The Experience of Struggling to Understand Islamic Studies in Indonesia: An Autobiographical Outlook



Scholars, both Muslim and non-Islamic, have always been interested
in studying Islam since the emergence of this religion until today. The concept
‘ilm becomes a central point in understanding Islamic tradition
and thought. Scholars need to explore and understand how the idea of 
‘ilm. The history of Islamic
has influenced humankind’s perspective for more than 13 centuries.

For example, Fazlur Rahman (1997) presents a description of Islam
in his work entitled 
Islam. In this work, Rahman explains the various
dimensions of the Islamic religion. H.A.R. Gibb (1962) also did the same thing
when explaining Islam under 
Mohammedanism. Another piece that
comprehensively explains Islam is Carl Brockelmann (1939) in his work
History of the Islamic Peoples. It is said that this book
is “The first one-volume history in English giving the story of all the Islamic
states and peoples from the beginning to the present day.” In addition, there
is also the work of Marshall G.S. Hodgson (1979) which consists of 3 volumes
that examine Islam, from its early days to the 19th century AD. The results,
scholars in the West, both Muslim and non-Muslim, tend to want to present Islam
in one stage of history and the dialectic that occurs in it. For example, the
emergence of various encyclopedias published by publishers in the West
contributes to understanding Islam. All these efforts imply how deep an
understanding of Islam and Muslims is.

I have never finished exploring the literature on Islamic studies.
Here it can be stated that works on this topic are still developing, along with
the times. Therefore, since taking undergraduate (1996), until 2022, where it
has been almost 25 years, the process of exploring works in Islamic studies
continues to be carried out. Many pieces were collected, still limited to
Indonesian, English, and Arabic. These works show how broad the scope of fields
of knowledge related to Islamic and Muslim studies is. However, there are more
and more works on Islam and Muslims. The conflicts in the Muslim region,
especially the Middle East, have never been extinguished, which raises a
question: Why do Islamic and Muslim studies not help build peace in the Muslim

Looking for answers to the questions above, of course, seems to
want to find a point of connection between Islamic studies and the current
state of the Islamic ummah. Scholars who are experts in Islamic studies, such
as Bernard Lewis, try to explain that Islam is not following the times, so
Islamic behavior destroys the order of world peace (Lewis 2002) (Lewis 2003).
Meanwhile, some scholars say that there is a failure of Islamic politics in the
contemporary context. The most critical thesis is the view that mentions Islam
as a threat to the world, as stated by Samuel P. Huntington. This thesis was
submitted by Olivier Roy (1996). Likewise, the view says what form the world
order would be if Islam did not exist in the 6th century AD. These views argue
that Islam is a “problem” in global demand. Therefore, I often ask
whether these views are the basis of the argument for carrying out various
disturbances in the Middle East region.

In 1924 the Ottoman Caliphate collapsed. At that time, the world
entered the era of modernization or Westernization. Distance between the age of
the Prophet and the collapse of the Islamic Caliphate is 13 and a half
centuries, to be exact. The failure of the Islamic caliphate made various
efforts to revive Islam to the surface. However, it should not be one of the
main axes of world power. Thus
, Islamic movements emerged when Islam fell,
trying to revive Islam. Distance between the rise of the West
through the Age of Enlightenment and the collapse of the Islamic Caliphate is
more than two centuries. From the Enlightenment Era until the fall of Islam,
the West carried out the process of occupation in all corners of the Muslim
world, including Indonesia. The power of the West in “controlling”
the world today has been running for more than four centuries. Islam and
Muslims have been made as objects, not as subjects in that period. The distance
between the fall of the Islamic caliphate and the year 2024 is about 100 years.

There are some characteristics in the last 100 years: First, the
revival of the Jewish spirit, which is marked by the emergence of the Zionism
protocol, which has succeeded in producing a paradigm of world civilization
from among the Jews society. The success of the Jews was when they became
“Western” and established the state of Israel. This event indicates a
conflict playing out in the history of the world. In the
beginning, the chaos that occurred between Christianity and Islam was changed
to Islam versus Judaism. 

Second, the power of Islam is no longer able to serve
as an axis of world power, which is driven by countries in the Middle East.
When Islam fell in the era of the Ottoman Caliphate, one of the ideologies that
were raised was the communist ideology, which later developed in the Russian
region. The emergence of this communist ideology, almost simultaneously with
Hitler’s desire to wipe out the Jewish race in Europe. Since then, Jews have
succeeded in becoming themselves into the West and have been at the forefront of
producing knowledge, especially in the social sciences and humanities. Then, it
is not surprising that internationally known social engineers are partly
affiliated with the Jewish faith. Here what is exchanged later is that the West
is against Islam, not Hitler’s behavior model towards Jews (Feldman 2007).

