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Essay: Cultural expression of Islam in Indonesia

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  • Cultural expression of Islam in Indonesia
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Indonesia is considered as a secular state. However, a number of different religions exists and are practiced in the country, with these religions yielding a collective influence in the political, economic and culture of the country. The country has strong Islamic influences with over 87.2 per cent of the population being strong Islam followers. Therefore, Indonesia is a secular and a democratic country with strong and ideological Islamic influences. The Islam religion is believed to have come to Indonesia through the Arab traders in the early 700’s, and by 1400’s the religion had spread rapidly due to growing numbers of Islamic preachers and faster development of trade. Till today, Indonesia is still experiencing the process of Islamization that has been happening for many centuries and still is ongoing. Today, the center of Islamic civilization in the whole world has shifted to Indonesia with the country hosting the largest Muslim population equal to 207 Million, compared to all other countries in the World. Therefore, Indonesia hosts a majority of the Muslim population. This paper discusses the contemporary expressions of Islamic beliefs and practices that are particular in Indonesia.

a) Contemporary Beliefs and Practices

In order to increase their God-consciousness (taqwā) about Allah, the Muslims in Indonesia do engage in a variety of devotional activities. Indonesia is the largest Muslim populated country with this high population of Muslims following the Sunni Islam. According to Harvard Divinity School (2010), the Sunni Muslims in Indonesia base their faith and all their beliefs and ritual practices on the “Five pillars of Islam”. These beliefs and ritual practices are based on the Quran and Sunnah. The interpretations of the practices have some variations compared to the prescriptions of some common Islamic legal schools. After establishment in Indonesia, the five pillars of Islam were interpreted by the ‘ulamā’. The five pillars of Islam are:

1) The Shahādah – this bases the Muslim faith in the testimony of the unity of God and the prophethood of Muhammad;
2) Ṣalāt – canonical prayer;
3) Zakāt – alms;
4) Ṣawm – fast of Ramadan;
5) Ḥajj – pilgrimage to Mecca (Harvard Divinity School, 2010).
The Muslims in Indonesia accept the fast of Ramadan, pilgrimage, alms and canonical players almost universally. The five pillars define the contemporary beliefs and practices of Islam, with their variation from group to another creating room for the diversity in Muslim practice (The Islamic Bulletin (n.d.). For instance, the canonical prayers are performed in the congregation or individually, and this may be in a mosque or anywhere else. The practice of Islam through performing the five pillars constitute the basic practices and beliefs that Muslims in Indonesia need to perform in order to submit to Allah. Moreover, there are some duties that the Muslim need to perform to fellow human beings such as devoting to spend resources, money, time and energy in order to enhance the welfare of other fellow human beings. The giving of zakaat as a charity tax is the donation of one’s wealth in order to help those in need.
The basic beliefs in Islam are based on Oneness of God; “Tawheed”, the believe that Allah is the One and Only supreme God, whom all must believe in His existence and in all of the Allah’s attributes. These attributes include the oneness of Lordship, oneness of worship and the oneness of Allah’s name and attributes (The Islamic Bulletin, n.d.).

b) Sectarian Affiliations

Part of an old Indonesian tradition that goes past the last centuries is the making of a vigorous hybrid of Islam’s religious principles adapt to the local customs. The majority of the Indonesian Muslims are affiliated to Sunni Islam. The Sunni Islam is based on the Shafi School of jurisprudence. The Muslim groups and the affiliations of different Islamic organizations in Indonesia have their ideologies based on Sharia. Therefore, the Islam in Indonesia is affiliated to Sunni Islam and predominantly relies on the hadiths for Sharia and the Quran (Sakr, 2018). According to Sakr (2018), the legal sources of the Islam religious are the Qur’an and the Hadith with Qur’an being the word of God that is intact in their originality, totality and authenticity. The Hadith contains the deeds, sayings and endorsements of Prophet Muhammad.

