Muslim diversity: Islam and local tradition in Java and Sulawesi, Indonesia

  • Muhammad Ali


Based on some historical and anthropological accounts, this article examines a dynamic interplay between Islam and local tradition in Indonesia with special reference to Java and Sulawesi. It explains how local Muslims differed in their interpretation and application of Islam. It looks at processes of religious change as a world religion interacts with local forces. The “localization” of Islam was a constant feature in the expansion of Islam beyond the Arab homeland, including Southeast Asia. Based on the framework of ‘practical Islam’, rather than ‘normative Islam’, and on the framework of both accommodation and conflict between shari’ah and adat as a whole system, rather than as separate entities, it provides a greater variety of Islamic beliefs and experiences. Comparatively, Javanese people have been more diverse than Sulawesi people in terms of religious spectrum; Muslims in Java have incorporated animism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam into their culture system. Stories about the nine saints show how early Islamic preachers sought to accommodate Islam with local traditions. In Sulawesi, Dato ri Bandang and the other teachers, representing the elite aristocracy who attempted to Islamize the kingdoms and the people alike and Syeikh Yusuf, representing a strict kind of Islam, show diversity but tends to suggest a less diverse picture, when compared to Java. Despite internal diversity in Java as well as in Sulawesi, Java has remained more open and tolerant with cultural diversity, whereas Sulawesi has increasingly become more legalistic.