ALIGNING THE SUNNA AND THE JAMA'A: RELIGIOUS AUTHORITY AND ISLAMIC SOCIAL FORMATION IN CONTEMPORARY CENTRAL JAVA, INDONESIA

PhD defended at: 

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Author: 

Ismail Fajrie Alatas

Defended: 

2016

This dissertation examines the relationship between post-Prophetic Islamic religious authority and social formation in historical and contemporary Indonesia and Yemen by observing several Muslim scholars and saints, and their overlapping and often conflicting congregations. It is based on archival work in Yemen and two years of fieldwork in Pekalongan, Central Java, among contemporary Indonesian Ba ‘Alawi scholars — namely, the acknowledged descendants of the Prophet Muhammad who originated from the Hadramawt valley of Southern Yemen. The dissertation focuses on an Indonesian Ba ‘Alawi scholar, Habib Luthfi bin Yahya (b. 1947) and several other historical and contemporary Ba ‘Alawi scholars who have succeeded in forming Islamic congregations (jama’as) that revolve around their authority as the articulators of the norms/way (sunna) of the Prophet Muhammad.

The dissertation explores the ways through which these historical and contemporary Muslim scholars, have been able to become recognized as religious authorities, that is, as living connectors to the Prophetic past. It examines the various works of mediations that have enabled such actors to establish and project vertical connections to the Prophet — either through mastery of textual sources, lineal descent, spiritual genealogy, or spiritual visions and dreams — and assemble their congregations. Such undertakings have become challenging in the contentious terrains of post-authoritarian Indonesia — a period marked by the existence of the increasingly plural social and intellectual formations, competing claims of authenticity of different Islamic authorities, and secular social and intellectual formations including the post-colonial state — thereby generating various overlaps, synergies, and contestations.

By presenting a polyphonic account of how different and discordant alignments between the sunna and the jama’a come to be formed through the active role of varying religious authorities, the dissertation unravels the historical and contemporary entanglements that make up several historical and contemporary sunna-aligned jama’as in Java and the Hadramawt — including Sufi orders (tariqa), saintly dynasties (mansabate), Javanese Islamic Sultanates, and modern Islamic voluntary associations (jam’iyya). Each chapter of the dissertation traces the various inter- personal and inter-objective associations, movements, linkages, brackets, and conflicts that have enabled such social assemblages to take shape, endure, or fade.

ICAS is an initiative of the
International Insitute for Asian Studies