Development of Usroh and Neosufism in Indonesia

hizbut tahrir1
THE reformation of Islamic understanding in Indonesia which was launched some two decades ago by Nurcholish Madjid has now got a rival. Since all established Islamic organizations, including the Nandlatul Ulama (NU) and the Muhammadiyah, have finally accepted the Pancasila state ideology as their sole basis, about eight years ago the number of small Islamic movements, often known as ‘usroh’ (from Arabic usrah family) has been growing in Indonesia, especially on several university campuses. The 3 April issue of the Indonesian magazine Tempo devoted a number of articles to this phenomenon. Although condemned as too superficial by several specialists, these articles still contain some interesting information, which will be reproduced in part below.

Like Nurcholish Madjid, these movements also wish to offer a reformation in the understanding and implementation of Islam. They have one goal, namely to revive the glory of Islam. Many students and teachers especially are attracted by these movements. Apparently within them they find a kind of oasis of rest and renewed reflection amidst the rapid transformation of society. It seems they find it hard to understand some of the ideas initiated by figures like Nurcholish Madjid or Mohammad Arkoun, who have suggested mastering anthropology, and Fazlur Rahman, who has suggested mastering sociology and history in order to obtain a good understanding of Koranic teachings. The movements offer an exclusive way of life which, instead of stressing new intellectual developments, lays more emphasis on religious and social symbols, like ways of dressing or eating. As a matter of fact, these movements are prospering more on the campuses of general universities than on those of the IAINs. This indicates that they are more easily acceptable to those who lack a thorough religious knowledge. There are at least ten of these movements active on several campuses and cities in Indonesia. Among of them are the Darul Arqam, Jamaah Tabligh, Hizb al-Tahrir and Daarut Tauhid.

Ashaari Muhammad Suhaimi

Ashaari Muhammad Suhaimi

The Darul Arqam was established in Malaysia in 1972 by Muhammad Suhaimi, who was born in Wonosobo, Central Java. In Indonesia, the movement has spread to Bogor, Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Surabaya. In West Sumatra, too, although officially forbidden in this province, it continues to be active.

Darul Arqam's women in its store.

Darul Arqam’s women in its store.

The Darul Arqam controls a number of small enterprises like bookshops, shops selling cassettes and video tapes, beauty parlours for Muslim women, workshops for graphic designs for T-shirts and banners and a ketchup factory in Tasikmalaya, West Java. The male members grow beards, dress and eat in an Arab way, which is said to be in accordance with the prophetical tradition. Meanwhile, the female adherents cover their entire body, including their face. The movement teaches its members to chant dhikr constantly. Additional reports on this movement, probably the most frequently discussed of all sects and new religious movements in the country, are given in the next article.

Indonesia's Jamaah Tabligh leaders meet Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

Indonesia’s Jamaah Tabligh leaders meet Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

The members of the Jamaah Tabligh have a similar style of eating and costume. When brushing their teeth, they use siwak, small sticks from a particular tree, as was done by the Prophet. They usually conduct their da`wah by khuraj (going out) on foot for more than three days at a time and for at least forty days in their lifetime to other places, at their own expense and living in mosques When thus engaged, they are not allowed to talk about politics, khilafiyat (controversial issues), to ask for alms, to gossip or discredit people or to defame governments, groups or individuals.

Members of Jamaah Tabligh conducting 'khuruj'.

Members of Jamaah Tabligh conducting 'khuruj'.

Syekh Maulana Muhammad Ilyas

Syekh Maulana Muhammad Ilyas

The movement was founded by Shekh Maulana Muhammad Ilyas (1917-1965) in Sahranapur, India, 1930. It has been developing in Indonesia since 1952 and has spread to all 27 provinces. It teaches that taqlid of a specific madhhab is wajib (compulsory). Consequently, there is no ijtihad because there is no `alim who could act as a contemporary mujtahid (person who practises ijtihad). The movement was influenced by the Tariqah Justiyyah in India and the Jama`ah al-Nur in Turkey.

hizbut tahrirThe Hizb al-Tahrir (Hizb al-Tahrir) comes from Lebanon, where it was established by Taqi al-Din al-Nabhanl, a noted thinker, politician and judge, in 1953. The purpose of the movement is to perpetuate the Islamic style of life and to seek to re-establish the khilafah (the unified leadership of a khalifah – successor to the Prophet – over the whole Muslim community).

Taqiuddin Al-Nabhani

Taqiuddin Al-Nabhani

The ideas were introduced into Indonesia in 1987, in particular on several campuses in cities such as Surabaya, Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Bogor. In contrast to the movements mentioned earlier, the members of the Hizb al-Tahrir do not wear Arab clothes and beards or chant dhikr and they are not opposed to listening to music or watching television. The members are ordered to keep their identity secret. They consider themselves fortunate in Indonesia because they are tolerated by the government, whereas in the Middle East many activists from the movement have been killed.

daarut-tauhid-bandungThe Daarut Tauhid was founded in Indonesia itself by Abdullah Gymnastiar in 1990. The movement is based at a pesantren in Geger Kalong Girang, North Bandung, West Java. aagymGymnastiar wants to produce Muslims who play an active part in thinking, chanting God’s glory and who are brimming over with initiative. Today, the pesantren has more than 2000 santris. Its teaching is not only based on classical Islamic books, but also on various skills like management or search and rescue (SAR) and swimming.

In March 1993 in Bandung, West Java, a discussion was devoted to this type of movement. The participants concluded that time alone would prove the viability of these groups and that the moderate ones would be accepted more easily than the exclusivist or fundamentalist ones. They also considered these movements an interesting alternative to the understanding of Islam.

The same Tempo issue also reported on a related phenomenon, the rise of Neosufism in Indonesia.

Fazlur Rahman

Fazlur Rahman

This term, launched by the Pakistani thinker Fazlur Rahman, refers to certain recent efforts to integrate or balance spiritual and worldly aspects of Islam.
Nurcholish Madjid

Nurcholish Madjid

Nurcholish Madjid has pointed out that HAMKA was the pioneer of Neosufism in the country. This scholar developed a deep religious spirituality without seeking isolation from society. He suggested that a Sufi (Muslim mystic) should be active in society. Looking for the more distant past, Ibn Taynnyyah (AD 1263-1328) is often considered as the pioneer of Neosufism.

Abdul Rauf Singkel ala Tgk Syiah Kuala

Abdul Raug Singkel ala Tgk Syiah Kuala

Syekh Yusuf Al-Makassari

Syekh Yusuf Al-Makassari

In Indonesia, two great ulama who could be categorized as pioneers of Neosufism are Abdul Rauf Singkel (before 1620 – after 1693) and Syekh Yusuf al-Makassari (1626-1699). In this same context, Dr. Azyumardi Azra, a lecturer at IAIN Syarif Hidayatullah, stated that Neosufism emphasizes inclusivism (of worldly and spiritual affairs) and pluralism.
Azyumardi Azra

Azyumardi Azra

He pointed to the example of certain professionals in Jakarta who chant dhikr or read the Quran in their cars while thinking over commercial transactions. He concluded that, amidst the increasingly consumer-oriented and materialistic world, Neosufism apparently has a brighter future than several other varieties of Islamic knowledge. (TE, 3 April 1993)

Source: Darul Aqsha, Dijk van der Meij, Johan Hendrik Meuleman, Islam in Indonesia: A Survey of Events and Developments from 1988 to March 1993. Jakarta: INIS, 1995.

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