Restoring non secular and cultural complexity to the examine of Southeast Asian Islam
“Restoring religious and cultural complexity to the study of Southeast Asian Islam” In recent decades, scholarship on Southeast Asian Islam – as with Islam elsewhere – has become dominated by the fields of politics, international relations or security studies. These studies often characterise faith as something delineated, measurable and susceptible to state-directed change.
In current many years, scholarship on Southeast Asian Islam – as with Islam elsewhere – has develop into dominated by the fields of politics, worldwide relations or safety research. These research typically characterise religion as one thing delineated, measurable and inclined to state-directed change. Much of those analyses overlook the delicate variations in Islamic life, and the disjunctions between formal orthodoxy and on a regular basis non secular expertise. How Muslims comprehend and specific their religion ranges broadly, crosses typological boundaries, and confounds lots of the accepted classes utilized to Islam.
Our speaker Greg Fealy is emeritus professor within the Department of Political and Social Change. He specialises within the examine of Islamic politics and historical past, primarily in Indonesia, but additionally different Muslim-majority areas in Southeast Asia.
Hosted by the ANU Indonesia Institute, this annual lecture collection honours each Tony and Yohanni’s enduring legacy at ANU, focussing on humanities research throughout Nusantara and the Malay and Islamic worlds, in addition to the examination of Austronesian identification.
Read the lecture under:
It is a privilege to be invited to present this inaugural handle in honour of Tony and Yohanni Johns. In the lengthy and distinguished historical past of Southeast Asian research at ANU, no different couple have made such a sustained and substantial contribution. For greater than three many years, Tony and Yohanni had been the bedrock upon which research of the area, and particularly Indonesia, rested. Over the subsequent 40 minutes, I shall be speaking primarily about Tony’s outstanding educational achievements, as a result of I’ve labored extra carefully with him than with Yohanni. But this endowment honours the work of each Yohanni and Tony, they usually have certainly had a rare and mutually supportive partnership. Both shared in and contributed to the successes of the opposite and, when wanted, they offered candid counsel to one another. The bond between them has been indissoluble and no account of the rise of Asian research at ANU is full with out the story of Tony and Yohanni. Having stated that, I shall be spending much less time discussing Yohanni than Tony and for that, I apologise, Yohanni. Hopefully this imbalance shall be redressed in a later annual Johns’ lecture.
My speak is split into three sections: first, I’ll define the careers of Tony and Yohanni; second, I’ll study in additional element Tony’s scholarship and instructing; and third, I’ll flip to the thematic a part of my speak during which I’ll handle the subject of “Restoring Religious and Cultural Complexity to the Study of Southeast Asian Islam”.
Tony and Yohanni’s Careers
Tony was born in England in 1928 and Yohanni a yr later within the province of West Sumatra, Indonesia. In Tony’s childhood he had come to know one thing of Islam by studying books reminiscent of T. E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom that he present in his grandfather’s library. He was conscripted into the British military in 1946 and despatched to Singapore and Malaya the next yr. There he turned bewitched with the Malay world and language, in addition to with the wealthy Muslim life that he noticed round him: the day by day devotions, the design and performance of the mosques, the function of the imam. He later wrote:
A seed of understanding was sown when Malay associates in 1949 invited me to be current on the congregational prayer of the Idul Adha within the Abu Bakr mosque in Johor Baru. For half an hour earlier than the formal prayer started, I listened to the takbir, the congregational chanting of the phrase and prayer Allahu Akbar. There was rhythm, motion, exultation of their voices that rolled just like the swell of the ocean. It stayed in my thoughts and haunted my reminiscence. It was an introduction to the resonances of Arabic as a liturgical language.
