Aryo Danusiri

Fellow, Sensory Ethnography Lab and Film Study Center

Award Information

2011 IDRF Program

AnthropologyHarvard University

Arab Saints and Sufi Bikers: Urban Circulatory Forms of A New Islamic Movement in Indonesia

A striking new phenomenon in Indonesia since the fall of President Suharto (1998) is the heightened public visibility of different Islamic groups, which vie with each other for attention in the national capital, Jakarta, and elsewhere with increasing boldness. Of particular interest are the Sufi-oriented voluntary study groups led by young scholars of Arab Hadrami sayyid descent. Since 2006, these groups have weekly unleashed lavish multimedia performances on Jakarta’s streets, taking advantage of the perpetual traffic jams by engaging passers-by and halting cars. These motorcades move across and around Jakarta’s roadways, parks, and other public places, as well as mosques and tombs, attracting tens of thousands of young adherents. The followers of this movement are highly mobile, using motorbikes, communication technologies, and Internet. Remarkably, these weekly events celebrate mawlid or the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, which, until recently, was an annual event sponsored by the State and celebrated through a range of vernacular religious rituals. It unsettles the secular status of urban public spaces and worries many self-identifying secularist Indonesians. By focusing on the critical practices of these Islamic youth groups in assembling various circulatory forms, I will examine the ways in which these groups invoke their ‘right to the city,’ remaking urban-sacred networks and cultivating new subjectivities. How do these practices of circulation shape religious experience and address the political interests of the participants? What tactics do study groups utilize to navigate the spatial, social, and political landscapes of Jakarta? What kind of local, national and transnational networks do they have to support this strategy of preaching? By posing mobility as an interface of urban tactics, moral discipline and citizen formation, I contribute to the emerging theorization of religion, new media, the urban and Islamic youth movement in the global south.