Australia Awards in Indonesia

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10 Mar 2016

The Transnational and the Local in the Politics of Islam: The Case of West Sumatra

Delmus Salim, April 2012
The University of Sydney

Since the implementation of decentralisation, local governments in majority Muslim regions across Indonesia have begun to promote, and in many cases pass regulations that mandate, forms of social or economic behaviour seen to be compatible with Islam. This thesis situates the political construction of Islamic behaviour in West Sumatra and in Indonesia more generally within an historical context in which rulers have in some way engaged with aspects of Islamic practice since the Islamic kingdom era. Its main concern has been to show that while formal local Islamic regulations of this kind constitute a new development, their introduction has been a product of the same kinds of interactions between international, national and local elements that have characterised the relationship between Islam and politics through the course of Indonesian history. In doing so, the thesis challenges the scholarly tendency to over-emphasise local political concerns when explaining this phenomenon, arguing that it is necessary to forefront the complex relationship between local politics and developments in the wider Islamic world.

Using detailed case studies of four domains of regulation (Islamic finance, zakat, education, and behaviour and dress) in a number of local government areas within the province, the thesis traces the contours of this relationship as expressed in public discourse and policy-making, as represented in the local press. This analysis reveals that although local factors have been stronger than the influence of global Islamic networks in some domains, in others, models offered by the Middle East have been as, if not more, influential. In all cases, however, political motivations have been an important driver of Islamic regulation, ultimately eclipsing the social and economic motivations of regional governments’ engagement in these domains. As this thesis shows, these political ends are not driven by an ideological commitment to Islamisation, but rather by a much more mundane concern with garnering and maintaining political power in the context of decentralisation, albeit in some instances with increasing emphasis on the forms of religious expression promoted transnationally by the Arab states.

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