Moeflich Hasbullah: Antologi Pemikiran

The Rise of Islamic Religious Movement in Indonesian Urban Society

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Moeflich Hasbullah
DIALEKTIKA BUDAYA, Jurnal Kajian Sejarah dan Budaya,
Fakultas Adab dab Humaniora UIN Sunan Gunung Djati,
No. 7, Vol. 13, Maret 2010.


Entering the 1970s, Indonesia witnessed an overwhelming religious consciousness amongst its urban people which has been embodied in various Islamic religious movements. They were the movements of Islam Jama’ah (The Islamic group) in Kediri, East Java; the movement of Kelompok Islam Isa Bugis (The Muslim group of Isa Bugis) in Sukabumi, West Java; the movement of Islam Qur’ani (The Qur’anic Islam) in Yogyakarta, and the movement of Inkar Sunnah (The Disbelief of Hadith). These Islamic religious movements had thousands of urban followers in many cities in Indonesia.

During the 1980s, the Islamic religious movements tended to be more open and widely entered universities, especially “secular” universities.[1] Starting from ITB’s Salman mosque in Bandung, West Java, the movements among students and urban settlement expanded to almost all parts of Indonesia. A great deal of people, who lived in big cities such as Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, and Ujung Pandang became more interested in Islam. The university mosque of Universities Indonesia (UI), Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB), Universitas Padjadjajaran (Unpad), Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM), and Universitas Diponegoro (Undip) were full and bright of students attended the discussion about Islam. Not only did university student pray five times a day, recite Qur’an and reassert their religious identity, but they also discussed Islam and its development in modern society. Their dakwah activities and studying Islam seemingly were inseparable form campuses. Completing the such phenomena, the wearing of jilbab (veil, head cover) was obvious to be alternative model of fashion among female students from Senior High School to Colleges. Harakah or pengajian (group of religious teaching) tended to be an alternative model of Muslim student organization.

Finally, approaching the 1990s, particularly after ICMI (Indonesian Muslim Intellectual Association) was founded and grew much stronger in the recent Indonesian politics, religious consciousness of Islam enlarged to an elite sphere that marked by a lot of pengajian of Islam has been carried out in many stared-hotels, attended by governmental officials, urban middle class, successful businessmen, artists, and scholars. At the same time, at lower level, the Indonesian people was shocked by the emergence of Darul al-Arqam, a Malaysian-based Islamic fundamentalism movement.

Why does the rise of religious consciousness and the dakwah movements come up in the modern urban society? Why do they have a strong religious call, whereas in fact, as an urban people they are commonly the wealthy and well-educated, and as university students tend to be rational? Has not modernization, as sociologists concluded, resulted in secularization? What kind of social symptom is this? This examines the resurgence of Islamic religious movements as it erupted over the Indonesian urban society particularly the middle class from the 1970s up to 1990s from two aspects: external dynamics, that is, on the one hand, how the external pressures, specifically modernization, directly and indirectly impacted Muslim life and drove it to eventually return to religious choice. The essay also examines secularization theory and shows how it fails explaining the Indonesian case. On the other hand, this essay discusses the internal dynamics of Islamic doctrine itself. It is worth discussing the internal dynamics of Islam because it will be misleading to assume that the such modern religious resurgence has been predominantly a discontent from social and economical frustration. It is in fact Islam offers several dynamic concepts –as will be shown– as an outlet for the persistent necessity of religious reformation from within.

The Impact of Modernization

The process of modernization has been long regarded as problematic by many social scientists. On the one hand, modernization has resulted in rapid social-economic change and offered so many facilities and grace of life, better quality of consumption and higher level of education. On the other hand, as occurred in many of the world’s cities as well as in Indonesian big cities such as Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya and Ujung Pandang, modernization has been responsible for rapid social mobility and the explosion of urbanization in the last 25 years. Apart from having created urban migrants who crowded into decaying and often primitive slum area due to lack of their basic needs resulted from structural inequalities, having made them separated from their roots, and problem of dislocation, the most significant symptom of urbanization has been the rise of the new middle class. Urbanization is also followed by, as stated by Smart (1997: 143), the rise of diversity of means of mass communication and bewildering experience of the proliferation of life worlds, consumers lifestyles and the secularization of culture.