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The emergence of Jewish consciousness in Western history in the
last century shows how Islam has become a global threat. Restructuring the
world order makes Islam an object, a legacy of eastern studies known as
orientalism. For example, an attempt to criticize the West, which is highly
respected, was carried out by Edward Said, who does not believe in Islam. He
wanted to critique the West’s attempts to treat the East. However, Said’s work
did not become the primary basis in understanding Islam and Muslims in the
Middle East (Said 1996).

Therefore, the study of orientalism and Islam and Muslims become an academic reproduction that is carried out to understand Islam continuously.
In other words, knowledge about Islam, then produced by non-Muslims, which is
then used as a new standard of understanding of Islamic teachings, especially
in the West. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, for example, conducted a study on several
orientalists who were instrumental in presenting Islamic spirituality (Sufism). This, of
course, has attracted sympathy towards Islam, where some orientalists embraced
Islam because of their spiritual and intellectual journey (Nasr 2011) (Nasr

Two of the most respected orientalists in the study of Sufism, for
example, Louis Massignon and Henry Corbin. Some scholars of Sufism in Islam
tend to be studied and studied by the works of non-Islamic scholars, to be
introduced to the Western world (CW Ernst 1997) (CW Ernst 1996) (CW Ernst 1994)
(A. Schimmel 1975) (A. Schimmel 1994) (A. Schimmel 1982).

However, studies of
‘ulama who contribute to hardline Islamic movements, tend not to be
“released” just like that until “notes” are given about the
impact of this thought in the Islamic world. Therefore, the study of Ibn
Taymiyyah and Abdul Wahhab tends to be led to the study of the Islamic movement
to prove that there are grounds for using violence in Islam.

I do not want to examine all aspects of the work of scholars on
Islam and Muslims but to see how the scope of Islamic studies is extensive. For
that, I will assume “Islam as …”. So far, almost all scholars have
tried to describe Islam from various sides. Some are interested in exploring it
from a historical perspective, the term Islamic History emerged. Some are
interested in seeing the side of the movement. It is not surprising when the
time Islamic Movement arises. The concept of “Islam as …” is Islam
that has undergone a process of reasoning by humans, which is one of the
beliefs of the faith tradition of the Prophet Abraham. In this context, Islam
can cover all aspects of life through the instructions contained in the Qur’an.
The standardized behavior has been practiced by the Prophet Muhammad in his
Sunnah. These sources must be read in a linguistic context, namely Arabic.
Thus, the concept of Islam is as din, not as ‘agama.’ Because the term ‘agama
does not come from Arabic, but the tradition of Hindu beliefs. 

My encounter with Islamic studies has started
since childhood (Kamaruzzaman 2014). The conflict in Aceh has
spread people to various parts of the world. The social revolution has brought some
of the Acehnese royal family to the island of Java. Aceh’s war with the
Netherlands has led several Acehnese to the Malay Land. They are scattered,
from Kedah to Johor. The conflict between GAM and the Republic of Indonesia has
also brought Acehnese to several countries. Therefore, since childhood, I have
studied, understood, practiced, wrote about Islam while witnessing the conflict in my hometown.

I studied Islam from madrasas, special senior high schools, universities in
Islamic studies by focussing on Islamic legal thought, Islamic politics, to Islamic movements.
Since my Master’s and doctoral degrees, I have struggled more with works in
English rather than Indonesian. Through this study, I was able to travel to
various countries. Islamic studies have also led me to get multiple local,
national, and international awards. In short, Islam has given its function to
me. However, I certainly have not done much of my self-function towards Islam. Almost half of my life is only devoted to studying Islamic

In my experience of studying Islam, I have struggled a lot with
non-Muslim works, especially in English. I rarely read the books of classical
and contemporary Muslim scholars. However, I have several books (
kitabs) as part of Muslims’
intellectual and spiritual history. One thing that fascinated me was the energy
power of the writing tradition carried out by the ‘ulama. They produce volumes
of work. Therefore, in several works, I do not dare to make a very sharp
criticism of the work of the ‘ulama as an effort to raise my intellectual
identity. I only read the works of these ‘ulama’ without a substantive review
process. The quality of my knowledge is far from these Islamic scholars.

