vrijdag 14 oktober 2011

From Fragmenta Islamic to a true History of Indonesian Islam?

According to my memory Ben Boland once wrote that there is no big theory, even not e true general history of Islam in Indonesia, written by a Dutch scholar. Commenting on a book by G.F. Pijper he once wrote that the only result we have to present the scholarly community is Fragmenta Islamic. I could not find the original place of the quote, but I several though about this remark when reading a very important new book by Michael Laffan, The Makings of Indonesian Islam: Orientalism and the Narration of a Sufi Past (Princeton University Press, 2011, 301 pages).
The book wants to give two broad histories: 1) a history of Indonesian Islam according to the many written sources consulted by Laffan; 2) a history and critique of Western studies of Indonesian Islam. the book is not about independent Indonesia and not about Indonesian scholars (no Taufiq Abdullah, Deliar Noet, Alfian). It ends with the Dutch scholars of the 1930s, G.F. Pijper and Schrieke. It only has a few remarks about Clifford Geertz, not much about Anthony Johns and Merle Ricklefs who both in a very different way supported the thesis of a mystic character of the Islamic past of Indonesia. It is not a book for the beginning student of Islam in Indonesia. It is a long essay on many scholars, officials, missionaries who wrote about Islam and, of course, writes at length about the towering figure of Snouck Hurgronje. I have to admit that I found it very difficult to read: it is a very ideological or abstract theoretical discussion of rather down to earth and sober writing Dutch scholars who did not like too much theoretical discourse. Therefore it seems quite often very generalizing. From time to time, however, he has keen information about concrete facts as well. On p. 69 he criticizes a passage in my Dutch Colonialism and Indonesian Islam, p. 33/34 where I suggest that the Malay text of Book of Thousand Questions was not directly known to Van Eck and his informants in the archipelago.

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