As the largest Muslim population in the world and outside the Arab region, Indonesia is very
interesting place to study. Many Western scholars have conducted research on Indonesian
Islam, especially from anthropological, historical and political studies. However, the world
community in general always refer to Arabs, Persia or Turkey when they speak about Islam.
There are still a limited number of scholars studying Indonesian Islam. Recently it is
encouraging as more writings on this undiscovered topic have been written by Western and
Indonesian scholars. Indonesia with its experiences, such as in struggling for independence,
building a nation, implementing democracy, maintaining ethnic and religious diversity, and
introducing Islamic educational system called “pesantren”, is a rich but uniquely Indonesian
Islam. Pesantren comes from a word “santri” meaning “student”. Pesantren is a boarding
school where santris are studying Islam. This educational system is well established and
currently we have about more than one hundred thousand pesantren throughout Indonesia.
A prominent and distinctive picture of Indonesia is: One, Indonesia is an archipelagic country,
with a number of large and small islands of not less than ten thousand. Two, Indonesia has a
diversity of ethnicities, cultures and languages. There are around five hundred local languages,
but long before its independence, Bahasa Indonesia has been adopted as our national language
and currently is used by the government and people of around 245 million, a successful
achievement in national language politics, perhaps the most successful one in the world. Three,
the number of our Muslims is around 87.5 percent of the total population, but Indonesia chose
its country’s system as a republic, not an Islamic state. Fourth, since pre-independence period,
Islam and democracy live in harmony for Muslims have a strong tradition of encouraging social
movements. Muslim scholars introduced democratic principles by establishing social
organizations such as Muhammadiyah (1912) and Nahdlatul Ulama (1926), the largest Islamic
social organization in the world with around 150 million members. As the largest Islamic social
organizations, both are considered as pillars of our democracy. Besides political partiesboth
have also contributed greatly and meaningfully to the independence movement in Indonesia.
Having born from the womb of a diverse society whose sacrifice greatly with hundreds of
thousands of people died during the struggle for independent period, the Muslim community in
Indonesia has introduced tradition of the people's movement that strengthen and rooted in
Indonesia’s nationalism. It has also become a solid pillar of democracy. This historical
experience has distinguished Indonesian Muslims from Arabians in general who do not enjoy
such a tradition of Islamic social movements driven by the middle-educated class. This factor
might explain why the Arab Spring movement in the Arab world in 2010 did not fully succeed in
building democracy in the Arab world.
The spirit of Islam and nationalism have been mutually strengthened and developed in
harmony so there is no reason to confront them. In Indonesia, Pancasila is a national and state
philosophy as well as ideology whose substance is much inspired by Islamic teachings that
unanimously accepted by all religions exist in the country. This shows that the understanding
and practice of Islam in Indonesia is basically inclusive and moderate. The Government adopts
non-discriminatory treatment policy to all religions recognized by our Constitution, they receive
financial and political support. Furthermore, the Government also offers their respective
religious and sacred days as our national holidays. In terms of respecting religious diversity,
Indonesia is perhaps more democratic than the United States.
In the world of religious education, one of the unique aspect of Indonesian Islam is the fertility
of boarding school pesantren that conducts hybrid education system: classical and
contemporary sciences of Islamic teachings and national curriculum that educates modern
science. Pesantren levels are junior and senior high school, both in total lasting for six years. All
santris are living in dormitories so it builds a learning society and creates scientific integration.
There is no longer a dichotomy between general science and religion, profane-secular science
and religion, given that all knowledge comes from God, only the methods are different. There is
a revealed knowledge, and there is an acquired knowledge.
We need to understand the dynamics of Islam in Indonesia that is inseparable from the
dynamics of Islam globally. As we know, Islam has been instrumental in connecting its
adherents to connect with fellow Muslims living in other parts of the world. An emotional and
intellectual connectedness. In addition to the doctrine of tauhid, the hajj is a symbol and means
that creates and perpetuates a sense of global Islamic solidarity through religious ritual. If one
day the fields of science and economics develop, the emotional solidarity will grow into a
collaborative civilization so that the Islamic world would again extends its great contribution to
the world as used to be during the medieval times. Isn't that the wheel of the nation's glory
spinning? The Qur’an says: the life of the nation always has ups and downs, and the glory
periods take place between them (Ali Imran, 3: 140). Thank you and have a nice journey to the
dynamic Islamic world.
Prof. Dr. Komaruddin Hidayat
Rector of the Indonesian International Islamic University