On 7 December 2011, Professor Martin van Bruinessen, Chair of Comparative Studies of Contemporary Muslim Societies, Utrecht University and visiting lecturer at AKU-ISMC gave a public talk entitled, “Indonesian Muslims and their place in the larger world of Islam”.
Professor van Bruinessen opened his lecture by explaining that in his opinion the impact of Indonesian Muslims is very little. There are very few translations of Indonesian texts by Muslim scholars; in fact rather than a high number of theoretical thinkers, one finds a high number of activists and thus an overall lack of systematic scholarly work.
In drawing a picture of the Indonesian scholarly landscape, Professor van Bruinessen highlighted two categories: the Westernizers and Nativists. While the first group tends to borrow ideas from the West as a means for development of Indonesian Islam, the second is strictly against any Western influence.
Among the broad basis of society, liberal interpretations of Islam dominate. There is a strong desire to make Islam compatible with modern society and a will to learn about thinkers outside of Indonesia.
As regionally limited as Indonesian Islam may be, the liberal discourse has had its impact on feminism in Indonesia where activists engage with international colleagues; although they do not have one famous feminist in Indonesia, there are many strong feminists who work together.
In his conclusion, Professor van Bruinessen noted that Indonesian Muslims are very modest and very strong in their wish to learn from the outside but reluctant to teach others themselves.
Since his return from Indonesia to the Netherlands in 1994, Professor van Bruinessen has continued his research on Indonesian Islam and on Turkey and the Kurds, and made numerous research visits to both regions. His published research on Indonesia concerns various aspects of Islam: Sufi orders, traditional Islamic education, the religious association Nahdlatul Ulama, and Islamic radicalism.
Ms Anne Czambor
Professional Programmes Unit