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Mitsuo Nakamura: The Crescent Arises over the Banyan Tree. A Study of the Muhammadiyah Movement in a Central Javanese Town c. 1910s-2010.

Mitsuo Nakamura:

The Crescent Arises over the Banyan Tree. A Study of the Muhammadiyah Movement in a Central Javanese Town c. 1910s-2010. [Second enlarged Edition]. Singapore: ISEAS, 2012, 428 pp. ISBN 9789814311915. Price: USD 52.90 (paperback).

From 1970-1972 Nakamura carried out his first field research in Kotagede near Yogyakarta. His 1976 dissertation (at Cornell University) on the Muhammadiyah in this historical town was published in 1983 after a process of renewed contacts. Since then he has continued work on this topic with two longer periods from December 2007 until February 2008 and once more in July and August 2010. In this way he has been able to sketch the development of a local branch of the large Muslim movement for more than four decades from personal observation. This book is a reprint of the book of 1983 together with a new second part of nearly equal length (pp. 215-380), covering the period since 1972. The first part was reviewed in this journal by Werner Kraus (1987), who like Nakamura saw relative continuity in Indonesian Islam. Kraus bluntly stated that 'The notion that the rise of modernism introduced a clear-cut and radical break in twentieth century Islam is today untenable' (Kraus 1987: 388). He finds support for this idea in Nakamura, who wrote in the 1983 edition of his work: 'I realize now (1981) that the characterization of traditional Islam in general and pesantren and tarekat in particular is somewhat biased in favour of their modern critics' (Nakamura 1983: 57).

This new text by Nakamura sheds more light on his earlier research. He explains the choice for Kotagede in more detail. Clifford Geertz had in the 1950s studied the town of Pare, a young town in East Java, founded by planters of sugar and tobacco in the late nineteenth century. Nakamura opted for a historical town with its graves of the families of the rulers of Central Java since Senopati (ca. 1600). The plan to add research about nearby but much more recent Klaten could not be realised. The formal goal in this research was the study of urban modernization through its social history and general historiography. The emphasis on Muhammadiyah came only after David Penny, from Australian National University, during a visit in Cornell had said that Nakamura had 'sufficient data to write up ten dissertations' (p. 373) but should make a choice for one only. Through many anecdotes like this we are able to follow not only the development of Kotagede but also of this extended research project.

Nakamura had concluded his first research period with quite jubilant judgments about Muhammadiyah. Already in 1991 he was criticized by Professor Khoiruddin Bashori, a Kotagedean and Muhammadiyah leader himself, for 'excessive optimism' (p. 294). In 1980 Nakamura had stated: 'Since Muhammadiyah has been capable of formulating and implementing a series of social reforms on the basis of Islamic teachings concretely, steadily and continuously over generations, it is likely that it will meet successfully the challenge of novel conditions at present and in the future.' But from the mid 1970s onwards the two most important pillars of the social activism of Muhammadiyah had crumbled. In the field of education the government program of Sekolah Inpres had taken the lead, while in health care the Puskesmas or public clinics had superseded the facilities of the Muslim organization. The loss of social importance in education and health care could not be compensated by NGOs and other activities fighting against poverty. In the field of education after 1998 another powerful challenge came from Islamic schools opened by the Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (Prosperous Justice Party, PKS) activists as 'full Islamic schools' or Islam Terpadu (IT). From 1970-2010 mosques increased from two (one traditional for the grave of Senopati, one built by Muhammadiyah in the late 1930s) to fifty-one under management of the Muhammadiyah. But in politics the result was very meagre: after 1970 the Masyumi could not be restored and the Parmusi was banned by the Soeharto government. After the fall of Soeharto in 1998 the Muhammadiyah inspired Partai Amanat Nasional (National Mandate Party, PAN) was moderately successful, but the Salafi party PKS proved to be a great challenge for the organization. Nakamura has a severe discipline of restriction to local initiatives and developments. The national debate, resulting in 2009 in the book Ilusi Negera Islam (an attack on the dream of an Islamic State, published under the names of NU leader Abdurrahman Wahid and Muhammadiyah's Syafii Ma'arif) is neglected here, but its major theme, the 'parasitic and subversive activities of the PKS cadres', (p. 366) and similar movements is also represented here with the rather unexpected harsh qualifications used in this heated discussion. A quite peculiar chapter is about the cultural Festival Kotagede, held in 1999, 2000, and 2002. Muhammadiyah was not involved as an organization but a good number of young members were active, while older leaders regretted that the good old time of rejecting TBC (Takhayyul, bid'ah, and churafat for 'superstition, heresy, and inventions', p. 346) was definitely past, because the younger Muhammadiyah generation enjoyed the kethoprak and wayang theatre and did no longer associate keroncong music with Communism (p. 334). Muhammadiyah leaders themselves used words like stagnation and resented that their 'monopoly was gone' (p. 365). In the period up to 1970 membership was dominated by successful traders in the batik and the silver industry. The members in this later period were mostly lower class. This was even the case also for the candidates for local leadership, as a conclusion of one of the precious biographies given in this detailed book (p. 290). Those who had received a higher education now often worked in the civil administration, quite often also in the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Religions. Glorious new activities began in the field of academic institutions like the Muhammadiyah University, but this was located in nearby Yogyakarta and so is not a major interest for this study on Kotagede. Merle Ricklefs wrote in the foreword for this edition that 'Nakamura's work lacked the rhetorical flourishes and institutional fire-power of Geertz's, but it was at least as important as--some would say more important than--Geertz's as a study of social realities in much of Java.' (p. xxi) Indeed, Nakamura does not have the sweeping and generalizing theories on abangan, santri, priyayi of Geertz, but his unique and persevering research has resulted in a balanced picture of changes in Indonesian Islam in an important location, from a diverse community towards a new but still disparate one.

DOI: 10.1163/22134379-17102016

Karel Steenbrink

Utrecht University


Kraus, Werner (1987). 'Review of Mitsuo Nakamura, The Crescent Arises over the Banyan Tree. A Study of the Muhammadiyah Movement in a Central Javanese Town. Yogyakarta: Gadjah Mada University Press, 1983', BKI 143:2, 387-8.

Nakamura, Mitsuo (1983). The Crescent Arises over the Banyan Tree. Yogyakarta: Gadjah Mada University Press.
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Author:Steenbrink, Karel
Publication:Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia and Oceania
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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