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PhD graduate explores Islamic influences in Indonesia

By Katie Weiss

PhD graduate Dr Nathan Franklin says Australia would benefit from understanding political developments in Indonesia PhD graduate Dr Nathan Franklin says Australia would benefit from understanding political developments in Indonesia

A researcher has investigated the ways religious boarding schools in parts of Indonesia have influenced politics and helped shape the country’s national identity.

Charles Darwin University PhD graduate and Indonesian studies lecturer, Nathan Franklin said all levels of Indonesian governments had been influenced by ideologies taught in Islamic boarding schools in Java, known as “pesantren”.

Dr Franklin said the political influence of the pesantren had grown due to its support from the largely Islamic Javanese community, particularly in East Java where he conducted his research.

“The primary function of these boarding schools is to reproduce religious identity and act as moral guardians on religious and ethical issues, which sustains the state’s community of the faithful,” Dr Franklin said.

“This has a flow-on effect in that politicians are expected to fulfil certain religious obligations and maintain the nation’s religious identity through policy and governance.”

Dr Franklin said attendance at the pesantren, which provided schooling from Year 7 to Year 12, had grown since Indonesia transitioned to a democracy following the end of the Suharto regime in 1998.

He said Sharia law existed within bylaws of certain districts in Indonesia, but most national laws were not affected by what might be considered extremist Islamic views.

“The Indonesian model shows how Islamic ideologies can work successfully and positively within a framework of democracy,” he said. 

“It serves as an example for other majority Muslim countries.”

“The main secular and nationalists parties have managed to maintain a democracy by adopting certain Islamic ideologies in its policies, thereby discouraging civil unrest.”

Dr Franklin said the official foundation of the Indonesian state was based on a code of ethics known as “pancasila”, which included five principles: belief in God, civilised humanity, unity, democracy and social justice.

He said Australia would benefit from understanding the political developments in Indonesia, which was playing an increasingly important role internationally.

Dr Franklin presented the findings in his thesis, entitled “Reproducing Political Islam in Java: The Role of Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah Pesantren in the Political Socialisation of the Umat”.