Chinese dakwah and the Paradoxes of Indonesian Religious Pluralism
Wai Weng Hew
By discussing Chinese Muslim dakwah (proselytisation) activities, as well as examining how Chinese Muslims engage with broader Islamic practices, gain support from various Muslim organisations and interact with various Muslim individuals, this paper examines the possibilities, limitations, and challenges of religious pluralism in Indonesia today. Generally speaking, Chinese Muslims’ dakwah activities reflect the broader trend of religious discourses among Indonesian Muslims—a support for inclusivity and diversity, yet at the same time, an increasing “conservative turn;” and the notion of diversity has been redefined according to a rigid interpretation of Islamic teachings. I propose to understand such dynamics as forms of conservative inclusivity and hierarchical diversity. The challenge of religious pluralism in Indonesia today is less about the rejection of diversity among conservative Muslims, but more about the appropriation of the meaning of diversity and the scale of inclusivity.
At present, a great deal of the scholarly research on Indonesia focuses on the processes of Islamisation. This paper will discuss a phenomenon that seems to point in a different direction, namely the contemporary reconfiguration of dukun/spiritual experts called paranormal. These mystics indicate a peculiar form of pluralism. They are an assemblage of tradition and modernity, locality and translocality, religion and mysticism, spirituality and business, and global esotericism and popular psychology. Most of them belong to the urban middle class, are highly professional, and make extensive use of modern mass media to advertise their supernatural skills. Yet, how do they position themselves in Indonesian and global cultural contexts? This paper identifies the ongoing ambivalence between cosmopolitan ideas and their rupture in polarising, orientalist, and occidentalist imaginaries. Finally, a new understanding of cosmopolitanism is suggested that expands the reference beyond the world of humans by also including a plurality of supernatural powers.
The essentialist critique of liberal multiculturalism highlights the fact that the latter is inadvertently wedded to a collective cultural identity politics, which has encouraged the reification and rigidification of group identities. Foregrounding difference and preservationist attitudes, such identity politics tend to neglect the development of bridging social capital, and to undermine the emancipatory potential of liberal multicultural societies. In this article, I first seek to substantiate how pluralism in post-Suharto Indonesia has been articulated as liberal multiculturalism through increasing legal accommodation of certain ethnic, as well as conservative Muslim norms and institutions. Analysing how ethnic and religious identities have become more and more rigidly defined in the process, I then gauge the prospects of pluralism in the light of Rainer Forst’s four conceptions of tolerance.