Modern cities –where urbanization takes place– are always characterized by industrialization, or the advance of science and technology where modern society finds it easy to offer almost everything of their needs. In accordance with the increasing dominance of science and technology, industrialization then provides an outlet for the process of shifts of religiosity in society. Science –both natural and social– is a kind of human consciousness of his environment, knowledge and a form of human mastering of living problems by way of scientific methods. As scientific methods consist of rationalization and empiricization of knowledge, accordingly, the more evolved the human knowledge, the narrower the supernatural and mystery space will be. Concomitant with the dominance of technology, modern society becomes the master of their world and environment. “If the Greeks perceived the cosmos as an immensely expanded polis, and the medieval man saw it as the feudal manor enlarged to infinity, we,” Harvey Cox (1965: 1) pointed out, ”experience the universe as the city of man.” Because the world has become man’s task, man’s responsibility, almost everything of nature can be explored by man, therefore, God’s or gods’ role is gradually was replaced by man, or in other words, this is the rise of secularized world.

In a secularised world, there is no longer an ontological way of thinking about higher . . . metaphysical beings . . . Now we are liberated from all these unreal supernatural entities . . . Only that which is directly related to us is real. Things do not exist in themselves; they are no longer substances, but they exist in and for the sake of what they do with us and what we do with them. (Peursen, 1963: 16)

Accordance with the such extensively growing secularization, “the collapse of traditional religion or religious values is then the hallmark of modern era.” (Cox, 1965)

However, the secularization is only occurred in the society which dominated by scientific values. In this kind of society, a terra incognito provides challenges in order to observe and discover what is the secret and mystery of life. But in other societies, human incapability of facing the nature bears religio-mystical concepts and actions (Madjid 1987: 148). In terms of this, to worship the natural objects which have secret, mystery and ultimate power can be viewed a “big jump” on how man masters the object for his interest. Meanwhile, the ordinary and natural way is to discover secret of nature and mystery by way of observation, research, and learning. In other words, in some societies, industrialization leads to secularization, but in other societies, generally in Muslim countries, it does not take place and even enlarge religious pervasiveness.

While developing pattern variables theory, Parsons notes that the change from traditional to industrial and modern society is also changes from affectivity to affective neutrality, particularism to universalism, ascription to achievement, and diffuseness to specificity (Wocher 1975: 38-39). The purest religiosity of these, is cultural consummatory. This is the religiosity which views that belief is the only aim in itself and produces happy feeling (happiness). This form of religiosity does not need empirical use outside belief itself. In this regard, Madjid (1987: 149) pointed out that this is the religious dimension which will presumably be strengthened by the process of industrialization. Due to instrumental things have been offered overwhelmingly by the structure and pattern of industrial society, consequently religion will be much purer, in the sense that the instrumental aspects will gradually reduce from belief.[2]

In this case, religiosity has not been threaten by the process of  modernization and industrialization, and even on the contrary, religiosity will has at its base and strengthening. This the process of strengthening which has been experienced by Muslim middle class in contemporary Indonesia, –convincingly as well as in other Muslim countries. Instead of secularizing society, the process of modernization in Indonesia has in fact strengthened the religious orientation. This phenomenon is characterized by the emergence of many religious movements in the Indonesian cities which are processing modernization and development.[3] The impact of modernization and industrialization has therefore been the social setting which opens the space for the emergence of the Islam Jama’ah, Qur’anic Islam, Islam Isa Bugis, Salman and Dar al-Arqam movements in the cities of contemporary Indonesia.

The phenomenon is supported by the strong willingness to remove the influence of Western culture from Islamic society. Because this movement more constitutes the resistance to the Western culture and ideologies, the strongest support comes from university students and elite level society. They tend to be aware of Western culture such as “liberalism” and secularism, and Western ideologies like modernism and capitalism. Both culture and ideology embrace their everyday life and the way they behave and think. They see the Western culture and values have driven them away from Islamic values and have created the social crisis such as crimes, sadism, alcoholics, pornography and the like.

