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Home arrow Religion arrow Islam and the making of the nation: Kartosuwiryo and Political Islam in 20th Century Indonesia

Planting the seeds Java, the nationalist movement and Kartosuwiryo in the 1920s

In 1918 Kartosuwiryo was a dear friend. We worked side by side with Tjokro [amino to] for our country. In the ‘20s in Bandung we lived, ate, and dreamed together. However as I [Soekarno] progressed on nationalistic principles, he worked solely along Islamic principles.[1]

From desa to kota: a nationalist leader in the making

Colonial perspectives

The beginning of the twentieth century was marked by deep changes in the social structure and political configuration of colonial Indonesia. The emergence of a new administrative local elite, the increase in urbanization, the formation of workers’ unions and the reforms in the religious sphere all contributed to the rise of what Takashi Shiraishi has defined as the pergerakan, or ‘movement’, of the indigenous population towards achieving social, cultural, economic and political advancement.

Sekarmaji Marjan Kartosuwiryo was born in 1905 in Cepu, a small town between East and Central Java. Kartosuwiryo’s family belonged to what in the early twentieth century was called the ‘low- priyayi’ class, a status earned through employment in the colonial administration rather than through aristocratic birth. His father was an opium trade supervisor. Kartosuwiryo, educated in the Dutch system from primary school to the tertiary level, is representative of a new social group in the Indies that emerged from the government-promoted ‘Ethical Policy’.

During the 1800s, the Dutch colonial administration had maintained a system of indirect rule, in which ‘Europeans’ and

‘Natives’ were separated. However, after a hundred years of domination, the central government in The Hague had called for a new approach, what they called ‘Ethical Policy’. Aimed at uplifting the indigenous population, the Ethical Policy promoted education, tackled irrigation challenges and encouraged migration to relieve over-populated areas of the archipelago. A major outcome of the expansion of Western-style schooling promoted by the Ethical Policy was the dissemination of European history, politics, culture and values among local elites. Dutch advocates of this policy promoted the pursuit of higher education in the Netherlands (especially in Amsterdam and Leiden), further exposing this new generation of indigenous intelligentsia to ideas about self-determination, nationalism, workers’ rights and student organizations.[2] The anti-colonial nationalist awakening which in the mid-twentieth century would eradicate colonial domination had emerged from within this circle of Western-educated elites. Nonetheless, Western ideals were not solely responsible for motivating these anti-colonial efforts.

While some sectors of the population in the Netherlands inveighed against the capitalist system and other Europeans engaged in anti-imperialist debates, Muslims in Mecca and Cairo discussed the issue of independence from ‘infidel’ colonial rule and the possibility of establishing a transnational Islamic state. The debates in Europe were considered innocuous by colonial governments, who saw these as a source of intellectual enrichment for indigenous populations.[3] Yet at the same time, the pilgrimage to Mecca and the spread of pan- Islamism were perceived by the authorities as threats, fostering fears of a pan-Islamic anti-colonial movement. This resulted from the fact thatJava and Sumatra were integral part of trans-oceanic networks of Islamic authority, education and political activism.

Advances in seafaring greatly increased the numbers of Jawi visiting the holy places of Islam. Jawi, the collective name used in the Middle East to describe Southeast Asian Muslims, had been undertaking the journey to the Arabian Peninsula for centuries, and by the late 1800s Jawi constituted the largest group of pilgrims.[4] It was a long-established tradition that pilgrims would extend their stay in the region to meet other Muslims who came from different corners of the world, to exchange experiences and opinions, and to share their knowledge about religious matters. For centuries Mecca had been the destination par excellence for religious studies when, at the turn of the twentieth century, Cairo made its appearance on the map of Islamic learning. At this time, Muhammad ‘Abduh (18491905) and Rashid Rida (1865-1935) developed an innovative discourse engaging both religion and modernity, which would soon be described as ‘Islamic reformism,’ attracting increasing numbers of students to al-Azhar University.

