Performing Global Dakwah: collective identity and the social imaginary in Indonesian Islamic charity concerts
Performing Global Dakwah:
Collective identity and the social imaginary in Indonesian Islamic charity concerts
In contemporary Indonesia, Muslims of all ages are increasingly exercising their piety and expressing their solidarity with the ummah (global Muslim community) in a new type of ‘pop jihad’ setting. Known as konser kemanusiaan (“humanitarian concerts”) these events illustrate how art, popular culture and entertainment are employed as a tool to mobilize the Indonesian masses for Islamic-themed charitable causes. The majority of these concerts are dedicated to raising funds for victimized Muslim populations that experience humanitarian crisis, most often Palestinian victims of the Israeli occupation. Other fund raising purposes than humanitarian aid are various dakwah (Islamic proselytization) projects, for example the New York-based Indonesian Muslim scholar Shamsi Ali’s plans to build a pesantren (Indonesian Islamic boarding school) in America - a land that represents not only a global power but also a hub of Islamophobia - to teach American converts and non-Muslims about Islam rahmatan lil-‘alamin, Islam as a mercy to all mankind.
I study Indonesian Islamic charity concerts as quintessential sites for the construction, mediation, and performance of globally-oriented Muslim identities and social imaginaries. The central question in this project is: what social imaginaries are constructed and performed in Indonesian Islamic charity concerts and how do they cultivate a virtuous Muslim subjectivity among audiences? By focusing on these collective practices that lie at the intersection of charity, religion, and entertainment, I aim to contribute to knowledge on how imagined communities such as the ummah and the nation are mediated and how this mediation incites audiences to support humanitarian causes as well as to internalize virtuous dispositions.
In exploring how issues that circulate in the global mediascape inspire Indonesian social imaginaries that are
globally-oriented and in engagement with the world, I will also decipher how these imaginaries are shaped by local socio-historical contingencies and discover what is distinctly emic about them. Charity concerts are indicative of Indonesian Muslims’ preoccupation with the rest of the Muslim world, particularly the Middle East, a region which has appealed to the imagination among Southeast Asian Muslims for centuries. At the same time, the concerts also seem to reflect a new aspirational politics in which Indonesia, as the world’s most populous Muslim country which has long been considered an Islamic periphery, is assigned a greater role for the future. Post-independence national narratives which present Indonesia as a humanitarian nation that contributes to a better world reinforce the sense of moral responsibility toward far-away Muslim nations. Furthermore, the featuring of symbolic and sacred spaces, in particular Jerusalem as an Islamic axis mundi, serve to divinely sanction the charitable causes so as to encourage audiences to donate lavishly. My project thus also raises questions about the role of imaginative geographies in collective identity formation and virtuous action. As a case of how the ‘periphery’ appropriates the ‘center’ this study suggests that imaginative geography is not confined to being a colonial tool to subjugate ‘Others’, as Edward Said theorized about Western Orientalism, but that postcolonial and ‘peripheral’ nations also act as agents using imaginative geography to (re)position themselves vis-à-vis what is perceived as the center.
I apply a qualitative methodology that combines ethnographic fieldwork and online ethnography (social media are the primary medium used by charitable associations involved in the concerts to inform their constituencies) with the interpretive method of hermeneutics. Ethnographic interviews with both producers and audiences will reveal not only the aims and means of this moral edification, but also concert attendants’ sense of belonging to the global ummah and identification with the Indonesian nation. Participant observation will shed light on audiences’ broader engagement with the
charitable causes and on the extent to which they have internalized a virtuous Muslim subjectivity. In addition, I study the ‘texts’, i.e. performances, lyrics of songs, symbols, speeches and other narratives, that are part of the charity concerts in relation to the contexts in which they are embedded. Combining offline and online ethnography with interpretive methods will enable me to gain a sound understanding of Indonesian charity concerts’ complex entanglements as part of larger social, political, and cultural dynamics in Indonesia and beyond, as well as their impact on globally-oriented collective identities.
Erstgutachter: Prof. Dr. Vincent Houben
Wolf, Silvia (forthcoming). “‘99 Lights in Europe’s Sky’: Commemorating Islamic History in Europe through Indonesian Eyes.”Accepted as chapter for the book proposal with the working title: Religious Narratives in Contemporary Culture: Practices, Remediations, and Alternative Retellings, edited by Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru and Dragos Manea (University of Bucharest).
Wolf, Silvia. “Beyond Nonhuman Animal Rights: a Grassroots Movement in Istanbul and its Alignment with Other Causes”. Interface: a journal for and about social movements, Vol. 7, no. 1: 40 - 69 (May 2015).