After concluding army service, Tony returned to England and studied classical Malay language, tradition and literature on the School of Oriental and Asian Studies in London, ultimately graduating with a PhD. He yearned to return to Southeast Asia and obtained his likelihood in 1954 when the Ford Foundation employed him as an English-language teacher in Indonesia. He was in a short time swept up within the vibrancy of the nation. After the staidness of Malaya, he discovered Indonesia, to make use of his personal phrases, ‘a mind-blowing expertise!’ He was fascinated with the swirl of revolutionary fervour throughout the newly unbiased nation. He listened to the hovering rhetoric of Sukarno and beheld the clamorous campaigning of the various array of politicians and events contesting elections within the mid-Fifties. He devoured the works of up to date authors is that they wrote of their hopes or despair about their nation’s path. A gifted musician himself, he additionally took within the various palette of music and humanities that surrounded him, together with studying to sing Javanese music. After years of learning classical Malay texts from centuries previous, he now discovered himself immersed in one thing rapid and brimming with ardour – as he later wrote, he had discovered ‘one thing to narrate to from the center’. Most of all he discovered that Indonesia introduced a ‘gateway to the world of Islam’, with a far higher vary of Muslim expression than he had encountered in Malaya.
It was additionally in West Sumatra, Indonesia, the place Tony met and fell in love with Yohanni, a younger in-service coach within the Ford Foundation mission in early 1955. As their romance blossomed a big impediment introduced itself: she was from a strict Muslim household and he was a religious Catholic. Interfaith marriages had been (and certainly nonetheless are) frowned upon in Indonesia and infrequently implacably rejected by households. But Tony and Yohanni weren’t deterred and, in an early show of their mixed resolve and resourcefulness, they had been ultimately married in Singapore in 1956. They not too long ago celebrated their 66th wedding ceremony anniversary. They signify a salutory instance of how marriages throughout faiths can flourish, with the religiosity of every associate accepted and revered in a relationship underpinned by mutual love.
In 1958, Tony was appointed to what was then generally known as Canberra University College, quickly to develop into ANU, to show Malay and Indonesian research. The preliminary years of this Indonesian program had been funded by the Indonesian authorities as a part of a ‘reverse Colombo Plan’ for Australian college students. Tony quickly put collectively a group which might make ANU one of many main centres for learning Indonesian. He recruited Soebardi and later Supomo from Indonesia, who would develop into pricey colleagues, and employed many different Indonesians in this system within the ensuing years.
Yohanni, herself a talented linguist and skilled teacher, turned a tutor in 1961 and some years later was appointed lecturer. Over the subsequent three many years, she turned a central determine within the Indonesian program. She wrote two extremely popular textbooks: Bahasa Indonesia: Introduction to Indonesian Language and Culture, volumes one and two, which turned just about normal texts for secondary and tertiary college students (together with me!) throughout Australia. The books had been reprinted many instances and used within the Netherlands and the United States, and possibly many different nations as properly. In the next years, Yohanni’s instructing left an indelible impression on the various lots of of scholars who handed via ANU’s Indonesian program, to not point out the 1000’s of individuals throughout quite a few nations who discovered Indonesian via her textbooks.
Tony was promoted to professor in 1963 and served a number of phrases as dean of the then Faculty of Oriental Studies (later to be the Faculty of Asian Studies). The mid-Sixties had been watershed years for Tony, as he shifted the main target of his analysis extra intently to Arabic and Islamic disciplines. He took examine go away in Egypt and numerous different components of the Middle East, which initially he discovered deeply difficult. He felt his Arabic was insufficient and it took intensive examine for him to start to make use of the sorts of texts that he considered important to the subsequent section of his educational life. His focus on Arabic met with disapproval from a few of his Southeast Asianist colleagues, who feared he would transfer away from the examine of the area. But the truth is, his cause for changing into an Arabist was to higher perceive Indonesian Islam. Deeper data of Indonesian scholarship might solely be gained by gaining first-hand entry to the good texts and disciplines that Indonesian Islamic students themselves used, and this required high-level Arabic competency.
In the late Sixties, Tony started instructing Arabic at ANU. He had a imaginative and prescient that Arabic ought to be situated inside Southeast Asian research, a novel initiative that may, in later years, produce a string of wonderful students, reminiscent of Tony Street, now Reader at Cambridge University, Fr Laurie Fitzgerald, who taught at ANU and The Australian Catholic University, Peter Riddell, who not too long ago retired as professor on the Melbourne School of Theology, and Mike Laffan, who’s professor of historical past at Princeton University. Sadly, this novel integration of Southeast Asian, Arabic and Islamic Studies got here to an finish a bit of over 20 years in the past and no comparable program exists now, to my data, exterior of Southeast Asia. Tony retired in 1993 after 35 years of service to ANU; Yohanni retired as a senior lecturer two years later.
