In the past I’ve proposed that all evolutionary theories of religion need to be tested with the China Rule. I suspect that the need for such a rule stems from the fact that most evolutionary theorists of religion aren’t aware of the myriad (and subtle) ways in which western constructions of religion have impacted their thinking. What seems like a plausible evolutionary theory from a western perspective may not be so plausible when evaluated against Chinese history.
As an extension of this idea, I want to propose the Indonesia Rule when it comes to “Islam.” Whenever we are tempted to imagine or talk about “Islam” in the essentialized (or radicalized) singular, let’s immediately remind ourselves that Indonesia is the world’s largest “Muslim” country with a population of 240 million. This makes it the world’s fourth largest country and third largest democracy (after India and the US). Indonesia is wonderfully diverse and, when it comes to Islam, different.
We can get a small sense for just how different from “The Swinger’s Guide to Islam,” an article in which Aubrey Belford visits an Islamic shrine in Java where the primary ritual revolves around having sex with strangers. Here’s a teaser:
“It goes without saying that there is a glaring contradiction in the fact that Gunung Kemukus, a mass ritual of adultery and sex, is going on in the middle of Java, the demographic heart of the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.
Of course, the ritual isn’t Islam as most would recognise it. Instead, it’s emblematic of Indonesia’s – and especially Java’s – syncretic mix of Islam with earlier Hindu, Buddhist and animist beliefs. But what is truly surprising is that even while Indonesia undergoes a steady shift towards more orthodox Islam, the ritual on Gunung Kemukus is exploding in popularity. It’s a quintessentially Indonesian contradiction.”
It’s a fantastic article that goes a long way towards disrupting the idea that Islam is singular, unified, and stable. There is no hegemony.