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Open Access Dakwah, competition for authority, and development

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Dakwah, competition for authority, and development

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Da`wah – usually spelt dakwah in Indonesian – has been an important aspect of Islam from its very birth. Since the late nineteenth century, however, as a result of political and social transformations it has taken new forms. In one form or others, da`wah has been practised by a large variety of Islamic movements and organizations. Although complementary to each other in certain cases, in others their relations have rather been characterized by competition for authority and power, not only between various da`wah organizations, but also, through these organizations, between regimes, categories of religious and social leaders, and social categories of Muslims. For this reason, da`wah has had important dimensions beyond the domain of religion proper. Moreover, da`wah has been connected to political and social causes such as the struggle against communism and Christianity – sometimes emulating them in certain respects – and community development. Quite a few da`wah initiatives, state-sponsored or non-governmental, have taken transnational scopes.Indonesian dakwah has shared most of the above features. This article, analyzing dakwah in Indonesia, confirms their existence and adds to their understanding. It substantiates theories on the objectification of Islam in modern societies: the spread of mass education has led to the fragmentation of religious understanding, which has stimulated a fierce competition for religious authority and the control of religious institutions and organizations. Just as in many other Muslim-majority countries, in Indonesia the state has played a prominent role in the development of mass education, the ensuing competition for religious authority, as well as the functionalization of religion. As was the case elsewhere, in Indonesia dakwah has had important dimensions beyond the religious domain.On the other hand, Indonesian dakwah has shown a number of particularities. In order to illustrate the combination of similarities with da`wah as it developed elsewhere and Indonesian particularities, the article pays particular attention to dakwah pembangunan – development da`wah – of the New Order period. It concludes that, although both the functionalization of Islam for the benefit of economic development and state involvement in religious beliefs and practices have been known in other countries, dakwah pembangunan was a unique, Indonesian phenomenon.

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