Tony’s Scholarship and Teaching
Tony’s scholarly output has been immense and I’m happy to notice that it’s nonetheless rising! By my reckoning, he has printed 78 articles in scholarly journals, 47 e-book chapters, 19 critiques and 10 books, and that’s with out mentioning his many entries in main reference works, reminiscent of his seven articles in Brill’s monumental Encyclopedia of Islam – a sign honour to be invited to jot down a number of contributions.
The broad arc of Tony’s work is as follows: he started in Southeast Asia learning Sufi Malay-language texts, then graduated to the examine of the academics of Indonesian Islamic students within the Middle East and the Arabic language foundational texts that they used, and ended with the examine of the Qur’an. Within this arc, the scope of his work was outstanding, together with translations and commentaries on classical Malay Islamic texts, translations of recent Indonesian literature, descriptions and evaluation of Islamic mysticism, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic theology and comparative theology, accounts of Australia’s Muslim group, interfaith relations, historic accounts of Islam’s coming to and affect upon Southeast Asia, and research of prophets current in Islamic, Christian and Jewish scripture. It is that this later work on the prophets of which Tony is most proud. Across these subjects, Tony was able to writing on extremely specialised, slim and generally obscure texts or points, producing findings that had been accessible to a small professional viewers. But he was equally able to addressing large questions within the area and fascinating in rigorous debate with different eminent students.
It is in his articles in scholarly journal articles, fairly than in his books, the place a lot of Tony’s most interesting work is to be discovered. Many of those are the main journals of their fields, reminiscent of: the Journal of Islamic Studies, the Journal of Asian Studies, the Journal of Qur’anic Studies, Archipel, the Journal of Southeast Asian History, the Review of Middle Eastern Studies and Hamdard Islamicus. He even printed items within the Australian literary journals Meanjin Quarterly and Quadrant, which indicated his want to succeed in a wider viewers.
An instance of Tony’s tackling of massive points was his article difficult the accepted view that it had been merchants who had been primarily answerable for the unfold of Islam in Southeast Asia. He didn’t dispute that retailers had performed a task however he argued that the deeper penetration of Islam was on account of discovered males, mystics and Islamic students, fairly than merchants. This was later sometimes called the Drewes-Johns debate, a reference to the Dutch Indologist, DWJ Drewes. Tony later considerably revised his opinion on this however nonetheless it was a considerable contribution to scholarly debate.
What of the essence of Tony’s writings? What hallmarks of his scholarship may we discover inside them? He not too long ago wrote that ‘his considerations all through his profession had been, and all the time have been, language, character and human responses to crises – of ache, pleasure and hope.’ So it’s directly technical – to have a excessive command of the required languages to undertake this work – but additionally quintessentially human-focused. Tony was finally involved about folks. Linguistic, literary and historic expertise had been all technique of gaining perception into the lives and motivations of people or communities. And for him, Arabic was a sub-text behind vernacular writings exhibiting how religion was understood. Tony was all the time speaking about layers; the duty of the scholar was to discover what these layers contained. The outward, superficial layer was maybe at finest a small a part of the story. One needed to have the linguistic and disciplinary expertise plus the creativeness to delve additional. This delicate, delicate exploration of sources and human emotions was current in all of Tony’s instructing and his writings.
He introduced an identical sensibility to his instructing. In lessons he was all the time urging college students to really feel inside themselves the rhythm of Qur’anic phrases or really feel the sounds of Indonesian or Arabic phrases. He urged memorisation of at the very least some verses of the Qur’an as a result of that manner college students might expertise the phrases unfettered by the printed web page. There was nothing indifferent or mechanical about this methodology; one needed to embrace the language and its tradition wholeheartedly. One additionally needed to be exact and to point out full respect to the unique textual content, totally understanding phrases and the way their that means may change inside sentences and completely different contexts.
