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Indonesian Islam and Democracy: Ways Ahead

posted on 2023-05-22, 12:03 authored by Clement HudsonClement Hudson, Azra, A

Many Westerners who comment on the relationship between Indonesian Islam and democracy are more interested in democracy than in Islam. This is a bias which we wish to contest in this concluding chapter.

This volume makes it clear that there is a will to embrace democracy on the part of many Indonesian intellectuals. It has also shown that Indonesian intellectuals are sensitive to their specific geography, and to the unique political trajectory their country has followed since independence. Indonesians are not sentimental about the brutal governments which have come to power in their country. Nor are they slow to note the pervasive culture of corruption which continues to subvert the potential of the country from within. On the other hand, they note, with justified pride, the contributions which Islam and Muslims have made to the development of democracy in the largest Muslim country in the world. This suggests, we believe, that a critically informed pride in Islam, and in its inherent rationality and universality, offers the best foundation for democracy in Indonesia (Azra 2006). On the other hand, Western political theory is an outstanding resource upon which Indonesians can draw in their process of renewal, as the chapters in this volume by Zifcak, Maddox, Patipan, Stokes, Thompson, Hindess, Kane, Crowder, and Camilleri demonstrate.

Our view of the need to rethink how rationality, democracy, citizenship, the rule of law and pluralism should be understood in political and legal contexts in Indonesia follows from this. In Indonesia, rationality needs to be understood in complex and sometimes plural ways, and with reference to diverse religious traditions. Rational approaches need not be secular, nor need they be insensitive to religious pluralism and individual freedom.

The issue of democracy is often discussed in Indonesia in over-idealised terms – terms which map poorly onto institutions and practices on the ground. Once, however, it is accepted that Indonesian Islam and democracy are compatible in principle, there is much to be said for recognising that the struggle for democratic institutions is difficult in Islamic societies, as Bahtiar Effendy implies in his chapter in this volume. Actual political practice in Indonesia, as in other states, does not meet the high standards set by the Islamic call to justice, and more detailed and independent Islamic political thought is needed, as well as actual institutions that give this thought adequate expression.

Here, Indonesia could learn from the institution building of non-Anglo-Saxon nations such as Germany and Sweden. Looking wider afield is compatible with inculturating at home. And precisely because, as Ahmad Syafii Maarif argues in this volume, Islam remains on the whole a positive force in the democratisation process in Indonesia, better institutional models from around the would could make it possible to make better use of Islamic principles within Indonesia itself.


Publication title

Islam beyond conflict: Indonesian Islam and Western political theory


Azyumardi Azra and Wayne Hudson






School of Humanities



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Copyright 2008 Ashgate

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Expanding knowledge in philosophy and religious studies

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