Islam Nusantara

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Indonesian Muslim men wearing peci and sarung standing in prayer.

Islam Nusantara or Indonesian (Islamic) model is a distinctive brand of Islam developed in Nusantara (Indonesian archipelago) at least since the 16th century, as a result of interaction, contextualization, indigenization, interpretation and vernacularization of universal Islamic values, according to socio-cultural reality of Indonesia. The term was first officially coined, proposed and promoted by Indonesian Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama in 2015, as an alternative for interpretation and representation of global Islam that currently dominated by Arabic or Middle Eastern perspectives.[1]

Islam Nusantara is defined as an interpretation of Islam that takes into account local Indonesian customs in forming its fiqh.[2] On June 2015, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has openly expressed his support for Islam Nusantara, which in his view is the moderate form of Islam compatible to Indonesian cultural values.[3]


Indonesian traditional Quranic school.

The spread of Islam in Indonesia was a slow, gradual and relatively peaceful process. One theory suggests it arrived directly from Arabia before the 9th century, while another credits Sufi merchants and preachers for bringing Islam to Indonesian islands in the 12th or 13th century either from Gujarat in India or directly from the Middle East.[4] By the 16th century, Islam began to supplant Hinduism and Buddhism as the major faith in the archipelago. The traditional Islam were mainly belongs to Sunni branch, taught by revered clerics called kyai in pesantren boarding school, especially in Java. Some aspects of traditional Islam in Indonesia has incorporated local culture and customs.

Early practice of Indonesian Islam were more or less influenced by Sufism and existing local Javanese spiritualism. Several traditions, such as revering and recognizing the authority of kyai, honoring prominent Islamic figures such as Wali Songo, also took part in Islamic traditions such as ziarah kubur (tomb pilgrimage), tahlilan (selamatan ceremony to send the spirit of deceased one to the afterworld), and maulid nabi (commemorating the prophet Muhammad's birthday) including Javanese sekaten ceremony, were observed diligently by traditionalist Muslims in Indonesia. However, after the incoming of Modernist Salafism followed by Wahhabism from Arabia, the scriptural Islamic puritans denounced those traditions as shirk or bid'ah, deprecated as a form of syncretism that corrupted the purity of Islam. This condition has led to the ongoing religious dispute, uneasy coexistence and somewhat a spiritual rivalry, between traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama and modernist puritan Muhammadiyah.[5]

Ziarah kubur, visiting the tomb of prominent Islamic figure.

Examining the destruction of the war-torn Middle East; the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Arab Spring, the Iraq War and the Syrian War, Indonesian moderate Islamic scholar noticed that some of this conflict were having religious aspect, especially the problem of Islamic radicalism and extremism.[6] Indonesia also has suffered several terrorist attacks that were launched by jihadist Islamist group such as Jamaah Islamiyah's attacks on Bali.[7] The ultra conservative doctrine of Salafi and Wahhabi adhered and promoted by the state of Saudi Arabia has been dominated the global discourse of Islam for decades.[8] The wary sentiments were aggravated further by the advent of ISIS in 2013 that performed abhorred war crimes in the name of Islam.

In recent years, there are the rise of fundamentalism and religious intolerance in Indonesia.[9] Internally, some of foreign and local Islamist organizations, such as Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), Front Pembela Islam (FPI) also Islamist political party such as Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS) has been actively involved in Indonesian politics in recent years, undermining the traditionalist Islamic institution especially Nahdlatul Ulama. Those Islamist elements in Indonesian politics were suspiciously regarded as weakening and harming the state ideology Pancasila.[10]

Indonesian moderate Muslim scholars, especially those traditionalist of Nahdlatul Ulama background, suggests Indonesian Muslims to distinct and differ between the Arabization and the traditional practice of Indonesian Islam.[11] Compared to their Middle East Muslims counterpart, Indonesian Muslims has enjoyed a relative peace and harmony for decades. This was owed to Indonesians interpretation of Islam which is more moderate, inclusive and tolerant.[12] Indonesia — as the world's largest Muslim population, could to contribute to the evolution of Islamic world, by offering its brand of Islam as an alternative to Saudi's Wahhabism.[13] Thus subsequently, Islam Nusantara was identified, formulated, coined and promoted.


Boys and girls students are studying together in their classroom.

