The formation of distinctive wasatiyyah characters of Indonesian Islam has a lot to do with the peaceful spread of Islam, which is called by TW Arnold in his classic book, The Preaching of Islam (1913) as ‘penetration pacifique’. The spread of Islam in the archipelago was not through the use of force coming from Arabia or somewhere else, for instance, but rather by way of slow penetration through centuries involving conflict that in the end resulted in the accommodation of local belief and cultures.
The course of Islamization history of the archipelago from then on is the history of continuous expansion of the santri [practicing Muslim] culture. One now can easily observe various kinds of santri cultures practiced by Indonesian Muslims from all walks of life. Successive renewal and reform within Indonesian Islam since at least the 17th century on—that in some cases involved the use of violence such as the Padri movement in West Sumatra in early decades of the 18th century—have failed to change basic features of Indonesian Islam. That is also the case of the current increased infiltration of trans-national and radical Islam that could disrupt the distinction of Indonesian Islam. It remains wasatiyyah Islam, middle path Islam, which is moderate, peaceful and tolerant Islam.
Indonesian Wasatiyah Islam is represented by many moderate and inclusive organizations across the country. The largest is the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU/est 1926, which identifies itself as the representation of Islam Nusantara—referring to the name of the archipelago. The second largest organization is Muhammadiyah (est 1912) which takes its character as Islam Berkemajuan, progressive Islam.
NU-Muhammadiyah and many other organizations are complement to each other. But all of the follow the Indonesian Islamic orthodoxy that consists of three aspects: first, the Ash’ariyah theology; second, Syafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence; and third Ghazalian Sufism. Despite the fact that all of them follow the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah (Sunni), each of them put a special emphasis on certain aspects of Indonesian Islamic orthodoxy.
Since the rise of Indonesian nationalism in the early decades of the twentieth century. Many leaders of Muslim organizations in those decades were involved in the nationalist movements. K.H. Basuni Imran, an ulama from Sambas, West Kalimantan, sent a letter to the famous Egytian reformist Shaykh Muhammad Rashid Rida, asking his advise whether nationalism was acceptable in Islam. Giving his long answer in the al-Manar journal, Rida maintained that nationalism was accepted in Islam based on the principle hubb al-watan min al-iman, love one’s country is a part of belief. Since there was not much discussion among the Indonesian ‘ulama’; (religious) nationalism is considered compatible with Islam.
Still in the further development of Indonesian political field the wasatiyyah paradigm has been translated into the adoption by Muslim leaders of the basis of the state or national ideology of Pancasila (‘five pillars’). The Pancasila, adopted during the days of the proclamation of Indonesian independence on August 17, 1945, has been (and still is) the common platform among peoples of different religious, social, and cultural backgrounds in the country.
With the same token, Muslims also accept the Unitary State of Indonesia (NKRI), the 1945 Constitution, and the BhinnekaTunggal Ika (Diversity in Unity. Together with the acceptance of Pancasila, they are the four basic principles of the Indonesian state, which Muslim leader considered them as the ‘final struggles’ of Indonesian Muslims.
With the acceptance of compatibility between Islam and nationalis as well as the commitment to the four basic principles of the Indonesian state, there is not much room for such idea as the khilafah (caliphate) or the dawlah Islamiyah (Islamic state). The two forms of the state proposed by the Islamists are conspicously absent in the religio-intellectual discourse of mainstream Indonesian Muslim organizations, leaders and thinkers.