Asian Islam

Dec 3rd, 2006, in Society, by

On national and ethnic differences in Islam, normative and lived Islam.

Robert W. Hefner discusses the differences between Asian, both South and South East, and Middle Eastern Islam. spero There is “normative Islam”, that which is based on scripture, there are no significant differences here between Asian and Arab or middle eastern Islam. Then there is Islam as a lived culture, or way of life, there are differences here.

Robert W. Hefner
Robert W. Hefner.

Islam is hostile to national variations, unlike Christianity, but they do arise in practice. One of the reasons Muslim leaders may be opposed to such things as sholat in languages other than Arabic (Arabic Only) is because Islam lacks a central authority and therefore unity of ritual is emphasised to ward off disintegration into multitudes of national, regional variations of the religion.

Islam is based on divine law. As literacy increased in Asia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries more and more people came to learn about their religion through books, and therefore there has grown a tendency for Muslims to become legalistic, leads to what some may see as Islamization.

South and Southeast Asian Islam are unique for the importance of mysticism, or Sufism. Some schools of Sufism are heavily syncretic/influenced by Hinduism.

In India Hindus fiercely resisted Islam, but in south-east Asia the Hindu-Buddhist tradition collapsed almost completely, except in Bali, for Indonesia. Hinduism survived in some form in the syncretic forms of Sufi Islam that were popular in Indonesia but these are declining now.

In early 19th century both South and Southeast Asian Islam saw the rise of anti-syncretism movements, reform movements, attempts to harmonise or Arabise the religion.

One difference between South Asian Islam and Southeast Asian Islam is that the latter still accords women a significantly higher social standing – no honour killings in Indonesia, no clan-based systems, better acceptance of democracy, individualistic conceptions of human rights, etc.

In politics the nationalist movements of south Asia and south-east Asia in first half of 20th century were only marginally influenced by religion. In last decades of 20th century the basically secular systems/governments of south-east Asia have found themselves forced however to give “enormous” concessions to Muslim cultural interests.

Situation in Indonesia very promising. It:

has the world’s largest and most broadly based tradition of democratic Islam

Islamic radicals are small in number but determined. Indonesia may be the best hope for Islam in the world, on the fringes yes, but forging a system that:

will be good news for the entire Muslim world.

The full article at Spero.

Robert W. Hefner is the author of Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia.

2 Comments on “Asian Islam”

  1. Bas says:

    Another day dreamer…

  2. Tuan says:

    I wouldn’t make a distinction saying that Islam in SE Asia is different from India or the Middle East to the point where it sounds like they are practicing a different religious beliefs. I would say they practice the same religion (not factoring sects). In the Muslim community, particularly in America, there is a conflict between motherland CULTURE and RELIGION. There are many aspects in different cultures where it conflicts with teachings of Islam. A couple of examples are interracial or cultural marriages between two parties of Muslims are sometimes frowned upon by either Arab or South Asian. Expansive weddings where Muslims spend 20,000 USD dollars are a result of culture and not religion and some are recognizing the ridiculousness of it (some families go broke). But the conflict between culture and religion is more generational. As young Muslims are learning true teachings of Islam and recognizing a lot of the cultural bull that the old hold on to.

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