the Demand on the Implementation of Islamic Law

In understanding a phenomenon of political activism in which Islam is used as a means by Muslims, most scholars tend to consider the phenomenon as a “revival” or “resurgence” and “a return to fundamental Islam” (labelled as “fundamentalism”). For them, Islam is only one, timeless, and the same Islam of the Prophet.[1] As if Islam, seen through such perspective, “resurges” all of sudden from a death in certain period of Muslim’s political history and resurges with “archaic” form.

Moreover, Muslims activism is framed as a merely religious respond to the Western challenge rather than a long continuous historical dynamic experienced from the time of the Prophet to nowadays. We can find such reaction-to-the-West idea in the work of prominent Orientalist Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong.[2] It is true that the political activism is partly a response to the Western cultural and political penetration; however, it is inappropriate to see it simply as an answer to the Western challenge rather than internal dynamic to interpret religious text — the activity that has never stop in the history. In this fashion, the Orientalist discourse on fundamentalist Muslims only, to put it in Turner account, “…took place in the context of [Western] anxieties about the state of political freedom in the West”.[3] It is only a mirror to establishing Western “we-ness” and othering the Orient.

In addition to oversimplification leading to an absolute clear-cutting dichotomy based on imagined geography of West and East, about which Edward Said strongly warned in his pathbreaking work, Orientalism;[4] I would argue that this approach fails to capture the profane political nature of “Islamic” movement. The dichotomy “secular” and “fundamentalist” movement, for example, overlooks the possibility that in what is called “Islamic fundamentalism” is secular political respond.

Moallem’s study on Islamic fundamentalism in Iran is an important alternative to the Orientalist approaches. It is a project that Edward Said may expect from his critique. Instead of treating fundamentalism as the revival of an “archaic” Islam;[5] Moallem clearly argues that fundamentalism is the very product of modernity, another modern discursive formation no less modern than “progress” and “development”.[6]

Following Moallem, I would argue in this paper that the demand of implementation of Islamic law in Indonesia is an unbroken chain of the long history of Islamic involvement in Indonesian political life and a product of Indonesian modernity. I do believe, as Moallem does, there is no such a “rupture” in Islamic visibility. Islam is always on going process, no return to the origin but also inseparable from its past. To deal with that, in the first part I will elaborate Islam in Indonesia before the political reform of 1998 to show such continuing involvement; while in the second part, I would discuss how the demand of implementation of Islamic law is no less modern than it might be expected: framed in secular perspective, grounded on current facts, justified by some Islamic discourse, and then promoted as Islamic alternative.

Islam in Indonesia

Historically, Islam was introduced to Indonesia through a peaceful trade and developed under the influence of the traders with their egalitarianism, dynamism, entrepreneurship, and independence.[7] Instead of Islamic military conquer; it was an Islamic convert of local Hindus, Buddhist, and Animist kings that spread Islam across the country. Islam was in the center of politics, religions of most Indonesian pre-colonial kingdoms. [8]

During the age of colonialism, Islam became source of national identity and national independence struggle. As Graham said, “Islamism has played a key role in the anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggle across the Muslim world. It powerfully inspires national liberation movements…”.[9] In Indonesia, war of independence was framed in Islamic Holy War. From Diponegoro War in Java to wars of Aceh, it was Perang Sabil and Prang Sabil that they waged for the war against Dutch.

During the administration of Soekarno, the first president of independent Indonesia, political Islam appeared both in democratic and violent ways. Islamic political parties of Masyumi and NU gained significant seats in the first democratic election of 1955, fueling the reemergence heated debate on the relation of Islam and the state in the Konstituante (the body assigned to produce Indonesia constitution). Out of democratic way, there were Islamic revolts in Java and Sulawesi to establish an Islamic state by Darul Islam movement.[10]

Islam remained an important factor in Indonesian politics under authoritarian regime of Soeharto.[11] Since President Soeharto came to power in the mid 1960s, the regime attempted to maintain a delicate balance, acknowledging and, in certain respect, encouraging Islam’s religious and cultural influence while restricting its political influence.[12] The Islamic visibility and Islamism, during this period, take another form: the more cultural one yet with strong political influence. Even though Islam was marginalized politically, Abdurrahman Wahid’s election as the president of NU was seen as the symbol of un-coopted Islamic community.

