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


From 1962 onwards, the Indonesian government and military apparatus worked hard to erase the memory of Kartosuwiryo as a nationalist politician as well as a religiously inspired leader, instead promoting a single image of him as a separatist rebel whose actions were directly aimed at fragmenting the unitary republican state. However, since the end of the New Order regime in 1998, we have witnessed a proliferation in alternative visions of this ‘enemy of the state’, now often portrayed as a martyr.

I have suggested that the transformation of the portrayal of the Darul Islam and Kartosuwiryo - from enemy of the nation, to absentee, to dedicated Muslim - should be read as mirroring the transformations in public attitudes towards Islam. As noted above, the government’s sterilization of Kartosuwiryo was heralded by the obliteration of his religious dimension (of both his character and his movement’s rebellion) and his gradual disappearance from public discourse in the 1970s-80s. Yet in the long-term, this approach of the New Order created an empty space, ready to be filled once the state and its tight-fisted control of public narratives had been weakened.

Suharto’s attempts to invert the decades-old outright condemnation of the Darul Islam had not gone far enough: public discourse was still saturated with negative depictions of the struggle when the relaxation of restrictions on the press, the increasing reach of the Internet and the growing use of blogs allowed the proliferation of alternative visions of history in the post-reformasi era. These developments ultimately resulted in the emergence and rapid spread of hagiographical depictions of Kartosuwiryo’s life.

This literature ought to be seen as one aspect of a more general process of the re-Islamization of the public sphere that has been taking place since 1999, and is deeply embedded in the political agendas of groups interested in a religious revival. In fact, the authors who have been involved in rehabilitating Kartosuwiryo’s memory are often the same actors who have been active in the effort to implement sharia law and to resurrect visions of an Islamic state. As the name of Kartosuwiryo has gradually disappeared from government-sponsored materials - he is barely mentioned in Indonesian text books, for example - these positive depictions of his life and legacy have contributed to creating an aura of respect and admiration for him, which in turn has led to the creation of a new role model, a hero and martyr for Islam.

The first author who has looked at Kartosuwiryo from this new perspective is Al Chaidar, a former member of the new Darul Islam movement in Jakarta and supporter of the Islamic state project, who graduated from Universitas Indonesia (Depok, Jakarta) in 1996 having written a thesis on the Islamic state ideology in Southeast Asia. Al Chaidar has produced several titles on the theory of the Islamic state and Kartosuwiryo’s experiment. Yet he has not taken the opportunity to offer a critical assessment of Kartosuwiryo’s ideology and actions, limiting his scope instead to describing events in a supportive and apologetic tone.[1]

Another productive author has been Irfan Awwas, the secretary of the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI, Indonesian Coun?cil of Mujahidin). He was also the editor-in-chief of Arrisalah, until the magazine was shut down and Awwas sentenced to nine years in prison for activities associated with the NII movement.[2] Among others, Awwas has written on the figure of Kartosuwiryo in 1999 and on the Islamic state ideology in 2007; another book, published the following year, compares Kartosuwiryo, Daud Beu- reueh and Kahar Mudzakkar as NII leaders.[3] Many periodicals have also engaged this newer perspective on Kartosuwiryo’s legacy. One example is a magazine titled Majalla Darul Islam, edited by Al Chaidar, which is specifically dedicated to issues related to the establishment of an Islamic state of Indonesia and the spread of Kartosuwiryo’s writings and ideology. Sabili, edited by Herry Nurdi, similarly dedicates itself to spreading Kartosuwiryo’s writings and incorporates numerous contributions from both Awwas and Chaidar.[4]

As is clear from the books’ titles and the authors’s backgrounds, these publications fed into the propaganda for an Islamic state and did not criticize any aspect of Kartosuwiryo’s struggle. Both Chaidar and Awwas, despite holding the benefit of privileged information and networks, failed to provide a complete assessment of Kartosuwiryo’s leadership and character. Blinded by their personal beliefs, they avoided acknowledging the violent aspects of the Darul Islam’s operations, univocally blaming all actions of terror on infiltrated army soldiers or communist militias.

Kartosuwiryo emerges as the patron of the Islamic state, a man who gave his life for its ideals and their realization and who fell victim to secular forces. In representing him as such, though, Kar- tosuwiryo’s advocates have made the same mistake as New Order propagandists: hiding certain aspects of the story, the integrity of the authors and the truthfulness of their accounts have been called into question, thus alienating the sympathies of those who might be inclined towards considering Kartosuwiryo an Islamic nationalist and an important figure in the independence struggle. This vision, in fact, is now embraced by liberal secular publishers such as Gramedia and Tempo (see below).

