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Indonesia's Salafist Sufis1

  • JULIA DAY HOWELL (a1)
Abstract

Islam's devotional and mystical tradition, Sufism (tasawwuf), is commonly cast as antithetical to Salafi Islam. Self-identified ‘Salafis’, with their ideological roots in anti-liberal strands of twentieth-century modernist Islam, do commonly view Sufis as heretics propagating practices wrongly introduced into Islam centuries after the time of the pious ancestors (the Salaf). Yet reformist zeal that fixes on the singular importance of the Salaf (particularly the Prophet Muhammad and his principal companions) as models for correct piety can also be found amongst Sufis. This paper calls attention to the Salafist colouration of Sufism in two areas of popular culture: television preaching and the popular religious ‘how-to’ books and DVDs that make the preachers’ messages available for purchase. It reprises the teachings of two of the best known Indonesian Muslim televangelists, ‘Hamka’ (b. 1908, d. 1981) and M. Arifin Ilham (b. 1969), both of whom also happen to be champions of Sufism, and analyses the different rhetorical uses each has made of references to the ‘Salaf’ and the notion of ‘Salafist’ Islam.

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References
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2 Azra, Azyumardi, The Origins of Islamic Reformism in Southeast Asia: Networks of Malay-Indonesian and Middle Eastern ‘Ulama’ in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2004); De Jong, Frederick and Radtke, Bernd (eds.), Mysticism Contested: Thirteen Centuries of Controversies and Polemics (Leiden: Brill, 1999); and O'Fahey, R.S. and Radtke, Bernd, ‘Neo-Sufism reconsidered’, Der Islam, 70 (1993), pp. 5287.

3 Howell, Julia Day and van Bruinessen, Martin, ‘Sufism and the “modern” in Islam’, in Sufism and the ‘Modern’ in Islam, ed. by van Bruinessen, Martin and Howell, Julia Day (London: IB Tauris, 2007).

4 Azra, The Origins of Islamic Reformism; van Bruinessen, Martin, ‘Controversies and polemics involving the Sufi orders in twentieth-century Indonesia’, in Islamic Mysticism Contested: Thirteen Centuries of Controversies and Polemics, ed. by De Jong, Frederick and Radtke, Bernd (Leiden: Brill, 1999).

5 Howell, Julia Day, ‘Muslims, the New Age and marginal religions in Indonesia: Changing meanings of religious pluralism’, Social Compass, 52 (2005), pp. 473493; Howell, Julia Day, ‘Modernity and Islamic spirituality in Indonesia's new Sufi networks’, in Sufism and the ‘Modern’ in Islam, ed. by Bruinessen, and Howell, (London: IB Tauris, 2007); Howell, Julia Day, ‘Repackaging Sufism in urban Indonesia’, ISIM Review, 19 (2007), pp. 2223; and Shihab, Alwi, Islam Sufistik: ‘Islam Pertama’ dan Pengaruhnya hingga Kini di Indonesia (Bandung: Mizan, 2001).

6 Ilham, M. Arifin and Yakin, Syamsul, Indonesia Berzikir (Depok: Intuisi Press, 2004), p. 38.

7 As, for example, on p. 6 of Hamka's Perkembangan Tasauf dari Abad ke Abad [The Development of Sufism from Age to Age] (Jakarta: Pustaka Islam, 1962 [1952]). This is significant in light of later distinctions that developed in Indonesian religious discourse and law between kebatinan and kerohanian on the one hand, and tasawwuf on the other. The former became associated with eclectic mystical movements outside Islam, and tasawwuf came to be accepted (in large part through Hamka's influence) as properly part of Islam. See Howell, Julia Day, ‘Sufism and the Indonesian Islamic revival’, Journal of Asian Studies, 60 (2001), pp. 701729.

8 Burhani, Ahmad Najib, ‘Revealing the neglected missions: Some comments on the Javanese elements of Muhammadiyah reformism’, Studia Islamika (Jakarta), 12 (2005), pp. 101130; Ricklefs, Merle C., Polarising Javanese Society: Islamic and Other Visions (c. 1830–1930) (Singapore: NUS Press, 2007), p. 223; and Howell, ‘Sufism and the Indonesian Islamic revival’, p. 712.

9 Cf. Riddell, Peter, Islam and the Malay-Indonesian World. Transmission and Responses (London: Hurst, 2001), p. 216.

10 Hamka, Tafsir Al-Azhar (Jakarta: Perbimbing Masa, 1967).

11 Surveying attitudes towards tasawwuf amongst Indonesian modernists in the twentieth century, Alwi Shihab distinguishes between ‘extremists’ and ‘moderates’, the ‘extremists’ being those who consider tasawwuf in general and the Sufi orders, or tariqa, in particular to be late, heterodox intrusions (bid'ah) into Islam. See Shihab, A., Islam Sufistik: ‘Islam Pertama’ dan Pengaruhnya hingga Kini di Indonesia (Bandung: Mizan, 2001), p. 253. The ‘moderates’, in his terminology, are those who accept tasawwuf purged of certain practices. Hamka would be an example of a ‘moderate’. The way Shihab labels these contrasting attitudes suggests that the blanket condemnation of tasawwuf by modernists was less common than guarded acceptance. That, however, is not evident in Muhammadiyah's official stances towards Sufi rituals for most of its history.