The existence of religious court is also another important form of Islamic visibility in politics. Never did it disappear from Indonesian politics. Once practiced by Islamic kingdoms in pre-colonial Indonesia, Islamic court had been surviving during the colonial time. As in the case of Islamic law in Egypt studied by Talal Asad, “The shari’a was not abandoned, but it was restricted to matters of personal status and to area where it could be clearly and easily codified”[13] and it has been Islamic court that enforce this law.

In the daily life of Muslims, Islam is practiced in many cultural levels. In Java, for example, Islamic law and teaching are practiced from pregnancy, birth, circumcision, to marriage and death. It is part of social cement to collect society member, to organize social events, to build public infrastructure, and to provide social services — school, orphanage, health clinic, elderly housing, and so on.

Thus, the later visibility of Islam in the period of political reformation 1998 to now is not a reemergence or revival, rather a move from the periphery, marginalized by Orde Baru political system, to the center of political stage.[14] The demand of implementation of Islamic law, therefore, is only another form of visibility among other continuing visibilities in Indonesian public life. And, in addition to Western challenge, the response is internally dynamics. Let me now discuss how the proponents of Islamic law frame rationally their idea sharî‘a as a solution for national problem.

The Modernist Discourse in the Fundamentalist Demand

According to Oliver Roy, the Islamist believe that the function of the state is “to defend sharî‘a”.[15] Kremer study on the Muslim authors in the Middle East also comes to the same conclusion that for those the authors, “the hallmark of truly Islamic system (al-nizâm al-islâmî) is the application of sharî‘a and not any particular political order” and “… the sharî‘a to be applied requires social organization and state”.[16] Howewer, for those Middle Eastern authors, even though “Islam is religion and state”, whose task is enforcing sharî‘a, but “the precise form of the government is left to human reason to define.” [17] It is also the case in Indonesia Islamist.

There was indeed rebellion to establish an Islamic state in 1950s,[18] but today Indonesian Islamist fight for implementation of Islamic law rather establishing an Islamic state. They seemingly can live with the democratic Indonesia and take advantage of political openness to promote their agenda. As Barber also has noticed in his study, “fundamentalist Islam is not first of all opposed to democracy but to modernization as manifested in the Westernization.”[19]

The most outspoken and organized Islamist group in Indonesia with an agenda of implementation of Islamic law is Hizbut Tahrir. Just during I write this paper, they hold a peaceful demonstration across the country with thousands attendance, men and women in white, recalling khilâfah (Islamic pan-nationalism) and demanding, again, the implementation of Islamic Law in Indonesia.[20] With regard to other groups, such as Majlis Mujahidin, their influence seemingly has decreased since the Indonesian bombing and their highest amir (commander) was arrested for immigration case.

The paper written by Muhammad Ismail Yusanto, Indonesian Hizbut Tahrir spokesman,[21] therefore, can be a good site to view the “secular” and “modern” nature of the demand. In his paper, “Selamatkan Indonesia dengan Syariat”[22] (Save Indonesia with Sharî‘a), he begins this paper not by any reference to Islamic teaching, instead grounding his idea on the contradicting situation of Indonesia: the Indonesia’s rich natural resources and multidimensional crisis. Even, to analysis the crisis, he prefers to begin with three secular perspectives, before he finally cites one verse of the Qur’an:
Pertama, dalam perspektif teknis ekonomi, krisis itu terjadi karena lemahnya fundamental ekonomi…; dalam perspektif politis, krisis itu terjadi karena berkuasanya rejim yang korup dengan tatanan yang tidak demokratis…; dalam perspektif filosofis radikal, … krisis itu karena kapitralisme liberal.[23]

Without showing any objection to those perspectives, he moves then to cite one verse of the Qur’an to justify his “additional” perspective, which he believes as “dalam pandangan Islam…” (the Islamic perspective). The Indonesian problems, thus, are framed in the secular perspectives and criticism and present religious text as a “pretext” (read: justification) rather a proving and explaining text.