In the post-reformasi context, amid heavy criticism of the army and within the framework of a surging Islamic consciousness, condemnatory portrayals of Kartosuwiryo have been shunned in favour of new ones. In an effort to bring him forward as a model of Islamic leadership in contemporary Indonesia, Islamist authors actively adjust representations of Kartosuwiryo’s religiosity to conform with renewed standards of orthodoxy, often denying or ignoring the mysticism that had been relevant to his leadership in 1940s-50s Java.[5]

kartosuwiryo and contemporary visions of islamic law in Indonesia: the hukum pidana of 1949 and the mmi code of 2005

The congress that gave birth to the MMI was opened by Irfan Awwas under the banner of being the ‘first national congress of mujahidin’. It was attended by some 2,000 people from different backgrounds and organizations, all interested in calling for full implementation of sharia law and rejecting anything that was against Islam. The leadership of the movement was for several years shared between Irfan Awwas, as chairman of the executive committee, and the senior Hadrami cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, nominated amir ul-mujahidin. Ba’asyir, alongside Abdullah Sungkar (a key figure in the Jemaah Islamiyah), was crucial in creating a network of like-minded activists through the establishment of the conservative pesantren al-Muk- min in Ngruki, near Solo, in the early 1970s. However, according to Noorhaidi Hasan, during Ba’syir’s and Sungkar’s more than twenty years of self-imposed exile in Malaysia, it was Irfan who had ensured the revival of the efforts to establish a caliphate and an Islamic state by constituting once again the Negara Islam Indonesia.[6]

The use of NII terminology is neither generic nor casual, as recent research has brought to light the genealogical connections between Kartosuwiryo’s Darul Islam movement in West Java and the Islamist groups that emerged between the 1970s and today.[7]

Based on the connections already highlighted between Kartosu- wiryo and contemporary Islamist circles, I also advance the hypothesis that the MMI’s sharia code, drafted in 2002 (and re-drafted in 2005), should be analysed in comparison with the 1948-49 NII’s Criminal Code, the Hukum pidana.

Tim Lindsey and Jeremy Kingsley have argued that the MMI code finds its origins ‘beyond Indonesia’s shores’, more specifically, in Malaysia, where the Islamist Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS, Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party) party ratified sharia criminal codes in Kelantan in 1993 and in Trengganu in 2003. They further suggest that Zia ul-Haqq’s legal reforms in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi madhhab influenced, in more and less direct ways, the drafting of the code.[8] It is my contention, instead, that even though it is admissible that Malaysia and Pakistan had a political influence on the MMI, there was no need for Lindsey and Kingsley to look so far away, as a substantially similar criminal code had been compiled by Kartosuwiryo in Java in 1949, which mostly reflected a traditional Shafi’i interpretation offiqh. In addition to geographical proximity, during my research I have noticed that the ideological connections with, and respect for, Kartosuwiryo and the NII amongst Indonesia’s sharia-minded activists is still strong, and his texts are widely read and circulated. According to the introduction to the 2005 code, the MMI had set up a Komisi Khusus (Special Commission) to produce a text that would enable ‘each Muslim to easily understand the matters of the Islamic criminal code, so as to be ready to support an integral enforcement of Syariat Islam’.[9]

The two formative texts of Kartosuwiryo’s NII were the Constitution and the Criminal Code. I suggest that differences in these two documents, issued one year apart from each other, reflect a change in political priorities, a consequence of the transformed military context and the changing relationship between the Islamic state and the Indonesian Republic. With the Constitution, Kartosuwiryo gave the NII a political-administrative structure, the same goal pursued by Masyumi intellectuals in the 1950s. But with the Criminal Code, Kartosuwiryo shifted the focus away from governance and towards the day-to-day lives of the Islamic state’s citizens. The same concern is at the root of the MMI’s effort to draft a criminal code based on Islamic precepts, and the issue of the government’s structure is not touched upon.

The reasons for Kartosuwiryo’s establishment of the NII before the achievement of a ‘perfect’ Muslim society can be found in the peculiar political context of 1949; as noted above, the Darul Islam originally called for a gradual transformation of West Java’s society into an Islamic state. The doors to implementing this project had opened with the anti-colonial struggle, only to be shut by the Dutch invasion of West Java and the later inclusion of this region in the Pancasila Republic. At that point, all which the Darul Islam could concern itself with was the regulation of the daily lives of those resident in the areas it controlled.

Half a century later, with the fall of the Suharto regime and the opening of the debate on what direction Indonesian politics should take, the majority of Islamic groups began their campaign for a stronger, more formal presence for religion in society, without an open challenge to the Republican structure. With the restoration of democratic institutions, Islam has made a comeback in parliament, and with respect to constitutional amendments, the question of the Jakarta Charter and sharia law once again came under the spotlight between 1999 and 2002. Interestingly, of the twenty-one Islam-based parties allowed to compete in the general elections of 1999, only four campaigned for the transformation of the Indonesian Pancasila Republic into an Islamic state, but fourteen lobbied for the inclusion of Qur’anic laws into the civil and criminal codes. They have channelled their efforts towards drafting a criminal code in compliance with the sharia, but not necessarily as part of a state based on Islam.

