Kevin W. Fogg

Islamic History in Southeast Asia


Islamic Organizations outside Java ... and the Vice-Presidency!

By Kevin W. Fogg, Aug 6 2018 03:31PM

Many readers will know about my sabbatical research a year ago, looking into the history of mass Islamic organizations based outside of Java. I was particularly focused on three groups: Nahdlatul Wathan on Lombok; Alkhairaat based in Palu; and Jamiyatul Washliyah, founded in Medan.

This week, as the Indonesian presidential candidates are set to finalize their running mates for next year's national elections, I am struck that all three organizations I was studying have a man still in the race (and yes, all the candidates on all the tickets look to be men) for the vice-presidency.

From Nahdlatul Wathan, Muhammad Zainul Majdi (more commonly known as TGB, short for Tuan Guru Bajang) is a grandson of the founder and current head of (one of the rival factions of) the organization, who simultaneously serves as governor of West Nusa Tenggara Province. He quit his political party, the Democrat Party, to become a free agent as the race for vice-president began to heat up, and now he's touted as a leading candidate to run with incumbent president Jokowi. (It is unclear how the tragic earthquakes that have rocked Lombok in the last eight days are playing into the race--many different sides are already on Facebook politicizing the catastrophes as divine retribution for TGB's affiliation with Jokowi, or condemning the politicization of the tragedy.)

Another grandson of an organization founder is also in the race, but running largely from Jakarta. Salim Segaf Al-Jufri is the grandson of the founder of Alkhairaat (Sayyid Idrus bin Salim Al-Jufri), but from a branch of the family that did not continue in the organization's leadership, and the chairman of the party board for PKS, arguably Indonesia's most conservative Islamic party at the moment. He was formerly Minister of Social Affairs under the last president, and is now in the final four to run with challenger presidential candidate Prabowo. The PKS is also threatening not to support Prabowo's coalition, presumably if he does not choose a running mate to the party's liking, which increases the possibility of a third candidate team.

A dark horse in the candidate to be Prabowo's vice-presidential candidate is an Islamic scholar from Sumatra, Abdul Somad Batubara. In light of his activism connected to hardline support for the Indonesian Ulama Council and opposition to former (non-Muslim) governor of Jakarta, his name has been put forward by conservative Islamic groups, and was also listed in Prabowo's top four. Abdul Somad is prominent for his Islamic teaching over social media and in the public eye. His roots, though, go back to the Islamic organization Jamiyatul Washliyah; both his elementary and middle school degrees were from Al-Washliyah schools in North Sumatra (before he moved down to Riau), and that's also the time when he memorized the Qur'an.

Given that the pool of potential vice-presidential candidates in popular discussion is down to about ten people, the fact that three of them are grounded in major Islamic organizations outside Java is striking. (Granted, the loosely followed tradition in Indonesia is to have a Java-based presidential candidate and a non-Javanese vice-president, so that helps the odds.) I have long advocated for more attention to these groups, and maybe a successful national political candidate will start to bring more of a spotlight.

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The thoughts and opinions presented on this blog do not represent any institutions or other organization with which I am affiliated.  They are mine and mine alone, and should not be copied or reprinted (beyond fair use) without my written permission.  My hope is that these entries will help to further discussion about Southeast Asia, Islamic history, academia in a time of technological change, and other subjects worthy of attention.

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The image above comes from a manuscript of Dala'il al-Khayrat, probably copied in West Sumatra in the first half of the twentieth century and now in the collection of Prof. Bruce B. Lawrence.