c) Important Founding Figures/ Saints

The religious activities in Java, Indonesia holds the key to the history of Islam in Indonesia. The Wali Songo also known as the nine saints played a key role for spread of Islam in Indonesia. When Islam arrived in Java, Indonesia, the Wali Songo were the immediate Islamic leaders and these Walis became to be regarded as the Islamic scholars due to their spiritual powers and intense knowledge on Islamic religious affairs. The spread of Islam in Indonesia is attributed to the mystical message and role that the Walis played. The nine Saints are responsible for the construction of the Great Mosque of Demak completed by a single night. These nine Walis were the pioneers of Islam in Indonesia and their graves are still preserved in the in West, Central and East Java. The 9 saints of Islam in Indonesia includes: Maulana Malik Ibrahim, Sunan Ampel, Sunan Bonang, Sunan Giri, Sunan Drajat, Sunan Kalijaga, Sunan Kudus, Sunan Muria, and Sunan Gunung Jati (Indo Magic, 2018). According to Topsfield (2016), the Muslims in Indonesia believe that the Wali Songo are close to Allah, they are saints whom they ask to say a prayer to God in regards to their problems. The legacy of the Wali Songo has had great influence in the spread of Islam in Indonesia.

Islam was established by Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century A.D. in the areas around the Arabian Peninsula. With Indonesia continuing to receive traders through the Indian Ocean in the years around the twentieth century, the influences with the Arab traders resulted to the 85 percent of the local inhabitants of Indonesia considering themselves to be Muslims. The process of Islamization in Indonesia is obscure since there lacks evidence from both the historical and archeological sources. Therefore, Islam faith was propagated by the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean traders, with religion taking roots in the coasts of Sumatra, Java, and the eastern archipelago.
Venetian traveler Marco Polo travelling to archipelago, Indonesia is associated to the first reliable evidence of Islam in the year 1292. Marco Polo discovered Perlak, an Islamic town surrounded by non-Islamic neighbors. Another Arab traveler Muhammad ibn-‘Abdullah ibn-Battut in years 1345-46 reports having visited the same Islamic town, and reports of expanding Islamic influence. The advent of Islam in Indonesia dates back to the time of Muhammad. Also, Raden Fatah who was a Muslim Sultan played a key role in the expansion of Islam along the coastline in Indonesia (Jeffrey Hays, 2013).

d) Islamic Political Influences

Indonesia is not an Islamic state. However, the Islamic principles play a great role in influencing the politics, political decision making and governance of the country. The regional decision making processing in Indonesia are greatly determined by the regional religious context. Considering that the nation hosts a Muslim majority and that Muslims dominate politics, then Indonesia as a whole is Islam oriented and this makes it hard to have a president who is not a Muslim in Indonesia. Despite the Muslim majority in Indonesia, the nominal Muslims would never agree to the establishment or the implementation of Islamic Sharia law. For this reason, Indonesia has had a female Indonesian president in 2001, and only a small minority rejected her on the basis of Islamic doctrines (Schaar Investments, 2018).

e) Religious demographics and Minority Populations

The government in Indonesia recognizes six official religions. These include Islam, Protestants, Catholics, Hinduism, Buddhists and the Confucianists. In Millions, the religious demographics of the six religious groups is as shown below:

The above statistics show that Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country with over 207.2 Million Muslims. This makes the country the most populous host of Muslims in the world which is more than the population of Muslims in entire Middle East combined.

a) Local Religious Holidays

Holidays in Indonesia are either religious, national, commemorative or international holidays. Each of the six religions in Indonesia holidays celebrate different holidays important in their faith. Some of these holidays are national holidays.
The Christians holidays include the Good Friday (Wafat Isa Almasih) to commemorate death of Jesus, the Easter Holidays or Hari Paskah or the Kenaikan Isa Almasih, and the Hari Natal – Christmas day commemorating birth of Jesus.

While the Islamic holidays include the Eid’l Adha which commemorates the feast of sacrifice for Prophet Ibrahim, The Muharram which is Islamic New Year according to the Islamic lunar calendar also known as the Hijriah, Maulid to commemorate birth of Prophet Muhammad, and Eid’l Fitri holidays to mark end of Ramadan.

The Islamic New Year is an important holiday in the Indonesian culture. This holiday celebrates the founding of Islam and the Prophets migration from mecca to medina also known as the Hijra.

There are many traditions practiced in Indonesia to celebrate this holiday that cannot be found outside of Indonesia. In many rural communities in east java, Muslims offer food in central locations to honor god. Some of the food offering include fruit, rice, and vegetables.