The main traits of Islam Nusantara are tawasut (moderate), rahmah (compassionate), anti-radical, inclusive and tolerant.[3] Tawasut by "moderate" here connotes the Sunni Islamic theological position of wasatiyyah rather than political position.[14] In its relations to local culture, Islam Nusantara uses a sympathetic cultural approach on teaching Islam; it did not destroy, disrupt or supplant the native culture, but on the contrary embraces, honor, nurture and preserves local culture. One of the main characteristic of Islam Nusantara is the consideration of local Indonesian culture in forming their fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence).[2]

Islam Nusantara was developed locally in indigenous educational institution of traditionalist pesantren boarding school. As the result, it based on traditional eastern decorum and mannerism; it emphasized in honoring the status and authority of kyai or ulama (religious teacher). The students requires the ongoing guidance of their religious teacher, in order not to go astray or developing false or radical ideas. Another distinctive aspect, is the emphasize on Rahmatan lil Alamin (blessings for the universe) as Islamic universal value, which promote peace, tolerance, mutual respects and a somewhat pluralist outlook in regard of Islamic interactions within ummah (within Muslim community) and in inter-religions relations.[15]


Islam Nusantara has been fiercely opposed and criticized by other branches of Islam, especially by adherents of wahhabism and salafism, or other similar doctrines that seeks to "purify" Islam from any "un-Islamic" local elements, which are often condemned as shirk or bid'ah. Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, PKS and FPI has openly opposed the Islam Nusantara.[3] Islam Nusantara has been criticized as a somewhat syncretic form of Islam, which undermine the "perfectness" and singularity of Islam and corrupted the unity of ummah.[16]

Muhammadiyah, another influential Islamic organization in Indonesia — although not directly opposed to the concept, has stressed that the term Islam Nusantara should be addressed cautiously and proportionally, not to undermine and repress other branches of Islam, different understandings, or other doctrines of Islam. If Islam Nusantara is favoured, adopted, elevated and promoted by the state, they feared that other Islamic branches would suffer persecution and discrimination.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Apa yang Dimaksud dengan Islam Nusantara?". Nahdlatul Ulama (in Indonesian). 22 April 2015.
  2. ^ a b Azis Anwar Fachrudin (24 July 2015). "The face of Islam Nusantara". The Jakarta Post.
  3. ^ a b c Heyder Affan (15 June 2015). "Polemik di balik istiIah 'Islam Nusantara'". BBC Indonesia (in Indonesian).
  4. ^ Nina Nurmila (2013-01-31). Jajat Burhanudin, Kees van Dijk, ed. Islam in Indonesia: Contrasting Images and Interpretations. Amsterdam University Press. p. 109. ISBN 9789089644237.
  5. ^ (, Deutsche Welle. "Mitos Kerukunan Antara Nahdlatul Ulama dan Muhammadiyah (Bagian Pertama) | DW | 30.01.2018". DW.COM (in Indonesian). Retrieved 2018-08-15.
  6. ^ Ahmad Saifuddin. "Islam, Radikalisme, dan Terorisme | NU Online". NU Online (in Indonesian). Retrieved 2018-08-15.
  7. ^ Caruso, Phil (6 February 2018). "Indonesia and Terrorism: Success, Failure, and an Uncertain Future". Middle East Institute. Retrieved 2018-08-15.
  8. ^ Fauzi M. Najjar. "Whither the Islamic Religious Discourse?". Middle East Policy Council. Retrieved 2018-08-15. More than one of |website= and |work= specified (help)
  9. ^ Vajra Reza Alam (17 January 2017). "Coping with growing intolerance in Indonesia". The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 2018-08-15.
  10. ^ Thompson, Neil (17 November 2017). "Islam and Identity Politics in Indonesia". The Diplomat. Retrieved 2018-08-15.
  11. ^ Syahirul Alim (13 July 2018). "Islam Nusantara, Arabisasi, dan 'Rahmatan Lil Alamin'". kumparan (in Indonesian). Retrieved 2018-08-15.
  12. ^ "Islam Radikal di Indonesia - Islamisme". Indonesia Investments. Retrieved 2018-08-15. More than one of |website= and |work= specified (help)
  13. ^ "Indonesia. un altro Islam?". Cultura & Culture (in Italian).
  14. ^ Burhani, Najib. Al-Tawassuṭ wa-l I‘tidāl: The NU and Moderatism in Indonesian Islam. Asian Journal of Social Science, 2012, p.564.
  15. ^ "Ini Sejumlah Ciri Islam Nusantara". Nahdlatul Ulama (in Indonesian). 16 July 2016.
  16. ^ "Islam Itu Sudah Sempurna, Tidak Butuh Embel-Embel "Nusantara"". Era Muslim (in Indonesian). 15 June 2015.
  17. ^ Marniati (8 July 2015). "Muhammadiyah: Istilah Islam Nusantara Harus Digunakan Proporsional". Republika (in Indonesian).

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