In this regard, Islam is place as an alternative that is superior and much better than any other secular and worldly systems. This can be seen in the Salman movement that regarded Islam as a totality. Islam, they believe, is not only a system of belief, ritual and worshipping God, but also a complete doctrine of law (syari’ah), economy, politics and even civilization as it said by H.A.R Gibb (1946) in his book Wither Islam ?, “Islam is indeed not much a system of theology, it is a complete civilization.” As Islam is viewed as a perfect, a complete and a total system of life, consequently, the supporters of  this movement then become a priori. They reject any value system and ideology which come from outside (the West), therefore the movement becomes exclusive. However, the movement is welcomed amongst university students and the urban people. This is because apart from the Salman movement reminds them to be aware of negative effect of western culture and the impact of modernization which “destroys” urban young generation, the movement provides an alternative youth organization  and activities. The well-educated Salman activists, also has attracted surrounding  people to involve to the movement.

This outlook was strengthened by Islamic Revolution of Iran that erupted in the 1979. Islamic Revolution in Iran was an example of the strength and capability of Islam to defeat western ideology. Having said that, Iranian Moslems were the embodiment of ideal Islamic society. Thus, the global impact of Iran was not only in its Islamic Revolution but also its cultural factors such as jilbab. Since the revolution, a great deal of Indonesian women wore their jilbab even though not similar with existed in Iran.

Internal Dynamics

The such impact of modernization which condition the space for the resurgence of Islamic Religious movements, in fact strengthened by internal dynamic of Islamic doctrine which provides a reformative outlet from within. There are, at least, three internal dynamic of Islam as follows:

Islamic Purification[4]

Throughout the history of Islam, an outlook towards the necessity of Islamic purification among Muslim in significant. Islam has two specific terms for the need of reformation from within : tajdid and islah.[5] Tajdid is usually translated as “renewal” and islah as “reform”. Together they reflect of devitalization of Islamic faith and practice within the historic communities of Muslims. Its provides a basis for the conviction that movements of renewal are an authentic part of the working out of the Islamic revelation in history and, on the side, the two terms create an outlet for internal dynamics of reformation of Islamic thought and persistently adjust Islam from social changes. In this regards Voll (1983 : 32) gives his conclusion :

At is core, the broad tradition of renewal-reform represents the individual and communal effort to define Islam clearly and explicitly in terms of God’s revelation (as recorded in the Quran) and the customs or Sunna of the Prophet Muhammad (as recorded in the hadith which describes his reported sayings and actions). In changing circumstances and with different implications, islah and tajdid have always involved a call for a return to the basis fundamentals of Islam as presented in the Quran and Sunna of the Prophet.

These tajdid and islah concepts were the basis of the Wahhabiyya movement in  the 19th century in the Middle East as well as the basis of the Muhammadiyya and Persis in Indonesia. However, it is interesting to note that unlike the modern Islamic movements which focus their reforms on deviating religious behaviors of the followers and accounts of its mixture with local cultures, the purification run by the Islam Qur’ani movement in fact focused on the sources of Islamic doctrine it self. According to the Islam Qur’ani, Islamic people have experienced many disintegration due to their subscribing to the false hadiths (the statements of the Prophet Muhammad) which have for many centuries shaped people’s religious belief and behavior. The hadith, therefore, can now longer be maintained as the sources of Islamic norms, and the only original sources is The Qur’an.[6] That is way they name they movement as the Islam Qur’ani. Because of  the rational approach to religion and trying to solve contemporary social religious problem from the Qur’anic perspective, many –commonly Muslim student and urban youth – were drawn to the movement.[7]

Unlike the Islam Qur’ani, the Islam Jama’ah, and the Isa Bugis, the Salman movement emphasizes on the purification of Islamic people’s behavior. According to the outlook of the Salman movement, due to the different approaches and perceptions to Islam, Ummah has been grouped in to modernists, traditionalists, reformists, fundamentalists and so forth. The core contention of the Salman movement was laid down of the understanding of Islam as a totality. Consequently, Islam refuses, for instance Durkheim’s concept of separation between sacred and profane.[8] The entire aspects of Islam could be found in the Risalah Islam (the doctrine of Islam). Islam, as understood by the Salman, is not only the dogma of worshipping God, but also aqidah (‘the tie of belief of God’) and syari’ah (Islamic law as the rule of life). Risalah Islam should be applied in Muslim everyday life. The effort to do that is by way of jihad (the holy struggle to change non-Islamic to Islamic reality).[9]

Such frame of thinking constitutes their consciousness to renew, reform and purify Muslim society from the certain conditions in which they perceive has deviated from the sources of Islamic norms : the Qur’an and the Sunna. The society which they perceive has separated and left the ideal Islam – or conversely, Islam that has been left by its followers and consequently they use another value system—has often inspired some Muslim movements to purify Islam by the way of purification movements. As such deviations will always exist throughout the history of Islam, the movement of Islamic purification or dakwah thus will remain in place.

