Monday, October 1, 2018

David Kloos's "Becoming Better Muslims"

David Kloos is a researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) in Leiden.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Becoming Better Muslims: Religious Authority and Ethical Improvement in Aceh, Indonesia, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Becoming Better Muslims describes a conversation I had with a young man called “Fendi.”
“My father is a good man. He hates injustice, but he is too stubborn in his opinions. If he wants to go to [the city of] Banda Aceh, he will go to Banda Aceh. Whether it rains or whether it storms, he will go. This time it is not different.”
The conversation took place in the wake of a great drama. A few days earlier, Fendi’s younger brother had been caught red-handed stealing from a large Islamic boarding school nearby. The brother was arrested, held for a few days, and the case was eventually solved within the village through a peace-making ritual. Fendi’s family was angry and distressed. The theft was petty, but Fendi’s brother was treated as a criminal. Fendi’s anger, however, was directed at his father. In his view, the treatment of his brother was due to the fact that his father had failed to maintain good relations with the head of the school, who was also one of the most powerful Islamic leaders in the province.

Fendi’s remark is indicative of a broader generational difference. More than their elders, young people like Fendi are prepared to view religious leaders as agents of the state, and thereby as brokers of power and resources. At the same time, the section on village conflicts – of which the story is part – opens up a larger discussion about religious lives as long-term “projects” of ethical formation. Personal projects of religious becoming, like other projects, lie idle sometimes, and they meet with unexpected setbacks. This is a socially accepted reality, and it is important to observe the flexibility inherent in this view in a place like Aceh, where state and religious leaders have progressively intruded in local communities and individual lives.

Because of my own age and gender, I connected well with people like Fendi. We had things in common. The prospect of a married life and a family. The conundrums of adulthood. On page 99 I express my irritation with his views and behavior. We sat behind the house, relaxed as usual, but our conversation was different in tone. It was edgy. I asked him how people would be able to stand up to the rich and powerful if everyone shared his views. I remember how he looked at me and I think he suddenly realized how little I understood. I didn’t really understand the stakes involved. He was more cool to me that evening but I was very thankful later for his patient countering of my presumptuousness during a phase of life of which he himself didn’t know exactly what to make.
Learn more about Becoming Better Muslims at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue