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From the Centre to the Periphery A Shifting Focus of Islamization

Arshad Alam

Edited by Sadanand Dhume
Tranquebar, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 271, Rs. 395.00


Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of Muslims live outside the Middle East, the words Arab and Muslim are used synonymously and the Arab world continues to remain the ‘center’ of the Muslim world. It takes bomb blasts for the world to sit up and notice that something is happening in the ‘Islamic periphery’ as well. This alone makes Dhume’s book important and timely as it shifts the attention from the centre to the periphery. Indonesia has the largest concentration of Muslims anywhere in the world. Until the Bali bombings of 2002, Indonesian Islam was considered inherently moderate. In trying to understand what went wrong with Indonesian Islam, Dhume’s window to Indonesia is Herry Nurdi, an Islamist himself who is perhaps emblematic of the religious transformation taking place in the country. With Herry, Dhume traverses the archipelago to show us that beyond the confines of liberal Jakarta, there is a growing segregation between men and women and increasing public presence of the jilbab (veil). Dhume takes us through various madrassas, big and small, to show us the world inside: of rote learning, unimaginative curriculum and an education unrelated to the modern demands of a globalizing world. We also come to know of various movements seeking to make Islam central to the everyday concerns of average Indonesians, their ideological linkages with what is broadly known as Salafism and hear from Abu Bakar Bahsir, the alleged ideologue of the radical movement Jemaah Islamiyah and the accused mastermind of Bali bombings. Dhume makes three important points in this part travelogue, part memoir. First is that Indonesian Islam is under tremendous interpretive stress. Almost everyone that Dhume meets is engaged in a reinterpretation of Islam. Islamist organizations like the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the network of madrassas run by them operate on the premise that their earlier religiosity was not Islamic enough. One gets a sense of historical guilt from these Islamic actors for being lax Muslims in the past. In their piteous earnestness, they now want to correct the past lapses and follow what they consider the true Islamic path. In short, they are on a journey from Jahilliya (ignorance) to Islam. This vigorous self-examination of their religion has led to different interpretations of Islam and debates on how best it can be enforced. While some want to enforce sharia by capturing state power, others are following a patient strategy ...

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