12 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf dari Abad ke Abad, p. 192. (Also published under the title Tasauf, Perkembangan dan Pemurniannya [Sufism, Development and Purification].)

13 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, pp. 17–20.

14 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 21.

15 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 21.

16 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 25.

17 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 25.

18 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 25.

19 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 27.

20 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 29.

21 Thus, in one of the most common Sufi schema of graded spiritual striving, the aspirant is pictured as moving from syariah (conforming to the religious rules set for the whole ummah), to tariqa (where specific disciplines like zuhud are undertaken to perfect the spiritual virtues and to refocus attention upon the Creator), to hakekat (the opening of awareness onto a transformed understanding of God's being and presence), to makrifat (the ultimate mystical realisation).

22 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 29.

23 This word was not actually used in Hamka's recounting of the spiritual lives of the Salaf, although he described the practice.

24 Lit. remembrance; more broadly, constant recollection of God in everyday life or in ritual litanies.

25 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 125.

26 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 64.

27 Hamka is at pains to point out that tasawwuf became a named tradition only in the second-century Hijrah, just like fiqh (jurisprudence), which took several centuries to coalesce into a named discipline. See Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 75.

28 Hamka does acknowledge that by the fourteenth century, ‘all sorts of foreign influences’ had come into Islam and contributed to the corruption of tasawwuf (see Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 55), but he did not accept that tasawwuf itself was a latter-day foreign import into Islam (see Perkembangan Tasauf, pp. 33, 54).

29 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 187.

30 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 64.

31 For example, Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, pp. 19, 22–23.

32 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 125.

33 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, pp. 19–23.

34 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 22.

35 This is quite close to a phenomenological interpretation, which would focus on the reality of the experience of heavenly transport, if not of the heavens witnessed. See Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 23.

36 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 23.

37 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 9.

38 This echoes Hamka's lectures and writing on Qur'anic exegesis, where he encourages modern Muslims to use well-informed critical reason to form their own independent judgements about the meanings of the holy text. However, the level of skills he considered necessary for this was beyond the level of most of his readers, raising questions as to how autonomous they could actually be in religious matters. See Riddell, Islam and the Malay-Indonesian World, p. 269.

39 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, pp. 9–11.

40 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, pp. 105, 125.

41 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 125.

42 Hamka, Perkembangan Tasauf, p. 125.

43 Wahdat al wujud is commonly translated as ‘unity of being’, and suggests a monist conception of ultimate reality.

44 Hamka, Mengembalikan Tasauf Kepangkalnja [Restoring Sufism to Its Original Condition] (Jakarta: Panjimas, 1972), pp. 53–54.

45 Tb. Syadzily, Ace Hasan, Arifin Ilham, Dai Kota Penabur Kedamaian Jiwa [Arifin Ilham, the City Preacher Who Spreads Spiritual Tranquility] (Jakarta: Hikmah, 2005), p. 36.

46 Mujtaba, Achmad Nawawi (ed.), Menggapai Kenikmatan Zikir: Fenomena Muhammad Arifin Ilham dan Majelis Zikir Az-Zikra [Attaining the Bliss of Zikir: The Phenomenon of Muhammad Arifin Ilham and Majelis Zikir Az-Zikra] (Jakarta: Hikmah, 2004), p. 35; and Mintarja, Endang, Arifin Ilham, Tarikat, Zikir, dan Muhammadiyah [Arifin Ilham, the Sufi Orders, Zikir and Muhammadiyah] (Jakarta: Hikmah, 2004), p. 39ff.

47 Mujtaba (ed.), Menggapai Kenikmatan Zikir, p. 41.

48 Mintarja, Arifin Ilham, p. 40.

49 Mujtaba (ed.), Menggapai Kenikmatan Zikir, p. 41.

50 For example, see Ilham, M. Arifin, Hakikat Zikir, Jalan Taat Menuju Allah, [The True Essence of Zikir, Road of obedience to Allah] rev. ed. (Depok: Intuisi Press, 2004), p. 30.

51 Ilham and Yakin, Indonesia Berzikir, p. 33.

52 Ilham and Yakin, Indonesia Berzikir, p. 115.

53 Ilham and Yakin, Indonesia Berzikir, p. 33.

54 Note, however, that some Sufi orders have a silent zikir practice (zikir khofi) that might be thought similar to the quiet turning to God that Hamka recommended. The zikir khofi, however, at least starts by inwardly repeating a litany, even if it moves into some more profound quiet as the practice continues.

