Consortium of:

Islam and Local Politics in Madura

  November 24th 2021

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The dynamics of relations between religion, state, and society in Indonesia are always interesting and new insights are always available to be studied and discussed. This dynamic occurs because it relates to various aspects and issues, for instance, the religious diversity in Indonesia, the fact that Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, and also Indonesia's status as a democratic country[1]. Furthermore, the dynamics of relations between religion, state, and society in Indonesia involve three forms of knowledge. First is the form of ​​expert religion, which is religion as construed by those who generate “policy-relevant” knowledge about religion in various contexts. Secondly, is governed religion, religion as construed by those in positions of political and religious power[2]. Regarding these two forms, religious construction occurs in the process of religious regulation (especially by the state or political power) and in the process of reviewing it (by religious scholars themselves)[3]. Moreover, religion is also perceived as a determinant of political identity, a focus of loyalty, and a source of authority in the Muslim world[4]. The dynamic in those two forms also influence the third form, which is lived religion, in which religion is practiced by everyday individuals and groups as they interact with a variety of religious authorities, rituals, texts, and institutions and seek to navigate and make sense of their lives, connections with others, and place in the world. It refers to a diverse field of human activity, relations, investments, beliefs, and practices that may or may not be captured in the set of human goings-on that are identified as “religion” for law and governance.

In the framework of the theme of the relation between religion, state, and society in Indonesia, Yanwar Pribadi, lecturer at UIN Sultan Maulana Hasanuddin Banten and Universitas Islam International Indonesia (UIII) presented his research that has been published in the form of a book entitled Islam, State and Society in Indonesia Local Politics in Madura (Routledge: 2018) in Wednesday Forum, a weekly discussion organized by the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) and the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies (CRCS) UGM on October 6, 2021. The materials in this book are based on library research and fieldwork from July 2009 until January 2010, and from October 2010 until July 2011. In this presentation, Pribadi explores the history of the relationships between Islam, state, and society in Indonesia with a focus on local politics in Madura within two periods: the last years of the New Order (1990-1998) and the first years of the post-New Order era (1998-2010). A broader question of this book is, how and why Islamic powers in secular countries have presented an everyday challenge for states around the world, including Indonesia? The main questions of this research are: What are the factors that have shaped and characterized the development of contemporary Islam and politics in Madura, Indonesia? What are the forms and aspects of the relationships between Islam and politics, between state and society, and between conflict and accommodations in that area? And, what can we learn from the area's experience concerning Islam and politics since 1998 that may illuminate the future socio-political trajectory of other developing Muslim countries at present living through a comparable democratic transformation?

Furthermore, Pribadi explains that his focus in this research is to identify and explain factors that have shaped and characterized the development of contemporary Islam and politics in Madura; and secondly to recognize and elucidate forms and aspects of the relationships between Islam and politics; between state and society; between conflicts and accommodations; between piety, tradition, and violence in that area. The broader idea of this book is to identify and explain how and why Islamic powers in secular countries have presented a challenge for states around the world, including Indonesia. Pribadi chooses the two periods because the last years of the New Order in Madura exhibit several polemics and conflicts between the government and some segments of society and because the first years of the post-New Order era show the fascinating dynamics of the ongoing processes of democratization and decentralization, that includes several local elections. In short, this book shows continuities and changes in the development of Islam and politics in the two periods. Moreover, why Madura? Because it has one of the most complex relationships between Islam and politics during the last years of the New Order and the first years of the post-New Order era in Indonesia, and because it is a strong Muslim area with a history of a very strong religion as well as a cultural tradition that is largely ignored in the literature on Islam and politics.

