Book Review: Lukens-Bull, Ronald 2005. A Peaceful Jihad. Negotiating Identity and Modernity in Muslim Java

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The Islam of Indonesia, the subject of this study is Java, is a colorful mixture of religions, ethnic groups and various interests. The anthropological study, written by an outsider (etic perspective), describes the life of an Islâmic-run boarding school (Indonesian pesantren) called Al-Hikam. The students of the pesantren study at colleges or in secular subjects at outside institutions and live in the boarding school according to traditional Indonesian-Islamic understanding. In this pesantren religious education is given by the dean and his closest confidants themselves. In addition, students can enroll in Arabic, English or some other subjects at the boarding school. The dean is considered a blessing giver and religious role model.

The study is captivating in its ethnographic studies of individual subjects. The reader is transported into the environment of an Islamic boarding school, to which a Westerner has only limited access. Not only the pesantren, but also the facilities associated with it are described. These include cemeteries, pilgrimage sites (Tebu Ireng, pp. 28-29), recreational facilities and religious centers. The historical review provides insight into the founding period (19th century) and the development of the boarding school.

The author is essentially concerned with the confrontation of Islam with modernity and postmodernity. Education is seen as the essential element of change and renewal of Islamic life. The demand for interreligious, intercultural and multilingual education within the framework of Islam is representative of the changes addressed (chs. 3-4). Influences on pesantren come from outside and within. Richer Islamic states (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Iran) want to influence the education offered and the running of the boarding school through financial support. The boarding school management emphasizes that the simultaneous teaching of Arabic and English combines traditional with modern life. Students learn theological-Islamic basics on the Arabic Qur’an and modern world views in parallel. One also opens up in the religious field by studying, for example, Christianity and Asian religions through their scriptures (Bi-bel, Vedas, Baghadvitta).

In a further step the author examines diverse guidance models of the pesantren (chapter 5). He compares democratic and dictatorial models, which can also be found in political parties, public institutions and semi-governmental organizations. The leadership and social structure in the pesantren is characterized by the veneration of individuals, strict moral standards, and a simple lifestyle. In the process, cultural values are addressed that benefit the propagation and internal reinforcement (jihad) of Islam (Ch 6).

This ethnographic work gives anthropologists and missiologists a good insight into the Islamic world of Indonesia. Specifically, it enlightens about Islamic educational institutions and their governance structures.

Indonesia ; pesantren ; Islamic school ; religious education ; Islam ; interreligious ; jihad