55 Ilham, Hakikat Zikir, Jalan Taat, pp. 74–77.

56 Ilham and Yakin, Indonesia Berzikir, pp. 35, 103ff.

57 Ilham and Yakin, Indonesia Berzikir, p. 16.

58 Ilham and Yakin, Indonesia Berzikir, pp. 29–32.

59 Ilham and Yakin, Indonesia Berzikir, p. 38.

60 Didin Hafidhuddin, ‘Kata pengantar’, in Ilham, Hakikat Zikir, Jalan Taat, pp. 11–12.

61 Hafidhuddin, ‘Kata pengantar’, p. 12.

62 Ilham, Hakikat Zikir, Jalan Taat, pp. 19–21, 27–29.

63 Ilham, Hakikat Zikir, Jalan Taat, pp. 21–22.

64 For example, in his three-page discussion of the stages of Sufi practice in Hakikat Zikir, he gives this list of qualities that the practitioner should cultivate: ikhlas, istiqamah, syukur, sabar tawakkal, dermawan, penyayang, jujur, amanah, zuhud and tauhid), noting however, that they are actually not just Sufi but the ‘soul of every Muslim person’ (ruh dari setiap pribadi Muslim). See Ilham, Hakikat Zikir, Jalan Taat, p. 20.

65 The list of 60 boons is drawn with acknowledgement from Ibn al-Qayyim's list of ‘over one hundred’ benefits of zikir. See Ilham and Yakin, Indonesia Berzikir, pp. 66–70.

66 Syadzily, Arifin Ilham, Dai Kota, p. 96.

67 Hamka, Tasauf Moderen [Modern Sufism] (Singapore: Pustaka Nasional Pte Ltd, 1997 [1939]), p. 117.

68 Hamka, Tafsir Al-Azhar.

69 Ilham and Yakin, Indonesia Berzikir, p. 48.

70 Ilham, Hakikat Zikir, Jalan Taat, p. 39.

71 Ilham and Yakin, Indonesia Berzikir, p. 22.

72 Mujtaba (ed.), Menggapai Kenikmatan Zikir, p. 63ff.

73 Zamhari, Arif, Rituals of Islamic Spirituality: A Study of Majlis Dhikr Groups in East Java (PhD Dissertation, Australian National University, Canberra, 2007).

74 Arifin has had to address such criticisms from his contemporaries. Defending his Majelis Zikir Al-Zikra, he told a zikir akbar audience of thousands in Jakarta's Istiqlal Mosque, ‘This is not a tariqa but ordinary zikir (zikir biasa) for lay people (orang awam)’. See Mujtaba (ed.), Menggapai Kenikmatan Zikir, p. 50. Asserting here that he is but a lay person (like the members of the audience) is a way of saying that he does not claim to have spiritual authorisation (ijaza) (such as the syekh of a tariqa would have) to initiate disciples, and he is not calling his audiences to form any bond of loyalty to him or submit to his authority, such as would be the case in a tariqa. His close associate Endang Mintarja devotes several chapters of his book on Arifin and the movement to clarifying the distinction. Arifin routinely has the demeanour of an ordinary santri or pious person identified with the strict Muslim community, and refuses any special deference to him as a religious teacher. He has also established a council of advisors of extraordinary scope and distinction (including the nationally renowned moderate scholar Quraish Shihab at one end of the spectrum, and the notorious radical Abu Bakar Ba'asyir at the other) from whom he says he ‘seeks correction’. Nonetheless, he has been charged with promoting a ‘personality cult’ (kultus individu), with his overwrought visage featuring on the covers of his books and DVDs, even overshadowing on one book cover the name of Allah. See Amsaka, Abu, Koreksi Dzikir Jama'ah M. Arifin Ilham (Jakarta: Darul Falah, 2003), pp. 160166.

75 Mujtaba (ed.), Menggapai Kenikmatan Zikir, p. 146.

76 Interview with M. Arifin Ilham in Depok, 2006.

77 Note also that on 22 June 2008, in one of his Zikir Akbar at the Istiqlal Mosque, Arifin offered prayers of support for the leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Habib Rizieq Shibab, who had been jailed in connection with the FPI's 1 June 2008 violent assault on a peaceful celebration of Indonesia's freedom of religion led by the AKKBB at the National Monument, Jakarta. See Ihsanul Muttaqien, ‘Jakarta berzikir di usianya ke-481’ in Wikimu.com News, 24 June 2008, http://www.wikimu.com/News/DisplayNews.aspx?id=9141 (accessed 26 June 2008).

78 Howell, Julia Day, ‘Modulations of active piety: Professors and televangelists as promoters of Indonesian “Sufisme”’, in Expressing Islam: Religious Life and Politics in Indonesia, ed. by Fealy, Greg and White, Sally (Singapore: ISEAS Press, 2008).

79 Ricklefs, Polarising Javanese Society, p. 212.

1 The assistance of the Australian Research Council, which supported the research on which this paper is based with a Discovery grant, is acknowledged with appreciation. The author warmly thanks Ahmad Najib Burhani, who assisted with the interviews referenced in the text, as well as colleagues who kindly devoted their time to critiquing the text: Muhamad Ali, Harry Aveling, Michael Feener, Anthony Johns, Akh Muzakki, Merle Ricklefs and the journal's reviewers. Naturally, the responsibility for any remaining errors and shortcomings is entirely the author's.

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