Middle East Studies

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Islam in Indonesia

Modernism, Radicalism, and the Middle East Dimension

Dr Giora Eliraz was recently at the Australian National University in Canberra as a Visiting Fellow. He is a Research Fellow at the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel; a lecturer in the program for Contemporary Middle East studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; a Research Fellow at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Herzliya; and is on the Board of Trustees of the Strategic Dialogue Center at Netanya College.

Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim cmmunity in the world. Much of the media attention given to manifestations of radical Islam in Indonesia after 9/11 and the Bali bombings of October 2002 have been limited to current affairs. This book provides a broader perspective about contemporary Islam in Indonesia through discussing two outstanding streams of thought and movements – Islamic modernism and radical Islamic fundamentalism. These two different, multifaceted phenomena clearly illustrate the significant contemporary influence of the Middle East on the Indonesia archipelago, in an Islamic context. Thus the focus is twofold: the local context, and the impact of the Middle East on Islam in Indonesia. These two perspectives allow a comparative and cross-regional view which, combined with the broader historical narrative, provides insights into possible future trends.

The author explains the importance of the reformist motivation; religious and social & political dimensions; ideology, perceptions, and interaction in the context of the transmission and dissemination of Islamic ideas; and the current and potential appeal of the war cry of Jihad in opposition to the unique bulwarks against it as suggested by the local Indonesian context. These topics make this book essential reading to understanding the current and future comprehensive challenges posed by radical Islam in the Indonesian archipelago.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-040-8
Hardback Price: £35.00 / $52.50
Release Date: September 2004
Page Extent / Format: 160 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No



Part 1
The Islamic Modernist Movement in the Malay-Indonesian World: A Comparative Look at Egypt Muhammad 'Abduh's Heritage
The Challenge of the Islamic Modernist Movement in the Malay-Indonesian World
The Reformist Motivation
The Religious Dimension
The Educational Dimension
The Social and Political Dimensions
Challenging the Traditional World
A Comparative Look at Egypt
Historical Role and Impacts
Islamic Modernism in the Malay-Indonesian World: Suggested Explanations

Part II
Radical Islamic Fundamentalism in Indonesia: Global and Local Contexts
Radical Islamic Fundamentalism
Ideology and Perception
Transmission of Ideas and Ideological Interaction
The Historical Perspective
Dissemination of Islamic Ideas to Indonesia
The War Cry of Jihad in Indonesia
Summary and Reflections

Part III

Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: The Distinctiveness of the Indonesian Context
Marginal or Significant?
The Indonesian Context through a Radical Fundamentalist Prism
The Indonesian Context: Bulwarks against Radical Fundamentalism
Summary and Reflections


In this book, Giora Eliraz comparatively examines how the Middle Eastern Islamic modernist movements influenced Islamic movements in the Malay-Indonesian world throughout the twentieth century and contributed to the rise of contemporary Islamic radicalism in Indonesia. Eliraz studies the transmission of modernist and/or radical ideas from the Middle East to Indonesia, the multiple organizations and strategies within Islamic movements, as well as the impacts of local and national values on the distinct faces of Indonesian Islam. Despite the current emergence of Islamic radicalism, the majority of the people continue to reject politicized Islam. According to the author, the tradition of intellectual and organizational pluralism has become the predominant characteristic of Indonesian Islam.
American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences

Giora Eliraz of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem views Indonesia through the lens of an expert on the Middle East. In Islam in Indonesia, he shows how the views of the Islamic reformer Muhammad Abduh (1849–1905) came to acquire greater influence in Indonesia than in his native Egypt. Abduh tried to harmonize ‘revelation and the tradition of the Prophet on the one hand, and human reason and science on the other hand’. Abduh’s followers continue to believe that the answer to the crisis within Islam lies in Islam itself – in a return to a pure form of the faith. In Indonesia they are represented by Muhammadiyah. It runs schools, colleges and hospitals and rejects as un-Islamic typically Indonesian practices such as communal feasts and visits to the graves of Muslim saints … Mr. Eliraz briefly hints at a darker, more pessimistic line of argument. He says the more Muslims become pious and devout believers, the easier it is to mobilize among them ‘those who are ready to carry zealously the banner of Islam’. He also questions Muhammadiyah: ‘A search of the Indonesian context for possible sources of inspiration for Islamic radical perceptions might even lead, indirectly, to the massive and influential Islamic modernist movement in Indonesia’. But in the end Mr. Eliraz concludes that radical Islam is unlikely to evolve as either a real political option or a significant cultural and ideological force.
Far Eastern Economic Review

With the growth of armed Islamic movements in the Middle East, and with the overthrow of the authoritarian Soeharto regime in May 1998, observers of global Muslim affairs have been curious to see whether Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, might be about to experience its own process of religious radicalization. The growth of armed paramilitaries after Soeharto’s overthrow and the Bali bombings in October 2002 seemed to confirm that Muslim politics in this once tolerant country was indeed being radicalized. In this well-written book, however, Giora Eliraz provides a more thoughtful and, ultimately, hopeful prognosis. Already an accomplished scholar of Middle Eastern Islam before turning to Indonesian affairs, Eliraz demonstrates that a radical fringe has long existed in Indonesia, and occasionally made serious mischief. However, with a careful and comparative eye, Eliraz shows that the mainstream of the Muslim community remains unswervingly moderate. Equally intriguing, Eliraz’s knowledge of Islamic reform in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East allows him to bring original and often startling insights to his Indonesian materials, as when he demonstrates that the ideas of the great Egyptian reformer Muhammad Abduh took deeper root in the Indonesian landscape than they did in Abduh’s homeland. His comparative analyses of the growth of Islamic radicalism in contemporary Indonesia – and the vigorous response it provoked among Muslim moderates – are equally stimulating and original. Carefully researched and engagingly written, this fine book deserves to be read by everyone interested in Indonesian Islam, as well as by the general reader curious about the varieties and future of Muslim politics.
Robert W. Hefner, Professor of Anthropology, Associate Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs (CURA), Boston University

Islam in Indonesia has long been regarded by many observers and scholars of Islam as an impure and syncretic Islam. In the last two decades, however, this misconception has been corrected through a number of important studies which take a comparative approach when looking at how different Muslim societies function in today’s world. Giora Eliraz’s Islam in Indonesia is an excellent contribution to understanding the complex connection and links between Indonesian Islam with that of the Middle East. This study is very timely indeed when the international public is eager to obtain credible knowledge on the origins and root causes of radicalism among limited groups of Muslims in Indonesia in recent years.
Azyumardi Azra, Professor of History and Rector of State Islamic University Jakarta, Indonesia, and Professorial Fellow at University of Melbourne, Australia

Giora Eliraz’s book represents a valuable addition to the all too sparse collection of scholarly writing on Islam in the world’s largest Muslim nation. With very few exceptions, most such studies are the work of area specialists with a deep understanding of their country of study but comparatively little knowledge of the Middle East. Eliraz’s book is very different; it is the fruit of a sharp academic mind honed through decades of study of the intellectual history of the Arab world. The result is a very well informed study uniquely enriched by the ability to read developments in Southeast Asia from a Middle Eastern perspective. Consequently anyone seeking to understand Indonesian Islam and its global context will benefit from this work – regardless of whether they are seasoned observers or are coming to this increasingly important subject for the first time.
Greg Barton, Deakin University, Australia

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