Though at the end of the 1800s approximately 5,000 Jawi were based in Mecca,[5] Egypt’s appeal was slowly increasing. In 1912 there were only twelve Jawi in Cairo,[6] in 1919 there were roughly fifty or sixty Indonesians, and by 1925 more than two hundred Southeast Asian students were living in the Egyptian capital.[7]

Although it is at the juncture of Western education and Islamic networks that we find most leaders of the religious nationalist movement in the Indies, including Tjokroaminoto (1882-1934), Muhammad Natsir (1908-1993), Ahmad Hassan (1888-1958), Hadji Agoes Salim (1884-1954), and several others who received both secular and religious education,[8] Kartosuwiryo was a product of the Indies’ Dutch schooling and society. When in the late 1920s he expressed concerns about the weakness of the Indies’ independence movement, Kartosuwiryo pointed to the negative effects of Dutch educa?tion on the Indonesian youth: it alienated them from their original social and cultural contexts.

Kartosuwiryo compared the indigenous elite to ‘a locomotive pulling the carts from far ahead’, as the leaders had been separated from society and were unable to act ‘for the people’ and to ‘mix with them’.[9] It is from this perspective that we should consider Kartosuwiryo’s choice to write in Malay and to give his speeches in local dialects, even though at times it entailed the employment of a translator, as in October 1929. But as soon as June 1930 Kartosuwiryo delivered his first speech in Sundanese. Thirty years later, Van Niel and Benda would suggest a similar idea, commenting that these elites acted as an ‘isolated social group’,[10] a group of intellectuals removed from indigenous society and only representing their own interests and aspirations.[11]

In 1911 Kartosuwiryo entered the Tweede Klasse Inlandsche School (Second-Class Native School), and after four years there he was admitted to the Hollandsch-Inlandsche School (Dutch Native School). This kind of institution had existed since 1914 for the children of natives employed within the colonial administration. Classes were taught in both Malay and Dutch, and attendance gave its pupils access to Dutch secondary schools. After following his father to Bojonegoro, in 1919 Kartosuwiryo enrolled at the Europ- eesche Lagere School (European Elementary School). Attending this school was considered a high privilege, as here European and high-status native pupils sat in the same classes.[12]

Thanks to this curriculum, at eighteen Kartosuwiryo succeeded in being admitted to the Surabaya Medical School, the Nederland- sch-Indische Artsen School (NIAS), commonly known as Sekolah Dokter Jawa.[13] There is no information available about this period of Kartosuwiryo’s life. What is known is that he attended the medical school until 1927, when he was expelled under uncertain circumstances, possibly for his involvement with communism. This was not the only time Kartosuwiryo would be linked to communism, as various accusations were made throughout the 1940s-1960s. However, these charges seem unfounded and largely aimed at discrediting his commitment to creating a social and political order that conformed with Islamic values.[14]

Reflecting the complexities of Islamic belief in Java, Kartosu- wiryo’s religiosity has been depicted in many, often contrasting, ways. He has been perceived both as a ‘fundamentalist’, because of his commitment to Islamic politics, and as a Sufi, because of his propensity towards mysticism and popular beliefs. Others have argued that Kar- tosuwiryo used religion as nothing more than a thin veil masking his ambition for political power. If on the one hand Islam emerges in the sources as the core of his political ideology and as his main strategy to achieve independence and establish a post-colonial state, on the other hand Kartosuwiryo’s individual religious experience can only be understood through such contested representations. These representations are addressed later in this chapter to further illustrate his leadership patterns, and then again in the last chapter of this book.