Encounter of Religious “Establishment”

In the certain periods in the history, Islam experienced the religious establishment or to borrow Montgomery Watt’s term, “the formative period of Islam.” This was situation where, on one hand, Islam had been institutionalized and established, and on the other hand, the established Islamic institutions were not an embodiment of “the ideal Islam.” In this such situation, the religious movement came up and broke the establishment of “old” religious interpretation of exegesis which maintained by religious leaders (‘ulema) who for a long time had shaped the people’s mind.[10]

In this case, the religious movement emerged in the urban area because they want to change the old and “incorrect” perception which has so many years been held by traditional ‘ulema. The pattern of such thought, or this formative period of religious thought has been the basis of the Islamic movement in Yogyakarta and Salman in Bandung. They try to change and to be dependent from the established patterns of Islamic interpretations. Consequently, they learn directly from the Qur’an and the Sunna. They carried out the critical discussion and approached Islam with academic perspectives.

An Outlook on Idealized Social System

Generally, contemporary religious movements which emerge in urban society have there own contention of the social system even thought it is some time expressed implicitly. The Islam Jama’ah idealized a single leadership of Islam—called ‘Amir—that is acceptable by all Ummah as the way out of incumbent non-Islamic leaders. Not only does the function of ‘Amir as Imam (leader in five time pray) and as the source of Fatwa (‘Islamic decision of a problem’), but also the religious leader who controls religious life for the people.[11] As well as the Islam Jama’ah, the Isa Bugis movement idealized Ummat Wahidah, the Qur’anic term of unifying Islamic people.

Unlike in Indonesia, the Dar al-Arqam does not only idealized but established their own social system. The Dar al-Arqam was founded and led by Ustadz Ashari Muhammad in Malaysia in the 1969, and built their own Islamic Village at Sempadan, Lancang, Pahang City. In the 1990s, this movement spread to Indonesia and many of Indonesian Muslim students interested in and supported the movement. According to the Dar al-Arqam, Ummah has been a far cry from the way the Prophet Muhammad lived, whereas in fact, the way Muhammad lived was the ideal one and Islam is the ideal way of life. The Dar al-Arqam then refused the modern life style such a parties having a good time, sleeping on comfortable matters, and conversely employed “the way Muhammad living” such as sleeping on the mat, eating together in one plate, wearing black jilbab (head cover) for women that covered all part of body and Jubah (long flowing robe) and gamis for man (a kind of the Prophet’s clothes). It is interesting that apart from denial of modern living, they play roles intensively and extensively in various social, economic and educational projects they founded. Their economic ethos was very high. In all parts of Malaysia, they run 30 kindergartens, 14 religious schools, many companies, many public clinics, agriculture projects. They produced various halal food and many of them become religious preachers (da’i) and religious teachers.[12]

From such explanation, we can see that as the consequence of rejecting real society, they then established their own social environment. They idealize a “perfect Islamic community.” The idealization of reality as an answer of frustration of the real corrupted-society has been an important point of view to understand the background of the rise of Islamic religious movements in Indonesia as well as wherever Muslim countries.


The resurgence of the Islamic religious movement as has taken place in contemporary Indonesian Muslim urban societies basically can be explained in various perspectives. The two significant aspects — as have been elaborated in this essay– have explained the rise of the Islamic religious movement in Indonesian. They are the impact of modernization –and industrialization in it– and the dynamic of Islamic doctrine itself. The impact of the process of modernization has been a social setting of the rise of the movement. This has been proved that modernization does not necessarily supports secularization as has taken place in the Muslim countries such as Indonesia. The impact of modernization, to some extent, strengthened the process of deepening Islam Indonesia. Consequently, Indonesian case has supported the failure of secularization theory. On the other side, the dimension of internal dynamic of Islam has been the strong mainspring of the movements. Based on the fact that Islam has its dynamic concepts of reformation, it is assumed that Islam will continuously experience renewal and reform. The interplay between external and internal dimensions of religion which have been examined in this essay, hopefully, will enrich the approaches to religious studies. Wallahu’alam !!


