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Becoming Indonesians: The Bā 'Alawī in the Interstices of the Nation

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This paper examines the Bā' Alawī—a group of Hadramī diaspora acknowledged as the descendants of Prophet Muhammad—in post-colonial Indonesia. In particular, it observes the Bā 'Alawī scholars' creative adaptation and manipulation of their Sufi path, tarīqa 'alawiyya, in their attempt to secure their place within the wider imagination of Indonesian nationhood while protecting their distinctive genealogical eminence. In the twentieth century the tarīqa, which had long functioned to secure their identity, differentiate them from others and nurture their diasporic consciousness, proved incompatible with the assimilationist discourse of the nation. Further challenges came from Islamic reformism, preaching egalitarianism increasingly defined public articulation of Islam, confronting the Bā 'Alawī's notion of Islamic authority. The Bā 'Alawī scholars adapted by reshaping of the tarīqa rituals, shifting emphasis on Prophetic piety, expanding the Bā 'Alawī textual community to include local scholars, and the projecting of a new form of Prophetic authority in a framework of hadīth studies. Such shifts were sustained by the construction of a new Bā 'Alawī center in Kwitang, Jakarta, and the cultivation of scholarly networks connecting the Bā 'Alawī and local kyais (Indonesian Islamic scholars). More specifically, this paper observes the career of three Bā 'Alawī scholars and their efforts to reconfigure the discursive practice of the tarīqa in the early decades of the Indonesian republic. By presenting practices recognizable to the dominant modes of Islamic reformism in the country, the Bā 'Alawī succeeded in maintaining their visibility in Sukarno's Indonesia.

Affiliations: 1: Ann Arbor, MI


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