How Islam learned to adapt in 'Nusantara'
April-June 2015
By: Yahya Cholil Staquf

The arrival of Islam

From the seventh to the 10th centuries, Islam established deep roots in the Middle East, from Spain and Morocco to western India, giving birth to a new civilization and countless works of genius. These territories underwent a gradual process of Islamization, and Arabization as well, in the Levant, Mesopotamia and the northern coast of Africa, as a result of having been conquered and subjugated by Muslim rulers.

In other words, military conquest was the essential prerequisite, and catalyst, for the development of classical Islamic civilization. Islam quickly attained military and political supremacy in the Middle East, which enabled Muslim rulers to enforce order and manage the community at large in accordance with religious doctrine and dogma. It was precisely in this atmosphere that the classical teachings (ie, interpretation) of Islam evolved, including aqidah (the system of Islamic doctrine, as related to Divine teachings); fiqh (the vast body of classical Islamic jurisprudence); and tasawwuf (Islamic mysticism, through which Muslims explored the spiritual dimension of life).

Although Muslims’ interpretation of Islamic doctrine, dogma, law and spirituality was inevitably diverse, it was the responsibility of Muslim rulers (ie, conquerors) to establish order, which in turn created a powerful impetus to establish uniformity of religious doctrine and law, at least within an “acceptable” set of parameters. Thus, for purely political reasons, the question of religious “authenticity” became a central topic in the heated debates that often occurred among various competing schools (ie, interpretations) of Islam. Given these circumstances, it is no surprise that fiqh (often conflated with Shariah) dominated such discourse, due to the central position of law in establishing order and governing the relationship between various members of society.

What about Nusantara?

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