6. Sufis as Shapers of Pluralist Political Culture: The Examples of Bangladesh and Indonesia
Clinton Bennett [+]
State University of New York, New Palz
Without denying distinctive features, Bangladesh and Indonesia, as majority Muslims states, share many common features. The way that Sufi Islam led peaceful proselytization in both contexts, fusing Islam and local spiritual and cultural traditions, is remarkable similar. In both states, reformist expressions of Islam have found much in these localized versions of Islam to criticize or condemn as deviant; Islamist parties and movements have challenged the dominant ethos of religious pluralism and political inclusivity. In both, this has tended to juxtapose a supposedly more pure, Arab-informed version of Islam and localized Islam. Both states have had periods of military rule but have recently experienced reasonably healthy democratic restorations. In some respects, Bangladesh, the younger state, has looked to Indonesia as a model. In both, women have held or hold high political office. In both, political parties range from secular (by name or pragmatically), through Islamic to Islamist. At least one party in each has Sufi links. In Indonesia, a Sufi leader served as President, even though he proved unequal to the task. In both, over the past decade, Islamists have performed badly at the polls, suggesting that Sufi inclined Muslims have succeeded in challenging their ideology and agenda, while in Indonesia Islamist parties appear to be shifting to the center, affirming pluralism, abandoning demands for Islamic systems in favor of policies and legislation informed by Islamic values, the Islamic-oriented option. This chapter critiques the view that Bangladeshi and Indonesian flavored Islam are any less authentic than any other expression of Islam, and suggests that these tap into Islamic principles and potentialities toward democratic and religious pluralism from which others can benefit.