These offerings are known as Gunungan. After the food offerings, a ceremony known as Larung Pendam Sadi is performed. This ritual asks god for good fortune. It shows god that the people of the community are thankful for what god provided them. In other cities like Pontianak, many Muslims participate in long marches and during the marches they will pray and reflect on their lives. (Islamic New Year 2019 and 2020, 2018)

Moreover, the mawlid Nabi holiday, which celebrates the Prophet’s birthday is during the month of Rabbi’ Al-Awal which is the first spring season of the Islamic lunar calendar. In Indonesia, Muslims gather to recite prayers and thank Allah for his blessings. Also, speeches and lectures are made in mosques and other places about life and instructions of the Prophet and after the prayers, sweets are distributed. It’s also a family occasion, where people dress up in their best outfits and kids receive gifts and money. In addition, other cities in Indonesia like Yogyakarta and Solo (Surakarta), Muslims celebrate this holiday by carrying out parades and carnivals. They recite holy prayers and songs called “Barzanzi”. During the “Mauludan festival” tradition, there are food competition to which the people believe has been blessed by the prophet. (Indonesian Holidays, 2018)

Other celebrations such as Hari Waisak which commemorates Buddha’s Birthday, and the Nyepi, or the Day of Silence, which celebrates the Hindu new year.

b) Important Shrines and Holy Sites

The hilltop Islamic shrine in central Java, known as the Gunung Kemukus shrine is usually visited by the Muslims from all over Indonesia who come to offer their prayers, and flowers at what is regarded as the sacred grave. The shrines hosts the tomb of Prince Samudro who played a significant role in the spread of Islam to the people of Majapahit. The people visit the shrine with the belief that visiting this place provides blessings and boosts one’s fortunes. Some of the rituals performed in this mountain involves adulterous sex (Henschke 2014).
Lombok in Indonesia is an ‘island of 1,000 mosques’ where Muslims visiting the island find places of worship among the many shrines dedicated to ancient Muslim preachers. According to Santos (2018), the Indonesian authorities have reserved Lombok in order to attract Western tourists to the beaches, and other tourists’ attractions as this promotes Islamic Heritage and tourism from Muslim travelers.
The Ministry of Tourism, Indonesia (2018) discusses the numerous Mosques which are important places of worship for Muslims in Indonesia. Muslims gather in these places of worship to pray, worship and bring themselves closer to Allah. The Grand Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia Capital city is the largest in Southeast Asia and is named Istiqlal meaning independence to commemorate Indonesia’s independence.

Dian Al Mahri Mosque also known as the Golden Dome Mosque is located at the outskirts of Jakarta. This shrine of worship is open every day for prayers. The mosque has a gold-plated dome that glitters in the sun.

The Rahmatan Lil-Alamin Mosque is a majestic mosque located at Indramayu, west Java. The mosque has 7 floors and a spacious top floor with a capacity of 4,000 people. The total height of the mosque is 73 Meters high.

The Menara Kudus Mosque is among the oldest in Indonesia. The mosque is located within central Java town of Kudus. The mosque is articulate center that boasts of Hindu-Buddhist architecture and is popular among the Muslims visiting central Java for pilgrimage.

a) Cultural Expressions of Islam in Indonesia

The Muslims in Indonesia do express their Muslim cultural heritage which is predominantly developed around Islam. The teachings of the Qur’an including prayers and other Islamic beliefs defines the traditional and cultural expressions of the Islam. The music, dance, theatre and martial arts are some of the cultural expressions mainly dominated by Islam However, there is the influence of the other local ethnic groups in the country. There are many artistic traditions in Indonesia, most of them existed before the Islamic era but have absorbed the Islamic influence. The batik, which is an “Indonesian dyeing art”. It incorporates Islamic calligraphy and Islamic patterns, also the batik portrays the “buraq” which is an Islamic mythical creature.

Moreover, the Wayang, a puppet creature, is a form of puppet theater art found in Indonesia and southeast Asia. Many Islamic teaching were taught using these puppets.

The history of dance in Indonesia can be divided into the Hindu-Buddist period and the Islamic period. The Saman dance, which adopted Arabic and Persian music styles and dance was previously performed during the celebration of the prophet’s birthday. (Islam in Indonesia, 2018)

Moreover, the cultural expressions is also affected by the foreign influences due to trading routes visited mostly by the foreigners from Middle East, South Asia, and Far East. With time, the cultural expression of Islam in Indonesia has been influenced by the western culture, the issues such as science, entertainment, technology and foreign cultures.

The cultural expression of Islam in Indonesia has a great connection to the Arabic culture. The core elements of Islam consists of professing Islamic faith, the hajj, fasting, daily prayers, and the giving of alms. In addition, the Muslims in Indonesia participate in different celebrations, and numerous rites of passage that have strong Islamic connections (Laffan, n. d.).

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