Indonesia is often highlighted as having the right kind of Islam, 'moderate' and 'peaceful.' Whether that remains true (if it ever was a reality) will be tested in the future but what about the past? How did we end up with this picture of Islam in Indonesia? Michael Laffan
, Professor of History at Princeton University, explores this question in his new book, The Makings of Indonesian Islam: Orientalism and the Narration of a Sufi Past
(Princeton University Press, 2011). From a plethora of sources Laffan has reconstructed the history of interactions and the formation of discourses about Islam in Southeast Asia. The narrative includes the exchanges between
Dutch (and British) authorities, missionaries, and Muslims, in both local and global perspectives. Much of the debates was about the process of Islamization and how it was remembered. Muslim accounts regularly stressed the role of Sufi brotherhoods in situating Islam in the local context but other evidence puts this into question. Islamic texts played a major role though for both Muslim participants and the foreign parties. Laffan brings a Dutch orientalist, Snouk Hurgronje, to life in order to demonstrate the dynamic relationship between all the players involved. In our conversation we discussed Islamization, the role of print technologies, Islamic education, elite and public religious participation, orientalist scholarship, textual archives, colonial power, and Sufism.