For example, the book al-Muwaṭṭā’ by Imam Malik is a guidebook for Muslims
containing hadiths that are almost all referred to the Prophet or the Prophet’s wife (Aisyah r.a.). This book provides a relatively systematic narrative of
life guidance based on the Sunnah of the Prophet. The ‘ulama are to provide a
systematic academic responsibility for every expression or understanding of the
Prophet. Regardless of any criticism from scholars, the writing model of the
ṭṭā’ provides a clear picture of the sense of responsibility of an
‘ulama in composing an academic work. The other work is 
al-Risālah, the work of Imam Shafi’i.
This book is the earliest in Islamic intellectual history in 
ushul fiqh. When the book is opened
and examined, it shows the depth of Imam Shafi’i’s knowledge in logic, where he
always refers to the Qur’an and Sunnah in finding the rules of 
ushul in each chapter in
the book. One of the ‘ulama who faithfully wrote the works of Imam Shafi’i was
al-Rabi’ ibn Sulaiman who writes this book, along with another book of Imam
Shafi’i, namely al-Umm. Despite the socio-historical criticism of Imam Shafi’i
by Wael B. Hallaq (1993:600), he admits that:

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Shafi‘i’s  Risāla[h] as
the embodiment of his legal methodology has, in our view, gained the
distinction of being the first attempt at synthesizing the disciplined exercise
of human reasoning and the complete assimilation of revelation as the basis of
the law.

The two examples above show not the influence but how the
scientific methods used by the ‘ulama in producing their work. There are tens to
thousands of works of ‘previous scholars,’ which have the same spirit.
Regardless of their imagination regarding spiritual experiences, the academic
and scientific experiences they experience should be a separate note in
understanding the Islamic intellectual tradition. In explaining about shari’ah,
Khaled Abou El Fadl (2005:33) provides a narrative that may emphasize how the
academic situation of the Islamic ummah:

To help visualize the phenomenon I am
describing, perhaps I should mention my library on Islamic law. It contains
about fifty thousand titles, the vast majority of which were written before the
sixteenth century and as early as the ninth century. The books in this library
represent a variety of approaches, schools of thought, and
written over several centuries. Many of the
titles are multivolume – in fact, some titles contain as many as fifty volumes
in print.

From my experience of understanding Islamic studies, I would argue
that dealing with thousands of literature is not an easy job. This is why I do
not dare to over-critique the Islamic intellectual tradition because there is a
broad scope of exploration that must be explored before a comprehensive study
of Islam is carried out.

I am well aware of my weaknesses academically: my inability to
enter holistically the Islamic horizon that I am presenting in this study. To
overcome this, I try to explore the intellectual aspects of Islam that previous
Islamic scholars have produced. Every part of this horizon has also emerged
some scholars and works I have yet to obtain. Therefore, I endeavor to present
data from the results of scholars to explain “Islam as …”

This separation of “Islam as …” is based on the
literature in Islamic studies. I classify “Islam as …” into several
topics, namely: Islam as Din, Islam as a Science, Islam as Ethics, Islam as
Philosophy, Islam as Art, Islam as Spiritual, Islam as Standards of Conduct,
Islam as Culture, Islam as Law, Islam as Interpretation, Islam as History,
Islam as Politics, Islam as Economy, Islam as Education, and Islam as
Civilization. These topics will become meaningful discussions in understanding
“Islam as…” then, I sort and select these topics to be described
holistically. Of course, among these topics, there are interrelationships
between each other. For this reason, overlapping, of course, cannot be avoided,
mainly when the epistemological basis of each of these concepts is explained.

The division above is not “Islam is …”, but
“Islam as …” which seeks not to provide a standard definition but
to explain aspects of Islam in every part of human life. The explanation of
what is understood and practiced by humans is the focus of the study in this
study. Since more than two decades of studying Islamic studies, there have been
so many explanations about “Islam is …” and “Islam as…”
So that literature on Islamic studies dominates my academic exploration. When
reading Islamic studies that try to explain the negative aspects, they mostly
start with “Islam as…” understood and practiced by humankind.
However, not a few scholars have been attempting to decipher the genuine Islam
as stated in the Qur’an and al-Sunnah. The two most authoritative sources refer
to Allah’s said and said by the Prophet Muhammad SAW. These two things can be
categorized as “Islam is …” As for the rest, it is “Islam as
…” that is, as understood by humans after the Prophet SAW. M. Quraish
Shihab in listing someone to interpret the Qur’an, mentions there are 15
conditions. Each of these conditions is also a separate science requiring
learning time. Therefore, to explain “Islam as …” is not as easy as
imagined. The way to do this is to continuously understand and explore various
aspects of the teachings of Islam itself.

