184). While Islam is monotheistic, differences between it and
Christianity were emphasized in European discourse. The Arab world was not only a
political and religious threat, but was also seen as a force of desecration and
eroticism (Fernea and Malarkey 1975:185). Said states that Islam became a symbol of
terror, devastation, and all that was hated by Europe (1978:59-60). This view of Islam
served to legitimize colonial policies (Hussain, et al. 1984:1).
Raffles asserts that Javanese Islam is not fully Islamic because the Javanese
"are still devotedly attached to their ancient customs and ceremonies (few of which they
have sacrificed to their new faith)" (1965 [1817] I:322). In Raffles' view, Islam has a
"very slight hold" on the Javanese (1965 [1817] II:5). He states,
.... although the Mahometan law be in some instances followed, and it can be considered a
point of honour to profess an adherence to it, it has not entirely superseded the
ancient superstitions and local customs of the country (1965 [1817] I: 277).
Further, Raffles glorifies Java's Hindu past (1965 [1817] I:353). Raffles' chapter on
religion briefly discusses Islam and in about four pages dismisses it as being of little
significance to the Javanese and devotes the rest to the chapter (some 60 pages) to a
discussion of Java's Hindu past. Interestingly, Raffles states of an Islamic ruin, "as
it is of Mahometan origin I took only a very slight view of it" (1965 II:35)..
Of particular interest is Raffles' observation that the Javanese law code is divided
into Islamic law and traditional, or customary, law (1965 [1817] I:279). Raffles
asserts the "ideal" is that all Islamic legal decisions are guided by several Arabic
works. In reality, though, legal decisions are guided by collections of opinions
extracted from these texts. Customary law is based on oral tradition (1965 [1817]
I:279-80). This distinction bears a strong resemblance to Christiaan Snouck Hugronje's
hukum (Islamic law) and adat (customary law), which became the basis of much of Dutch
colonial Islamic policy (1906). Further, this resembles the distinction between those
who practice Islamic law (santri) and those who practice the law of customs (abangan) as
depicted by Geertz (1960).
Raffles divides Javanese society into the peasantry and the ruling elite.
Raffles' descriptions of the peasantry are empathetic and kind, as opposed to his view
of the rulers as "Mahometan despots" (1965 [1817] I:110). Throughout, Raffles describes
the native government as oppressive and the peasantry as more "noble." This dichotomy
between peasants and rulers forms a general pattern in his analysis of Javanese society.
Raffles implies that the superiority of the peasantry is due to their maintenance of
older Hindu beliefs and practices; while the ruling elite had fallen to "Mahometism."
Raffles states that the strongest evidence of the imperfection of Javanese Islam
is the lack of hatred toward the European infidels (1965 [1817]II:5). He states,
The Mahomaten religion, as it at present exists in Java, seems only to have penetrated
the surface, and to have taken but little root in the heart of the Javans. Some there
are who are enthusiastic, and all consider it a point of honour to support and respect
its doctrines: but as a nation, the Javans by no means feel hatred toward Europeans as
infidels; and this perhaps may given as the best proof that they are very imperfect
Mahometans (1965 [1817]II:5).

Woodward argues that this passage shows that Raffles understood Islam as a religion
based on violence and bigotry . Woodward further argues that Raffles understood Islam
as a legal code and failed to see the tension between the legal code (Shari€ah) and
local custom that is found in all Muslim societies (1996:20).
Woodward continues to argue that Raffles, and other colonial scholars, were
compelled to deny the importance of Islam in Java. Much of the scholarship on
Javanese religion was conducted by missionary scholars. By denying the importance of
Islam, they left Java open as a potential mission field (Woodward 1996:30). Any other
position would have meant abandoning the souls of the Javanese to the enemy other.
Woodward points out that it is in such missionizing scholarship that one finds the basis
of Geertz€s division of Javanese religious practice (1996:30).
Geertz suggests that, in Java, there are three main social-structural nuclei:
the village, the market, and the government bureaucracy. These nuclei connect Geertz's
five occupational types: "farmer, petty trader, independent artisan, manual laborer, and
white-collar clerk, teacher, or administrator" (C. Geertz 1960:4) to his three
cultural/religious types: abangan, santri, and priyayi. The nominally Muslim peasant
villagers adhere to the abangan tradition, which forms "a basic Javanese syncretism
which is the island's true folk tradition" (Geertz 1960:5). Santri are middle class
traders, village chiefs, and well-to-do peasants whose economic lives center on the
market. Santri are more conservative in their expression of the Islamic faith than
either the abangan, or the priyayi (1960:5-6, 40-41). The priyayi are white collar
government bureaucrats descended from the traditional aristocracy (1960:6). They
practice a form of religion derived from the court Hindu Buddhism of the pre-Islamic
era. Woodward argues that the Geertz€s view of Javanese religion became paradigmatic
and €is exemplified by otherwise credible scholars taking the marginality of Islam in
Indonesian culture as a given€ (1996:31).
Another variation of the paradigm suggests that the conversion of Java was never
more than a surface change. Benda argues that Indonesian Islam began as a largely
urban phenomenon (1958:10). Furthermore, in those areas where Hindu civilization had
been strong (e.g., Central and East Java) Islam did not have a strong impact upon the
religious, social, and political spheres (Benda 1958:12). In these arenas, Islam
adapted itself to the part-Javanese, part-Hindu-Buddhist traditions which preceded it.
According to Benda, the greater significance of Javanese Islam was in politics rather
than religious affairs. A change of faith (to Islam) "did not bring about radical
change in religious and social life on Java" (Benda 1958:12). Such a position is
echoed by M.C. Ricklefs, who denies that the conversion to Islam significantly alter the
fundamentally Hindu/Buddhist character of Javanese religious thought,
To be Javanese is, for the majority, to be abangan Javanese; the santri Javanese is
perceived by the bulk of Javanese society as person who has to some extent removed
himself from the social and cultural environment (1979:127 as cited in Woodward

This variation of the paradigm assumes that to be a €real Muslim€ one cannot be a €real
Javanese€ (Woodward 1996:33).
The paradigm in Java studies which states that Islam is not important to the
Javanese is indicative of a general problem in the anthropological study of Islam.
Javanists took an essentialist view of Islam which defined it according to a
shar€ia-centric orientation. Local Islamic practices fell outside of this limited
definition of Islam and were declared non-Islamic. However, there is great diversity in
what practicing Muslims define as Islamic. Scholars have now turned their attention to
the discursive tension between the universal aspects of Islam and the local situation
(Bowen 1993b:7). One locus of this discursive tension is in education; the question
is how to teach people to be good Muslims given the existing social and political
conditions. This dissertation will examine how the pesantren world balances local
concerns and universal demands.

> To the casual observer, the view of islam as a fairly
> casual veneer over a hindu/buddhist indic/animist indigenous culture
> looks pretty accurate. That is why we need non-casual observers!!!!

Ron Lukens Bull
Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology

"There are two ways to be rich -- make more, want less."