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Definition of Indonesian Islam

OurIndonesia – One simple question is this: how do we define Indonesian Muslim community, or Ummah? From my point of view, there are four definitions which could be used to define the Indonesian Muslim Ummah. First, the Muslim Ummah could include those with ID cards indicating that they are adherents of Islam. If we take this fact indicator at face value, then Indonesia’s Muslim community includes the vast majority of Indonesia’s populace.

Statistical data signals that approximately 87% of the inhabitants of Indonesia (circa 201 million people) embrace Islam as their faith. This figure also includes the Ahmadis, However, if we were to exclude the Ahmadi community from the Islamic Ummah (they are regarded as deviants by many Muslims), the number of Muslims would certainly decrease, though not much.

Second, the Muslim Ummah could cover only those who in faithful observance of Muslim religious practices. For example: praying five times daily, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, giving alms (zakat), and performing a pilgrimage (hajj) for those who can afford it. If these criteria are taken as the standard for judging whether one is a Muslim, then the Muslim population of Indonesia decreases significantly.

Many people have chosen Islam as their religion on their ID cards, although they are not actively practicing Islam’s obligatory religious rituals in their daily lives. An anthropologist, Clifford Geertz, calls them ‘abangan Muslim[s]’, which means ‘nominal Muslim[s]’.

In the political arena, these nominal Muslims do not have the psychological or ideological bonds which push them towards Islamic political parties, like the Welfare and Justice Party/PKS, the United Development Party/PPP, the National Awakening Party/PKB, and the National Mandate Party/PAN. Some of them would rather affiliate themselves with secular-nationalist political parties, like the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle/PDI Perjuangan.

Third, the Indonesian Ummah could mean only those who faithfully observe Islam’s obligatory rituals while also understanding the core principles of Islamic teaching. They are quite familiar with Islamic dogma and thought, and the history of Islamic civilization. This third group is known as Muslim santri (pious, practicing Muslims).

They are typically alumni of pesantren (Islamic traditional schools) as well as Institutions of Islamic Higher Education (PTAI). In terms of organization, they are involved into Islamic religious organizations: Nahdlatul Ulama, Muhammadiyah, Nahdlatul Wathan, dan Al-Washliyah. By this definition, the size of the Indonesian Muslim community dwindles from hundreds of million to tens of millions.

Fourth and finally, the Indonesian Ummah might only cover those who practice Islamic ritual, understand little bit about Islamic principles, and also fight for the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, and for formal adoption of Islamic Sharia law into the legal systems of all states with substantial Muslim communities.

Unlike Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah which have accepted Pancasila and UUD 1945 as the constitutional foundations of the Indonesian state, this last group attempts to make al-Qur’an the bedrock upon which the state is built, using Qur’anic verse as the source for law.

Based on this definition, the so-called Indonesian Muslim Ummah would be number only five million or so. In terms of organization, they are involved in Islamic organizations such as Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), he Islamic Defender Front (FPI), the Indonesian Mujahedeen Council (MMI), and other small Islamic organizations.

This explanation shows that it as difficult to speak in the name of the Indonesian Muslim Ummah as it is to define exactly who or what the Indonesian Muslim Ummah actually is. Therefore, when Muslim leaders speak in the name of the Muslim Ummah, they are in fact unable to truly represent the diversity inherent in the Indonesian Muslim community.

They will never be able to speak as though they have a mandate to represent the interests of the whole of Indonesia’s Muslims. They are better off speaking for their own limited interests, or for those of the limited groups which they represent.


This article is originally published in IslamLib.