In an Introduction to a forthcoming quantity, Tony has written that his scholarly journey has been ‘as a lot one in every of unlearning as studying’. This typifies his humility and fixed introspection. In his later work, he’s regularly at pains to mirror again upon his earlier writings, diligently noting the place there might have been errors the truth is or interpretation. This sense of fallibility and striving for enchancment is a characteristic of his scholarship. I now need to flip to the thematic a part of this handle.
Restoring Religious and Cultural Complexity to the Study of Southeast Asian Islam
Over the previous 20-30 years, we have now seen a change within the scholarly and coverage discourse on Islam. Whereas as soon as this area gave prominence to students of faith and its tradition and historical past, now social scientists, significantly political scientists and specialists in worldwide relations and safety research have come to dominate. This is particularly the case because the terrorist assaults on New York and Washington DC in Sept 2001 – the 911 assaults. With this catastrophic occasion, Islam all of the sudden leapt to being a paramount subject for governments, particularly Western governments, and in addition, to some extent, the general public. There was pressing demand for experience to assist states and the general public comprehend what had occurred and what could possibly be executed to scale back the specter of additional assaults. Very quickly, this discourse got here to crystalise round what was typically termed the ‘Islam drawback’, that Islam contained inside it radical tendencies that wanted to be denounced, repressed and even expunged. This turned a part of a broader dialogue about Islam’s nature which was typically solid in essentialising phrases. You shall be very acquainted with a few of these: that Islam was ‘a faith of peace’, that Muslims had been essentially irenic, that radicalism sprang from a misunderstanding or ‘deliberate distortion of Islam’s true teachings’. And so the coverage priorities that flowed from this had been based mostly on a have to establish who or what represented ‘true’ Islam, and the way might these been helped, whereas, on the identical time, figuring out the deviant radicals. Such insurance policies had been seen as not solely stopping horrific terrorism but additionally restoring Islam to a benign and pristine kind. Counter-terrorism and anti-radicalisation applications had been rolled out and initiatives to foster average, tolerant, pro-Western views had been initiated.
Relatively few students concerned in these coverage processes had been specialists in faith per se, not to mention Islam. Instead, it was political scientists, IR specialists and safety research specialists who held sway, each in shaping public debate and in informing governments of coverage choices. These social scientists introduced very particular views and certainly assumptions to their work on faith. They noticed it as a definite, generalisable element of social and political evaluation; faith was one thing that stood other than different elements, reminiscent of historical past, the financial system and tradition. It was attainable to grasp Islam by itself, shorn of its native particularities and variations. Especially for quantitative students, Islam was seen as one thing objectively measurable via surveys and massive knowledge units. Such approaches and analyses might produce common theories and broadly relevant templates for motion. They might measure the presence of radical or average attitudes and pinpoint alternatives for programmatic intervention. Perhaps predictably, on the spot specialists and assume tanks and college centres rapidly emerged that readily joined within the efforts to ‘repair’ Islam.
Elizabeth Shakman Hurd in her wonderful e-book Beyond Religious Freedom known as the phenomenon ‘The Religious Reform Project’. This referred to the efforts of Western governments to intervene in Islamic communities in ‘in danger’ nations as a way to overcome Islam’s issues. In reality, what was proposed was intensive state engineering of spiritual attitudes. Islam turned the article of presidency intervention, not simply by Western governments, however fairly often by governments of Muslim-majority nations, lots of which introduced their very own political and social agendas to the combatting radicalism and selling moderation. Few establishments higher epitomised this pondering than the Tony Blair Foundation in Britain. Blair held forth regularly concerning the ‘two faces of Islam’: the dangerous and the nice. Let me quote:
There are two faces of religion in our world at the moment. One is seen not simply in acts of spiritual extremism but additionally within the want of spiritual folks to put on their religion as a badge of identification in opposition to those that are completely different. The different face is outlined by extraordinary acts of sacrifice and compassion – for instance in caring for the sick, disabled or destitute. All over the world this battle between the 2 faces of religion is being performed out.
