Islamic left and intellectual network in Indonesia

Miichi Ken*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


An "Islamic left" has emerged in Indonesian politics since the 1990s, which is opposed to the rightist Islamists and seeks a religiously plural nation. Islamic leftists work with nonreligious and leftist social-political movements and read leftist books, from Marx and Gramsci to Foucault. Yet, they don't discard religious motivations. The author collected their writings, observed them closely, and conducted many interviews. In this article, through three profiles of young activists affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama, the author draws out the characteristics and political significance of the Islamic left in contemporary Indonesia. These activists are critical of religious authority (persons, texts, and history), especially the "one and only" and "pure and glorious" Islam, and try to revive plural Islamic traditions using post-modern Islamic studies in Europe. They have inherited the intellectual leftist tradition in Indonesia, but the Islamic left does not limit its activities to intellectual circles. It consciously fights a "war of position" against the Islamists and tries to mobilize popular support. Since it does not deny popular un-Islamic traditions, the Islamic left has the potential to attract indigenous, spiritual, and mystic "islams," including among ex-Communists in rural areas. The Islamic left therefore has huge potential in a democratized Indonesia in which a new ideology is necessary in order to attract popular political participation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-73
Number of pages32
JournalSoutheast Asian Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002 Jun 1
Externally publishedYes


  • Ideology
  • Islam
  • Post-modernism
  • Tradition and modernity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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