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Kartosuwiryo’s ‘holy war’

In Kartosuwiryo’s writings, the Arabic root j.h.d. assumed several meanings. He strongly opposed Western understandings of jihad as ‘war’, and thus of Islam as a religion only spread by warfare. In his 1936 Sikap hidjrah, Kartosuwiryo recorded all Qur’anic verses that referred to jihad, explaining each specific asbab al-nuzul (context of revelation) and the term’s multiplicity of meanings. Kartosuwiryo focused on the difference between the lesser and greater jihad, arguing for their respective ‘negative’ and ‘positive, constructive’ natures. In this context, Sarekat Islam’s Program djihad was to be understood as a ‘Program for the greater jihad’, an effort based on iman and aimed at a successful hijrah by pursuing, searching and obtaining God’s mercy and blessing (mengharap, mencari, mendapatkan Rahmat dan Ridhlo). This strategy was divided between the individual duty for each Muslim to study tauhid and the community’s efforts, channelled through the party, to achieve political, economic and social improvement. The early spirit of Sarekat Islam was recalled as the basis of this twofold focus:

Since its birth, Partai Sarekat Islam Indonesia (from its origins as Sarekat Dagang Islam to Sarekat Islam until today), has strived to improve the lives and livelihood of the people [...] because a political movement, especially an Islamic political movement, has to take care of, and regulate, economics [...] as these two matters [Islam and economics] must become one.[1]

A decade later, in Haloean politik Islam, the jihad al-asghar is identified with the national revolution, and it is a fard al-‘ayn. Here Kar- tosuwiryo is ambiguous on the means for undertaking this jihad. The effort is referred to once as jihad fisabilillah bi ma’na al qital wa al-ghazwa (‘struggle on the way of God in terms of fighting and raiding’); another time both armed conflict and diplomacy are listed as valid means for achieving independence. Yet, by September 1947 Kartosuwiryo had dramatically reduced jihad’s much wider semantic field, only retaining its ‘warfare’ meaning.

Kartosuwiryo’s narrowing of the meaning of the term jihad through his writings, from Sikap hidjrah to Haloean politik Islam and Perang sabil, was prompted by the changing context in West Java. As first mentioned in Haloean politik Islam, armed jihad in response to an attack on the ummah was the only way to establish a fully independent darul Islam or Negara Islam Indonesia that implemented hukum Islam. The Dutch aggression provided the needed political expedient.

  • [1] Kartosuwiryo, Sikap hidjrah PSII.
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