[1] Indonesia has two kinds of educational institutions namely religious educational institutions which are affiliated to the Ministry of religious Affair, and non-religious educational institutions (”secular”) which are affiliated to the Ministry of Education and Culture. In the first institutions, religious teaching is a dominant characteristic in their curriculums, meanwhile in the second institutions, religions is taugh as same as other course.

[2] A simple case, because of insecticide has been served by industrial society to kill the insects, therefore one will be gradually independent from God or from praying in order that his plants are free from insects; sometimes he will moves from cultural instrumental religiosity to cultural consumatory religiosity, where he discerns pray to God as an aim itself that produces happiness.

[3] This is crucial to note two terms: secularization and secularism. Secularization means here the loosing of the world  from religious and quasi-religious understanding of  itself. It is the loosing of religious nuances of thing due to manusia capacity to be autonomous in doing something. Meanwhile, secularism is the system of thougth that only believes in present-life, worldly life and ignoring afterlife. Secularization has resulted in the decline of religiousity (religious values and  nuances) in a society but not the loosing of religion and even God themselves. Secularism has resulted in replacing God by manusia, removing God from life, thought and heart. The point is that, secularization in certain Muslim world is to some extent existed but not the employment of secularism. In fact, the basic belief of Islam still plays its role, and this unreplacable embodies, for instances, in Sufi Orders (tariqa) in wherever Muslim countries. For the study that secularization does not take place in Muslim countries, see Von der Mehden, Religion and Modernization in Southeast Asia, Syracuse University, 1986. For th study of Sufi orders, see Spencer Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971); Michael Gilsenan, Saint and Sufi in Modern Egypt: An Essay in the Sociology of Religion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973); Martin Lings, A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century (Barkeley: University of California Press, 1973).

[4] Some scholars use this term with various words such as Islamic revival,  Islamic reformation, Islamic Renewal and so forth. Basically, all such word have the same meaning that is reformation or renewal of understanding of Islam by way of reinterpretation  of Islamic doctrines, the meaning of Quranic verses and the society.

[5] For discusion of the definitions of this these concept and their history, see Fajlu al-Rahman, “Revival and Reform in Islam,” The Cambridge History of Islam, ed. P. M. Holt, Ann K.S. Lambton, and Bernard Lewis, 2 Vols. (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1970), Vol. 2, pp. 632-42; Abu al-Ala Mawdudui, A Shorth History of the Revivalist Movement in Islam, trans. Al-Ashari (Lahore : Islamic Publication , 1976); A. Merad, “Islah “, Encyclopaedia of Islam (new edition), Vol. 4, pp. 141-63.

[6] See Ali Huda, “Gerakan jama’ah Islam Qur’ani,” in Aziz at.all, Gerakan Islam…, pp. 141-205.

[7] There were no certain account about the number of the followers. It is understandable because instead of an organization, this movement more constitutes dakwah movement (call to Islam). And dakwah generally ignores the recorded followers.

[8] See Durkheim “ The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life”, in William  A. Lessa & Evon Z. Vogt, Reader in Comparative Religion, An Anthropological Approach, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1979.

[9] Ibid, pp. 236-37.

[10] Reformative movements in the history of Islam, from the Wahhabiyya up to contemporary movements, are by and large inspired and caused by this situation. Opening the door of ijtihad is the common issue to break such condition. See, Ali & Effendi (1986), Madjid (1987), and Esposito (1983,1995).

[11] Aziz, Abdul, Imam Thalkhah  and Soetarman (ed.), Gerakan Islam….p. 18.

[12] Anwar, Zainah, Kebangkitan Islam di Kalangan Pelajar, IBS  BUKU SDN. BHD, Selangor Darul Ehsan, 1990.



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Written by Moeflich

13/01/2011 at 2:29 am

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