In page 143, where he puts the figure of the Indonesian problems and their solutions, all are termed even in the Western philosophical terminologies:

Ekonomi Kapitalistik
Politik Opportunistik
Pendidikan Materialistik
Budaya Hedonistik
Tata Sosial Indvidualistik

We can notice that his wordings are necessarily “western”: kapitalistik (capitalist), opportunistik (opportunistic), materialistik (materialistic), hedonistik (hedonistic), and individualistik (individualistic). He did it intentionally or not, the case simply proves the influence of a discourse and inability of author to escape from its episteme. Therefore, how “fundamentalist” do they look, the Islamist is product of modern discourse not a return to the archaic Islam.

In addition, unlike most Islamist, the call to return to sharî‘a for Yusanto is not a call to return to the past. He frankly admires modernism with its technological advances. What he rejects, however, is the westernization. He says, “Islam tidak menolak modernisasi, bahkan bila dirunut dalam sejarah, justru Islamlah yang mengajari Barat yang sekarang dianggap sebagai kiblat modernisasi…” (Islam does not reject modernization; instead Islam taught the West, which now considered as the leader of modernization). In his latest piece, he suggests that there are two faces of modernization: science and technology, on the one hand; and Westernization, on the other. He accepts the former face because of its neutral nature and he rejects the later because of its Western values.[24]

To inform this discussion, it is interesting to look at Robert Hefner’s analysis[25] on the recent Indonesian politics. It shows how the Islamist and fundamentalist Muslim are part of modern trend in Islam, rather than of traditionalist one. He makes figure below to give a clear map of this grouping:

Islam vs Non Islam
Santri (orthodox) vs Abangan (Syncretist)
Modernist vs Traditionalist
Liberal vs Islamist

Following the chart, in the general Indonesian context, there are two poles based on their religions: Muslim and non-Muslim. In Muslim group, there are two extreme poles: santri, Muslims whose religious commitment and concern are higher than abangan, the less committed. Among santris, there are two poles either: the modernist, who call for purification, a return to the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and the traditionalist who maintain the heritage of ulama, respecting them, and following what ulama said in almost every single aspect of life rather a direct return to the Qur’an and Sunnah. Finally, among the modernist, there are two poles: the liberal who embrace Western ideas of secularism and the Islamist who believe in rationalization but anti-Western culture.


I have shown trough this papers that in Indonesia, Islamic visibility is not by mean resurgence. Islam involved in many level of Indonesian life, from political one to cultural one, from public to personal and private life. It is impossible to say any resurgence for such continuing phenomenon. I also have presented, supporting Said, Roy, Peletz, and particularly Moallem, that fundamentalism who express itself trough the demand of implementation of Islamic law in Indonesia is product of current events, not a return to the past, to the archaic Islam. Masked with some religious language and justification, the fundamentalist discourses are necessarily produced through “secular” perspectives — borrowed from political, economical, and philosophical criticisms that barely unrelated to religious text.

This paper, for sure, requires further research because I only present the latent “secular” discourse of fundamentalist Muslim; another research on, say, “fundamentalist” discourse of liberal Muslims is worth done. By accomplishing researches on both polarized groups, we will be able strongly argue for the need of deconstructing “enlightment” and orientalist approach toward Islam — an approach leading to “clash” of civilizations, rather than “coexistence”.


