Ahmad Munjid’s article “Thick Islam and Deep Islam” (The Jakarta Post, Aug. 16, 2009) was responded to by Hilman Latief’s “Cosmopolitan Muslims: Urban vs. Rural Phenomenon” (the Post Aug. 29, 2009).
Although both Munjid and Hilman shared their ideas on the more obvious prevalence of Islamic identity among Indonesian Muslims, they differed in terms of categorization between urban and rural as well as “thick” and “deep” Islam.
Munjid noted that “Thick Islam” was an urban phenomenon, and that “Deep Islam” was a rural one, whereas Hilman argued that the thick and the deep could not be generalized based on urban and rural categories.
Although neither intended to stimulate classical binary opposition between the Muhammadiyah as an urban Muslim organization and the NU as a rural one, the “polemic” is nevertheless interesting if we reckon their backgrounds. Munjid, who is currently the president of the Nahdlatul Ulama Community in North America, would say that the rural tradition of the NU is better than the urban.
Hilman, meanwhile, as a lecturer at Muhammadiyah University’s School of Islamic Studies, in Yogyakarta, would answer that the urban Muslim of the Muhammadiyah are not identical with “Thick Islam”.
This discussion will not pretend to support either of them, but to emphasize the fact of religious change and its various trajectories in late modern era.
While to some extent modernity has interestingly provided trajectories of religions to be symbolically more prevalent concomitant with other secular institutions, it also provides another trend to the opposite, namely the bourgeoning of subjective life religiosity.
Like Munjid and Hilman, I do agree that Indonesia encounters the continuing significant appearance of religion in public. Religious revivals, mainly Islamic, continue to prevail, ranging from groups of liberals, modernists, moderates, charismatics, scriptural-puritans, to hard-line “fundamentals”. The global religious market flooding into this country embedded with socio-cultural background of Indonesians, known as bangsa yang religius (a religious country).
The government’s policies on religion also support the significant role of religion not only in people’s personal outlooks, but also in the public sphere. These have been manifested in, for example, the state formation of “delimitated religious plurality” to restrict the public into only five official religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and Buddhism.
The Pancasila (Five Principles) is the only ideology of the state in which its first principle is Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa (Monotheism); the establishment of the Religious Affairs Ministry; and the government policy stating that every citizen should embrace one of the official religions on citizenship ID cards.
In addition, the government also officially maintains the definition of (religion) as being restricted to those that have a theological doctrine, prophets and scriptures, and are internationally spread.
The above notion underlines Hilman’s assertion of the interplay of state and market in determining forms of religious expression. The way of Islam is perceived and articulated, determined by the actor and the context.
A religious person proposes certain services that are absolutely consider targeted at “customers” who can afford the services.
As a “living organism”, Islam appears in various expressions, and sociologically we find multifaceted manifestation. Munjid and Hilman have provided thoughtful analyses on the “outer” symbolic expression of Islam, but they overlooked the “inner” one, the emergence of contemporary Islamic spirituality. In fact, as Howell (2006) noted, spiritual Islam is part of Indonesian Islamic revival.
To start this discussion, let me borrow Heelas and Woodhead’s notion from their subjectivization thesis. The subjective turn is “a turn away from life as to subjective life,” said Heelas and Woodhead (2005). They further state that “life as” means “life in accordance to” other external authorities – religion, community, state and many more – such as life as a dutiful wife, husband, father, teacher, etc. in order to conform. Subjective life means life in one’s own authenticity, “in deep connection with the unique experience of the self” and “with the inner depth of one’s unique life-in-relation”.
Implemented in the spiritual/religious field, then, one is categorized as life-as religion when his/her religiosity as well religious expression is drifted by following the duties and instruction of religious authorities (leaders, dogma/tenets, institutions and many others).
By contrast, one is said to be of subjective life spirituality when he/she lives in a deep connection with his/her own unique spirituality. The primary focus of life-as religion is congregation, whereas the primary focus of subjective life spirituality is holistic milieu.
Based on the above perspective, it is true that Islamic identity both culturally and politically is more prevalent in Indonesian public spaces as a representation of “life-as religion”, but there actually also prevails the development of “subjective life spirituality/religiosity” in contemporary Indonesia.
We face a number of spiritual centers operating in urban arenas, such as the neo-Sufism groups, preprogrammed experimental spiritual trainings, yoga classes and reiki programs, alternative healing and many others.
These kinds of spiritual hybrid appear in newspapers, magazines, even TV programs promoting the efficacies of spirituality. Such spiritual centers have successfully invited a huge number of urban Muslims to participate.
The so-called Islamic spirituality is part of a global trend where religious and spiritual trajectories are flourishing in the contemporary era, both in modernized and modernizing cities. Contemporary expressions of religiosity include New Religious Movements (NRM) and the New Spiritual Movements that flourish in various forms. Some NRMs are revivals of indigenous religions; some are Christian charismatic movements such as Pentecostalism; some take the form of New Age, alternative healing, yoga, Holism, and Mind-Body-Spirit; and some constitute the practices like Human Potential Movement. All these movements emerged as responses to the perceived aridity of Western tradition, in philosophy, science and theology.
In Western society, the emergence of spirituality positively correlates to the declining influence of religion. Western context also notes that spirituality appears as a counterculture to a secular lifestyle. Unlike Western context, current spiritual activism of marginal religious groups in Indonesia develops as part of their engagement to modernity amid the revival of Islamic culture and political aspirations.
It seems to me the current trend of Indonesian spiritual movements is part of their response to the aridity of outer elements of the formalization of the Islamic identity considered by Munjid as “Thick Islam”. In contrast to the outer Islam that tends to be exclusive, the inner Islam is inclusive, actively promotes the true meaning of being religious, as well as spreads a pluralistic point of view and the idea of harmony among differences.
In this regard, we should not be paranoid as to the development of Indonesian Islam, considered by Munjid to be the shift from deep to thick. There will be theses and antitheses in terms of religious expression. On the context of religious market, the multifaceted manifestations of Islam today are good where customers have more choices of which Islam to be afforded.
The writer is a lecturer at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University’s Department of Comparative Religion, in Yogyakarta, and a PhD student at Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia.
The Jakarta Post | Wed, 09/16/2009 2:20 PM | Opinion