Thus, all good resided on one aspect and all dangerous on one other. His basis dedicated itself to repressing the dangerous and inspiring the nice. It was generously funded and offered a high-profile, post-prime ministerial platform for Blair’s worldwide activism. The Blair Foundation is one in every of dozens of such establishments that seeks nothing lower than to remodel faith. Hurd notes this Religious Reform agenda has virtually changed the secularist mission: faith is now not seen as a non-public, inner matter for communities; it’s now important to bettering life within the public sphere. In quick, faith is an agent of public good.
So, what’s drawback with this mannequin? Could one not argue that it’s commendable to help Muslims in combatting militancy inside their religion and selling tolerance and peace? Would this not assist to deliver safety and concord to the world in addition to to Muslim communities? Well, the reply to those questions is that these Religious Reform agendas are far much less profitable than claimed and certainly might typically be counter-productive.
First of all, the issue with non secular interventions is the sheer shallowness of study and the failure to discover the assumptions that lie inside. To start with, the social science assumption that faith is distinct, is deeply flawed. Religion will not be simply made a separate variable of study as a result of it’s inextricably linked to a spread of different elements and can’t be simply disaggregated. Religious Reform agendas truly carry secularist assumptions as a result of they deal with faith as one thing that autonomous and circumscribed. Asef Bayat, the influential Iranian-American sociologist, dismissed makes an attempt to isolate Islam from different domains:
Muslim societies’, he wrote, ‘are by no means monolithic as such, are by no means non secular by definition, nor are their cultures confined to mere faith. National cultures, historic experiences, political trajectories in addition to class affiliation have all produced completely different cultures and sub-cultures of Islam, non secular perceptions and practices throughout and inside Muslim nations.
William T. Cavanaugh, who has written extensively (and it should be admitted controversially) on the folly of isolating religions as a explanation for warfare or peace, argues that religion is socially constructed and is inextricably tied to a fancy of different elements.
Second, the reductive binary classes are inimical to any nuanced understanding as to what’s truly happening in Muslim communities. To classify Muslims as ‘good’ or ‘dangerous’ makes no allowance of the vary of views that Muslims may maintain. A Muslim may favour democracy and the rule of regulation, but additionally be against gender equality, LGBT rights and inter-faith dialogue. Does such an individual match into the nice or dangerous field? Governments like binaries as a result of present clear choices, however in actuality they’re Procrustean: they only ignore or chop off the bits that don’t neatly match the class. Binary approaches fail to do justice to delicate components of political and spiritual life.
Let me give one other instance of Sufism and counter-terrorism. There was a time in mid-2000s when numerous US assume tanks turned satisfied that Islamic mysticism was the answer to radicalism – a proposal of astonishing gormlessness. So, conferences and workshops had been held and papers and articles printed to this finish. Needless to say, the ‘initiative’ achieved little other than directing funding to an array of Sufi leaders and counter-terrorism specialists. (When I advised Tony about this on the time he burst out laughing and puzzled how anybody could possibly be so credulous!)
Third, the non secular reform course of produced dangerous insurance policies for Muslim communities. One of essentially the most notable was the ‘securitisation’ of state relations with Muslim communities. Muslims had been seen initially by way of the supposed risk that they posed.
This, in itself, produced distrust of presidency and resentment in Muslim communities as a result of the trustworthy had been solely seen via the slim filter of radicalism. It additionally distorts energy relations inside communities as a result of authorities applications and cash is being made out there on the premise of whether or not they match externally imposed standards fairly than the real wants of communities. Certain teams privileged; others handled with prejudice. The frequent outcome has been elevated tensions throughout the Islamic group as favoured leaders and establishments reap the advantages of presidency help, whereas others miss out, no matter their want. We can see this presently in Indonesia the place Nahdlatul Ulama is the recipient of Religious Reform largesse from numerous nations but different main organisations reminiscent of Muhammadiyah and Persis are largely excluded.
