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Islamic nationhood and colonial Indonesia: The umma below the winds.

Islamic nationhood and colonial Indonesia: The umma below the winds. By MICHAEL FRANCIS LAFFAN. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. Pp. Xvi, 294. Plates, Notes, Bibliography, Index. doi: 10.1017/S0022463405220180

This work represents the author's revised doctoral dissertation, taken at the University of Sydney. It evaluates the place of Islam in early Indonesian nationalism, and challenges certain dogmas, especially those which ignore or downplay the role of Islam and 'transmission of Islamic ideas of nationhood' (p. 6). Michael Laffan initially addresses the Islamisation of Southeast Asia, leading up to the period in focus: the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He observes that 'in the mid-nineteenth century, there was no clear Jawi [an Arabic term for people from the Malay world] nation but rather an ecumene joined by a common faith and its scholarly networks' (p. 27). He then introduces the Arab world, the other region in focus, by considering the role of the Hajj in reinforcing 'Islamic and Jawi fellowship' (p. 33). Dutch reactions to the Hajj from Indonesia evolved from initial complacency to clear concern, in the context of the evolving quagmire in Aceh after 1870 and increasing Dutch perceptions of Islam as a threat to their rule. For the remainder of the study, the author moves back and forth between the Arab world and Islamic Southeast Asia.

Laffan traces an evolving society in Indonesia under Dutch colonial control. Attention is devoted to the 'collaborating' class among the Indonesian population and Dutch attempts to co-opt Islam. Key figures are considered, including K. F. Holle, a less-known Dutch specialist on Islam, as well as leading Indonesian 'informants' such as Hasan Moestapa. There are also important perspectives on Said Oesman and the Hadramis. The author also considers the important role played by periodicals in stimulating the emerging sense of national and Islamic identity in Indonesia. These include Bintang Hindia, Wazir Indie (the first paper in the Netherlands East Indies to be published in Jawi [Malay written in Arabic script]), al-Imam, al-Munir (the journal of the religious Kaum Muda movement in Sumatra), and Al-Islam (the periodical of Sarekat Islam).

In considering the Arab world context, Laffan initially addresses the Meccan scene, casting the spotlight on Jawi travellers and students as well as the Dutch presence. He places particular focus on C. Snouck Hurgronje in both his years at the Dutch Consulate in Jeddah and his time in Mecca, emphasizing how seminal his record of that city was for later Dutch thinking. Attention falls on the changing nature of Mecca, with the transition from Nawawi al-Bantini to Ahmad Khatib al-Minankabawi as leader of the Jawi community there. Laffan argues that the latter was more radical in terms of anti-colonial views than the former. He then challenges 'the assumption that Mecca and Cairo offered a similar experience to the Jawa set in natural opposition to the educational modes of the West' (p. 114). In focusing on Cairo, Laffan discusses the Afghani-Abduh-Rida triumvirate, the periodical al-'Urwa al-Wuthqa and the broader context of reformism in Cairo. With the increasingly dynamic scene in Cairo, Laffan suggests that the Meccan-based Ahmad Khatib proposed the Egyptian city to some of his students.

In the concluding chapters, Laffan maps the process of evolution of an indigenous and Islamic Indonesia. He considers the role of Hadji Agoes Salim, identifying his time in the Hijaz as 'the source of Salim's apparent volte-face from emancipated Indier to committed Muslim' (p. 185). He also discusses the Hadrami awakening and its impact on Indies identity. The author also addresses the Turkish abolition of the Caliphate under Attaturk in 1924. That year was doubly significant, with the Wahhabi Sa'udi forces seizing power in Mecca. This event led to an exodus of many Sufi-inclined Jawi from Mecca, as well as some Kaum Muda who became disenchanted with the Wahhabism of the Sa'udis.

The shift of focus from Mecca to Cairo for Southeast Asians was complete. Laffan observes that 'Cairo, with its flowering student community and well established links to the communities of Sumatra and the Malay world, was able to take advantage of the chaos in the Hijaz to shore up its position as the pre-eminent place of study for (Kaum Muda) Indonesians.' The author has thus 'charted the shift from a nineteenth-century (Meccan) discourse of ecumenism to a twentieth-century (Cairene) model of nationhood' (p. 233).

There are multiple angles of originality in this study. Laffan consults a wide scholarly base, including many previously untouched materials. He subjects previous scholarship to critical scrutiny, at times exposing certain scholarly myths and inaccuracies, such as what he sees as a conventional view of a linear development of nationalist sentiment and movements in the Netherlands East Indies. Laffan is quite critical, and rightly so, of studies which ignore Indonesia's place in, and contribution to, the wider Islamic world. The work includes a valuable critical study of Snouck Hurgronje's time in the Arabian Peninsula, providing a crucial window into the context and mind of Snouck, who exerted such an influence on later Netherlands East Indies policy. There are important perspectives on the role of Japan as a model for Southeast Asian Islamic nationalism. There are also valuable insights into the specialised periodicals published by different Islamic groups in both Egypt and Southeast Asia.

Laffan shows himself to be equally comfortable using Arabic-, Indonesian- and Dutch-language sources. The impressive scholarship is enhanced by the inclusion of photos and manuscript facsimiles taken from the book's source materials. This is a work which should be an integral part of university courses dealing with the history of both Islam and nationalism in Southeast Asia.


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Author:Riddell, Peter G.
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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