Furthermore, Pribadi argues that his research and his book are different from the existing studies and make an original contribution in the following ways. To the study of Madura, this book certainly fills a very big gap in the lack of literature dealing with Islam and politics in Madura. To the study of Indonesian politics, these books provide a comparative analysis of socio-political configurations that have shaped and characterized political development and democratization efforts in two different periods, while most books focus only on one period and present arguments for why the encounter of Islam and politics has played an important part in influencing decentralization and democratization in national and subnational contexts. Most existing studies deal with manifestations of political Islam in the national context only. Moreover, to the study of Indonesian Islam, this book mostly examines the causes of the Islamization of politics while most existing studies focus on the consequences of the Islamization of politics has on issues such as relations between religious groups. Lastly, to the study of Southeast Asia politics, this book demonstrates analysis in how local powers contribute to the accommodation processes while most existing studies focus mainly on state power and neglect local powers that contribute to the accommodation processes.

In his findings, Pribadi explains that while many authors like Koentjaraningrat, Mansurnoor, and Moesa suggest that there seems to be a single face of Islam in Madura, Pribadi argues that in terms of religion, culture, and politics, Madura should be understood as an island with piety, traditions, and violence. Furthermore, Madura is also an island of tradition and violence in different forms, with kerapan sapi (bull racing), sabung ayam (cockfighting), remo (feasts characteristic to the blater community), and carok (distinctive Madurese forms of fighting using sharp weapons, and the last resorts in terms of defending one's honor) among other things, appear highly visible in everyday life. Nonetheless, the religious aspects of the Madurese lead us to acknowledge that Islam in Madura is culturally embedded in all aspects of life. The efforts of the Madurese to maintain and preserve their identity have resulted in the fact that Islam is well and truly embedded in the cultural as well as social, political, and economic terrain of Madura. The developments of everyday relationships between Islam and politics and between state and society in Madura have been mixed. On the one hand, they show largely cultural characters, while on the other hand, they demonstrate significantly political traits. Moreover, Pribadi found that, in Madura, Muslim politics encourages people to be involved in alliances and competitions over the interpretation of Islamic and cultural symbols, and of control of state and public institutions. There have been also efforts by Muslim organizations, such as the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) and Salafi-inspired groups to idealize Muslim-majority localities, including Indonesia and Madura to as the myth of the Islamic state, religiously based and defined and governed by God through political means.

Finally, Pribadi argues that contemporary Indonesian and Madurese experiences with culture, religion, and politics may illuminate the socio-political trajectories of Muslim-majority states currently undergoing similar democratic transitions. On the one hand, the overall electoral support for Islamic parties has been in a steady decline since 1999. On the other hand, there has been an Islamization of politics as expressed in hundreds of sharia laws. Moreover, on the one hand, the developments of Islam in law and politics seem to indicate that Indonesian Islam has become more rigidly conservative. On the other hand, the deriving of rapid Islamic commodification and popular Islamism have shaped a more resilient religious culture and thinking. In typical Madura, people's leaders are defined as religious leaders (the Kiai), local strongmen (the Blater), and village officials (the Klebun). The struggle for influence within these elites is not only centered on opportunities for private material benefits, but also on political competition, which is loosely organized, pragmatic, and often mutually beneficial in nature. The character of traditional Islam in Indonesia remains the driving force that has preserved Islam in Indonesia, recently often articulated as Islam Nusantara, as a more peaceful religion unparalleled with its counterpart in many seethed Middle Eastern, African, and South Asian parts. In sum, in comparison between the New Order and the post-New Order eras, Indonesia as a new democracy in Asia has successfully intertwined the decentralization process with the process of democratization, despite the abundance of strong evidence that decentralization is not synonymous with the process of democratization. It thus means that compared to the New Order, the Indonesian nation-state is arguably strong now. 



[1]. Robert W. Hefner, Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Indonesia (New York: Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, 2018). p. 3.

[2]. Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, 6. Beyond Religious Freedom (Princeton University Press, 2015). p. 8.

[3]. Zainal Abidin Bagir et al., Studi Agama Di Indonesia: Refleksi Pengalaman (Yogyakarta: Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies [CRCS], Sekolah Pascasarjana, Universitas Gadjah Mada, 2015). p. 7

[4]. Yanwar Pribadi, Islam, State and Society in Indonesia: Local Politics in Madura (Routledge, 2018). p. 5.