This trend helps make clear why MMI has insisted that legislation be based in the sharia, which would be considered more acceptable and therefore potentially more influential, rather than that the government be entirely Islamic. None of the proposed amendments passed, and the Jakarta Charter was officially rejected in August 2002. However, since 2000 several local regulations, or peraturan daerah, have been passed at the provincial and district levels to introduce legislation in accordance with sharia.[10]

Thus, the MMI code fully ignores the question of the government’s form or its ideological foundations, focusing instead on legal regulations to be followed by ‘every citizen on the territory of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia’. This compilation of a sharia-based criminal code was first drafted after the August 2000 foundation meeting, and later presented as the Garis-garis besar Syariat Islam in July 2002, when parliament was yet again discussing a constitutional amendment to re-introduce the Jakarta Charter.[11]

Where pre-1948 Kartosuwiryo, and Zainal Abidin Ahmad and Isa Anshary in the 1950s, had been concerned with the structure of a state that could harmonize Islamic principles with the needs of a modern state, the MMI and post-Roem-van-Royen-Agreement Kar- tosuwiryo solely focused on establishing a comprehensive Islamic law, demanding that the Indonesian state approximate it, paying little attention to government structure.

It is therefore because of historical circumstances that Kartosu- wiryo turns out to be more relevant to twenty-first century reformulations of Islamic polity than to his own contemporaries writing in the ‘consolidation’ years.

  • [1] Al Chaidar, ‘Ideologi Negara Islam di Asia Tenggara: Telaah perbandingan atas terben-tuknya diskursus politik Islam dalam gerakan-gerakan pembentukan negara di Indonesia danFilipina pasca kolonialisme’ (thesis, Universitas Indonesia, Jakarta, 1996); Al Chaidar, Wacanaideologi negara Islam (Jakarta: Darul Falah, 1998); Al Chaidar, Pemikiran politik; Al Chaidar, S.M.Kartosoewiyjo: Pmberontak atau mujahid (Jakarta: Suara Hidayatullah, 1999); Al Chaidar, Sepakterjang K.W.9 Abu Toto menyelewengkan N.K.A.-N.I.I. pasca S.M. Kartosoewirjo, revised ed., vol. 1,‘Serial musuh-musuh Darul Islam ‘(Jakarta: Madani Press, 2000).
  • [2] Noorhaidi Hasan, Laskar Jihad: Islam, militancy, and the quest for identity in post-New OrderIndonesia (Ithaca: Southeast Asia Program Publications, Cornell University, 2006), pp. 18-9. I amgrateful to Martin van Bruinessen for suggesting that probably the very first attempt at ‘glorification’ was an article in al-Ikhwanmagazine later to become Arrisalah, likely written by Irfan Awwashimself in the early 1980s.
  • [3] Irfan Awwas, Menelusuri perjalanan jihad S.M.Kartosuwiryo: Proklamator Negara Islam Indonesia(Yogyakarta: Wihdah Press, 1999); Irfan Awwas, JejakjihadS.M. Kartosuwiryo. 3rd ed. (Yogyakarta:Uswah, 2007); Irfan Awwas, Trilogi kepemimpinan Negara Islam Indonesia (Yogyakarta: Uswah,2008).
  • [4] Herry Nurdi, ‘S.M. Kartosoewirjo: perlawanan dari Malangabong’, Sabili 11-9 (2003).
  • [5] Awwas, for example, in reporting Kartosuwiryo’s psychological evaluation subtly censors thesentences that suggested that Kartosuwiryo’s mysticism was an aspect of his intelligence.
  • [6] Noorhaidi Hasan, Laskar Jihad, pp. 18-9, 47.
  • [7] See the recent work done by the International Crisis Group in Jakarta; Martin van Bru-inessen, ‘Genealogies of radical Islam in post-Suharto Indonesia’ (2002), Utrecht UniversityWebsite, at genealogies_islamic_radicalism.htm; Greg Fealy’s ongoing research; and Quinton Temby’s doctoral research.
  • [8] T. Lindsey and J. Kingsley, ‘Talking in code: Legal Islamisation in Indonesia and the MMIsharia criminal code’, in Peri Bearman et al. (eds), The law applied (London: I.B.Tauris, 2008),pp. 295-320; quote on p. 309.
  • [9] ‘Proposal for a Criminal Code for the Republic of Indonesia adjusted to accord with theSyari’ah of Islam’, issued by the central headquarters of the Majelis Mujahidin, Jl.Veteran no. 17,Jogjakarta, Indonesia. I have here used the English translation of this 2002 draft, kindly provided by Jeremy Kingsley. Fauzan Al-Anshari, KUHP Syariah dan penjelasannya (Jakarta: Departe-men Data dan Informasi MMI, 2005).
  • [10] Robin Bush, ‘Islam and constitutionalism in Indonesia’, in David Linnan (ed.), Legitimacy,legal development and change: Law and modernization reconsidered (Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2012);Robin Bush, ‘Regional Sharia regulations in Indonesia: anomaly or symptom?’, in Greg Fealyand Sally White (eds), Expressing Islam: religious life and politics in Indonesia (Singapore: Instituteof Southeast Asian Studies, 2008), pp. 174-91.
  • [11] ‘Proposal for a Criminal Code’. Fauzan Al-Anshari, KUHP Syariah.
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