  • [1] Cindy Adams, Soekarno: An autobiography (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), p. 272. Thedate mentioned by Soekarno might be wrong.
  • [2] R. van Niel, The emergence of the modern Indonesian elite (The Hague: Van Hoeve, 1960), Chapter 2. This is still the most exhaustive treatment of the Ethical Policy and the formation of anindigenous intelligentsia in the early twentieth century. Specifically on Ethici and Islam, see Laf-fan, Islamic nationhood.
  • [3] Van Niel, The emergence, p. 57.
  • [4] R. Michael Feener, ‘New networks and new knowledge: Migrations, communications, andthe refiguration of the Muslim community in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries’, inRobert Hefner (ed.), The new Cambridge history of Islam, vol. 6 (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 63.
  • [5] Zamakhsyari Dhofier, ‘The in telle ctualisation of Islamic Studies in Indonesia’, IndonesiaCircle 58 (1992): p. 21.
  • [6] Michael F. Laffan, ‘An Indonesian community in Cairo: Continuity and change in a cosmopolitan Islamic milieu’, Indonesia 77 (April 2004): p. 7.
  • [7] William R. Roff, ‘Indonesian and Malay students in Cairo in the 1920s’, Indonesia 9 (April1970): p. 74. On the impact of al-Azhar Islamic reformist movement on Indonesia see Azyu-mardi Azra, The origins of Islamic reformism in Southeast Asia (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai‘iPress, 2004). M.C. Ricklefs’s Polarizing Javanese society: Islamic and other visions (c. 1830-1930) (Singapore: NUS, 2007), pp. 57-60, offers a valid overview of the dynamics and data related to thehajj, whilst the formation of a self-conscious religious intelligentsia in Java and Sumatra resultingfrom this network has been thoroughly examined in Laffan’s Islamic nationhood.
  • [8] Tjokroaminoto, Muhammad Natsir, Ahmad Hassan and Hadji Agoes Salim are all furtherdiscussed at various stages in this book. It is important to keep in mind that they all had key rolesin shaping Islamic views in Indonesia in the 1920s-1960s, and substantially interacted with Karto-suwiryo. Tjokroaminoto and Salim were Kartosuwiryo’s teachers within Sarekat Islam, whilst hecame in contact with Natsir and Hassan through Persatuan Islam (Persis) in Bandung. As Persisgathered most of the religious-oriented nationalist intelligentsia in Bandung, Ahmad Hassansoon became a close friend and peer of Kartosuwiryo. Natsir, who was already a member of theJong Islamieten Bond (JIB) in Sumatra, moved to Bandung and joined the local youth branchbefore entering the more active Persis. In more recent years, Natsir has admitted that it hadbeen Kartosuwiryo who had introduced him to the ‘Negara Islam’ and ‘Darul Islam’ terminology in the 1930s (in ‘Mereka yang dikecewakan’, Panji Masyarakat, 24 November 1997, p. 20.)
  • [9] Kartosuwiryo, ‘Politiek djadjahan dan igama IV’, Fadjar Asia, 14 June 1928. All translationsfrom Indonesian and Dutch languages are my own.
  • [10] Van Niel in Harry Jindrich Benda, ‘Non-Western intelligentsias as political elites’, The Australian Journal of Politics and History 6 (1960): p. 96.
  • [11] Benda, ‘Non-Western intelligentsias’: p. 97.
  • [12] For more details on Western-style education in Java and Madura, including statistics, seeShiraishi, An age in motion, pp. 28-9.
  • [13] Pinardi, Sekarmadji Maridjan Kartosuwirjo (Jakarta: Badan Penerbit Aryaguna, 1964),pp. 20-1, 35. The data on Kartosuwiryo’s life until 1923 are based on Pinardi’s book, as no othersource is available.
  • [14] This point is further discussed in Chapter 6. Pinardi mentions that whilst attending NIAS,Kartosuwiryo was boarding with his uncle Marco Kartodikromo, and claims that it was Marcowho initiated Kartosuwiryo to politics, thus leading to his expulsion from NIAS in 1927 (Pinardi,Sekarmadji Maridjan, p. 21). Marco was an early member of the reformist movement, who soonshifted from pan-Islamism to communism. He had entered the Semarang Sarekat Islam branchwith Semaoen in 1917 and had steadily gained authority in ‘red’ SI circles to the point thatin 1924 he was nominated chairman of the Surakarta PKI and ‘red’ SI branches. It must bementioned, though, that between 1923 and 1927 - the years that Kartosuwiryo spent in Surabaya - Marco was first based in Surakarta; then, after the 1926 communist revolts, he was exiledto the Boven Digoel prison, from which he never returned (Shiraishi, An age in motion, pp. 81,299). This timeline indicates that Kartosuwiryo could have not possibly been living with Marco.
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