There is a hubris right here, a conceit that deeply embedded non secular norms might be altered with just a few years of support applications or worldwide initiatives. States can repress sure forms of Islam and foster others, however that’s unlikely to vastly change what occurs deep inside society and its non secular communities. There are limits to what state-run or top-down non secular agendas can obtain and most of those applications are normally top-down. Expectation that Muslims will observe pre-ordained units of behaviours.
My central argument right here is that it’s the absence of spiritual research students from these international and home Religious Reform initiatives that undermines their effectiveness. Lived faith, as any scholar of faith can inform you, is very diversified and mutable. Great care is required when generalising and typologising, significantly when involved with predicting behaviour. The faith as set out by state non secular authorities or by mainstream Islamic organisations will not be essentially rigidly adhered to by grassroots Muslims, even inside these organisations. Prescriptions of orthopraxy could be adopted solely partially. Real non secular life is commonly messy and contradictory; there are competing traditions and pursuits at play. Muslims might aspire to a selected model of piety however not fulfil this.
So many on-the-ground research have discovered huge selection and behavior that always confound the traditional categorisations of spiritual kind. I might level to Chris Chaplin’s analysis on Salafis, for instance. This group is seen as culturally Arabised, ultra-puritanical and a risk to Indonesia’s pluralistic traditions. But Chaplin exhibits important indigenisation of their practices and appreciable want to compromise as a way to broaden their mainstream help and shield their academic and preaching actions. Many assume that the time period Salafist denotes one single, undifferentiated entity. What is required is the shut examine of individuals and communities; what they are saying and write, the texts that affect them and the way they impart. This wants language expertise, persistence and erudition. Such expertise are seldom discovered amongst quantitative social scientists or safety research specialists. This is to not disparage large knowledge approaches. They have the flexibility to inform us issues that qualitative analysis can not. But to plan insurance policies with out scholarship on non secular research, with out its take care of particulars and one eye on nuance and variegation, is to threat miscomprehension and failure. Religious research students don’t see religion as ‘clear minimize’ and that may be a sound place to begin for coverage formulation.
This brings me again to the work of Tony. His concern to probe the layers of that means in a textual content or an announcement, his precedence in studying what shapes the pondering of Indonesian Muslims – that is essential. It means coming to Muslim communities not with a set of preconceived concepts or theories into which individuals might be sorted, however fairly researching with an open thoughts. Literature, social media discourses, preachers’ sermons, these are what wants learning. we not assume that official Islam – that promulgated by governments or main Islamic organisations – is definitely lived Islam.
Let me shut on a private observe. I need to confess to having appreciable apprehension in accepting this invitation to speak about Tony’s scholarship and contribution as a result of I felt that I lacked the scholarly expertise to do justice to what he has achieved. I don’t converse Arabic, I’m not a scholar of the Qur’an and Islamic sciences. I examine Muslim politics, its doctrines and behavior however I’m not a scholar of Islam as such. But I accepted the invitation as a result of I’m so deeply grateful for what Tony has offered to me and to so many different researchers on Southeast Asian Islam via his writings and his private mentorship. In my case, for thirty years Tony has inspired me and with nice persistence, forbearance even, he has answered my many queries. Tony by no means gave easy or apparent solutions. He would ponder the query for a second earlier than responding, typically plucking apposite quotes from a bewildering array of sources that gave the impression to be eternally circulating in his thoughts simply ready to be introduced to a questioner. These could possibly be from the Bible or the Qur’an, from Shakespeare or Keats, and even from his favorite tv satire, Yes Minister! His solutions typically led to extra questions, which might require extra analysis and reflection on my half. The factor about these solutions was that they all the time opened vistas onto a lot broader fields of examine and understanding. I’ve a seamless sense of marvel at how Tony does this.
Let me return to the place I began, by acknowledging the mixed achievements of Tony and Yohanni, and thanking them for all of the care and encouragement they’ve offered for college students like me over so a few years. And for the fantastic instance that they supply for us all, of their dedication to one another and to the fostering of Indonesian research. It is most becoming that so many individuals have gathered right here this afternoon to have a good time these two fantastic careers.