The six aspects that force Islam to operate in space and time
imply that the future of this belief is very concerning. Suppose you look at
the history of the arrival of the Prophet Muhammad, who was revealed to be an
ignorant society. In that case, one of the dogmatic hopes among Muslims is the
presence of Imam Mahdi and Prophet Isa a.s. Who are alleged to be two important
figures to resolve conflicts in this world? The Doctrine of Imam Mahdi and Prophet
Isa a.s. If it is paid attention to, it is of great concern to the
international community, especially within the West itself (Voll 1979) (Warburg
1995) (Dekmejian and Wyszomirski 1972). If you look at the life of the Prophet
and the great scholars, the figure of Imam Mahdi still has many question marks,
especially regarding who the actual figure of Imam Mahdi is. The question is,
how the figure of Imam Mahdi is present in an era like this? Did he come as a
savior? Is the current inspiration for Muslims? Was he present who had divine
help? Was he present as a model for the presence of the prophets? Does he
present himself as a ‘charismatic cleric with a following? What will the West
do if the figure of Imam Mahdi is present in this world? So far, Muslim figures
are spiritualists, really not bothered by the West. It is considered that the
presence of Imam Mahdi, as in the era of the Prophet, then it is very likely
that the existence of Imam Mahdi has been known, just like the experience of
the Prophet, which Christian and Jewish spiritualists already
knew.  Today, as explained above, Islam is the fastest-growing belief
system globally. The contribution of scholars in Islamic scholarship cannot be
ignored. The development of Muslims is to be overgrowing, along with
information, communication, and technology.

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For nearly 14 centuries, Islam in various faces always explains
every moment that passes. This is where our role in writing Islam is always
understood. If Islam is placed in space and time, it still flies into  “a milky way
of human thought.” For example, the Qur’an, which is the word of God, will still
be in the context of space and time of human consciousness. Regardless of human
behavior trying to deny faith in Allah, the Qur’an will still be read then

As explained by Khaled Abou El Fadl above, the works that appear
are always seen as representing a school of thought that has existed in the
context of Muslim history. For example, there are Sunni and Shia groups in the
study of major Muslim sects. There are various schools of thought in Islamic
law, although the most famous is only 4. 

In the study of theology, there are
several different and contradictory schools of thought, in the study of
tasawwuf, which are ‘practical and philosophical, along with
the various tarekat. When responding to the collapse of the Islamic caliphate
in Ottoman Turkey, multiple schools and movements emerged, exerting influence
today among Muslims. There are various schools or views regarding the
compatibility between Western progress and Islam in responding to Western

In fact, in responding to concepts from the West in the form of
nation-states, thinkers also have their views, which sometimes collide not only
at the philosophical level but also the level of followers (Esposito 1985)
(Esposito 1984) (Esposito 1997) (Esposito 1985). 1983) (Esposito and Voll
2001). Islamic scholars also do not have the same sentence in considering the
local culture, which has been the journey of Islam for almost 14 centuries.

The presence of the Christian faith is indeed five centuries
earlier than Islam and has been established in Europe. Islam is also present
trying to “Islamicize” Europe. However, politically, Islamic forces
must leave the region. However, the Islamic civilization still influenced
Europe until today. However, as the basis of ideological power and power, Islam
is not included. Because the West has systematized the world order, Islam must
adapt to the interpretations of science and ideology developed in Western

As a spiritual and intellectual force, Islam is allowed to take
part. Meanwhile, as an ideology and political force, Islam absolutely should
not be given space. One of the current impacts that have emerged is that the
West has ransacked almost all the centers of Muslim civilization in the Middle
East in various ways (Fisk 2006). As a result, the process of repeating Islamic
writing has several uniform characteristics. First, the concepts from the West
are forced to be used to understand the Islamic ummah. Second, the countries
that became the basis of Muslim civilization were forced to be eliminated, both
within and outside. Third, scientific figures can produce their works if they
do not provide the power and spirit to awaken the Islamic Khilafah. In other
words, scientists are expected to be without palaces and parliaments and not
even allowed to be close to the core forces in the struggle for Islam as an
ideological and political force. Fourth, in structuring the world order, Islam
must be left as a threat (Huntington 1997) (Huntington 1991). Almost all
literature regarding the future history of humankind places Islam as an
“enemy” to be wary of (Gore 2013) (Kaku 2012) (Mahbuni 2013) (Schmidt
and Cohen 2014). Fifth, Muslim countries that can carry out the modernization
process and assist the process of Western capitalization tend to be left as
“friends” of Western allies. However, if you carry out the process of
mobilizing the power of Islamic ideology, then the country will be forced to be
torn down. Sixth, the conflict between internal Muslims, because of various
sects, tends to be carried out massively to destroy Muslim countries. The
fighting between Sunnis and Shiites and between ethnic groups in the Middle
East is a potent recipe for stopping the central powers in the Middle East.




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