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Shaping Shiʿa Identities in Contemporary Indonesia between Local Tradition and Foreign Orthodoxy

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This article reflects on the impact of transnational flows of students, pilgrims, and literature from Iran to Indonesia on the shaping of Shiʿa Islam in Indonesia since 1979, with a focus on the post-Suharto era (1998–2012) and the performance of ʿ Āshūrāʾ commemorative rituals. Since the early days of its Islamization, Southeast Asia has featured several literary and ritual practices rooted in a combination of Islamic and local traditions; most notable are those expressing patterns of pre-sectarian devotion towards the ahl al-bayt – drawing a parallel with Marshall Hodgson’s framework of ʿAlid piety (1955). Based on ethnographic and archival research, the author suggests that in the decades following the Iranian revolution some of these practices were abandoned in favour of a paradigm of devotion promoted by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The polarization of practices, and the relationship between organizations representative of these two approaches, is illustrated through an analysis of the performative means used to represent the tragedy of Karbala during ʿĀshūrāʾ events in Bandung, Bengkulu (West Sumatra), and Jakarta in 2011. In Bandung the play “Tragedi Karbala” was performed by a Sundanese theatrical group staging a local text; in Bengkulu the traditional Festival Tabot took place following a pattern determined by the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture in the early 1970s but now under the sponsorship of the Iranian Embassy; the  Jakarta event featured a taʿziya troupe brought from Iran by the Embassy’s cultural office.

Affiliations: 1: Ithaca, NY


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