[1] See Oliver Roy’s critique of Western Orientalism on this issue, “Introduction” in The Failure of Political Islam, C.Volk (trsl.), Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press (1994), p. 7
[2] Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, New York: Oxford University Press (2002). One of examples how arbitrarily orientalist literature when talking about the Orient can be found in Lewis argument that there is no “native secularism” in Islam (p.100). To argue for his point, he shows the readers how difficult Muslims initially translating this word (p. 104-105). However, he simply forgets his own note (p. 96) that the term “secularism” appears to have been first used in English toward of the nineteenth century”. So, if Islam has no native secularism because its difficulty to translate, what about this his own note? Will he say the West have no native secularism for this late terminological making?
[3] Bryan S Turner, “Orientalism and the Problem of Civil Society in Islam & Politics and Culture in Islamic Globalism”, Orientalism, Postmodernism, and Globalism, New York: Routledge (1994), p. 34.
[4] Edward Said, Orientalism, New York: Vintage Book (1979).
[5] Not only the Orientalist, though, who believe in such “return to pure Islam”, the fundamentalist do jargonize this mantra. Therefore, it is indeed difficult task to escape from such epistemological trap, as Roy also notes it — see Oliver Roy, “Introduction”, p. 7.
[6] Minoo Moallem, Between Warrior Brother and Veiled Sister, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press (2005), p. 9 - 10
[7] Abdurrahman Wahid, “Indonesia’s Mild Secularism”, SAIS Review, XXI.2 (2001), p. 25.
[8] For more detailed history of Islam in Indonesia, see Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680, New Haven : Yale University Press (c1988); Brief account on the history of Islam in this islands, ses Martin van Bruinessen, "Global and local in Indonesian Islam", Southeast Asian Studies (Kyoto), 37.2 (1999), p. 46-63.
[9] Graham E Fuller, “The Use of Political Islam”, in The Future of Political Islam, New York: Palgrave (2003), p. 40.
[10] Martin van Bruinessen, “Genealogies of Islamic Radicalism in post-Suharto Indonesia” A first draft of this paper was written for the international colloquium “L’islam politique à l’aube du XXIème siècle” organized in Tehran on October 28-29, 2001 by the Institute of Political and International Studies and the French Institute of Iranian Studies in Tehran. The present version was written in February-March 2002 and updated in July 2002.
[11] For analysis on Islam in Soeharto’s Indonesia, see Mark Cammack, “Islamic Law in Indonesia’s New Order”, The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, 38.1 (1989), 53-73; Malcolm Cone, “Neo-Modern Islam in Soeharto’s Indonesia”, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 4.4 (2002), p. 52-67.
[12] Suzanne Brenner, “Reconstructing Self and Society: Javanese Muslim Women and ‘the veil’”, American Ethnologist, 23 (1996), p. 676.
[13] Talal Asad, , “Reconfiguration of Law and Ethics in Colonial Egypt”, Formation of the Secular Christianity, Islam, Modernity, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press (1994), p. 227
[14] On Islam and civil society post Soeharto, see Martin van Bruinessen, "Post-Suharto Muslim engagements with civil society and democracy”, paper presented at the Third International Conference and Workshop “Indonesia in Transition”, organised by the KNAW and Labsosio, Universitas Indonesia, August 24-28, 2003. Universitas Indonesia, Depok. The paper is downloaded from:
[15] Oliver Roy, “Introduction”, p. 14.
[16] Gudrun Kremer, “Islamist Notion of Democracy”, Middle East Report, 183 (1993), p. 3, 5.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Rizal Sukma, Militant Islam and Indonesia's Frail Democracy, Jurnal Kultur III.1 (2003), on
[19] Benjamen R Barber, Jihad vs McWorld, New York: Ballantine Books (2001), p.209
[20] About Hizbut Tahrir, visit their website
[21] It is worth noting that, unlike other organization, there is no “chair” or “president” or such other highest rank position in Hizbut Tahrir. Spokesman is the “highest representation” of the movement.
[22] Muhammad Ismail Yusanto, “Selamatkan Indonesia dengan Syariat”, in Syariat Islam Pandangan Muslim Liberal, Jakarta: JIL, p. 137-138.
[23] Ibid., p. 141. It reads “According to the economic perspective, the crisis is caused by the weakness of political foundation; according to political perspective, the crisis is caused by the regin of corrupt regim with undemocratic system…; and according to radical philosophical perspective, the crisis is the coming from liberal Capitalism”.
[24] Muhammad Ismail Yusanto, “Kebangkitan Islam Menantang Modernisasi dan Globalisasi:Perjuangan Hizbut Tahrir Di Indonesia”, in
[25] Robert W Hefner, “New Patterns of Islamic Politics in Democratic Indonesia”, in Asia Program Spesial Report, Washington D.C.: The Woodrow Wilson Center Asia Program, 110 (2003), p. 7.

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