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Inayah Rochmaniyah, PhD.:

Fundamentalist Religious Views which are Androcentric, Patriarchal and Sexist

Inayah Rochmaniyah, PhD., is a lecturer in the Faculty of Usuluddin and Islamic Thought at UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta. The woman who completed her undergraduate study at the Department of Hadith Studies at the alma mater where she is now serving as Chair of the Sociology of Religion Department. Her Master’s degree was obtained from two universities, i.e. from the Philosophy Department at UGM Yogyakarta, and from the Department of Religious Studies at Arizona State University, USA. Inayah, who obtained her doctorate in the field of Religious Studies at the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS), is also active in conducting various researches. She also has had some experiences with several institutions such as the UGM Center for Population and Policy Studies (PSKK), board member of PKBI (Indonesian Family Planning Association) DI, a steering committee of Indonesian Community for Justice and Equality (KIAS), and is also serving as the Director of Lampu Merapi: Institute for Islamic Studies and Tolerance for 2013-2018 term. Below is the result of the interview with Swara Rahima.

How do you see fundamentalism that is flourishing lately?

Fundamentalism can simply be interpreted as a belief or sect that wants to restore the social order that is deemed not in accordance with the religious beliefs that they hold, because it is seen as an order built by humans that is non-divine (considered as secular), to divine order. They want to restore the role of religion and the role of God in life.

Methodologically, fundamentalism as a sect or religious ideology understands religious texts (in the context of Islam, the Koran, and Hadith) textually, deductively and partially. For this group, the text itself is the final truth so that the tendency of the approach to the text is theological-normative and overrides the historicity aspects of the text. They usually rely on their religious understanding of their leaders who are considered charismatic and authoritative. The tradition that developed in this group in the process of internalizing religion is the oral tradition.

Recent fundamentalism symptoms are increasingly permissive to various forms of violence, why?

Fundamentalism actually does not pose a threat if it does not lead to radicalism, that is the desire and effort to make radical changes towards the social order in accordance with the understanding/belief held. Radicalism then becomes a dangerous social problem when using violence in the name of religion. The problem is that fundamentalism in Indonesia to a certain extent has recently led to radicalism and even to some extent uses religion as a justification for violence. The strong desire and effort to change society in accordance with their religious beliefs or understandings have the potential to generate violence, both physical and psychological.

Why are you interested in studying fundamentalism in your dissertation? What is the purpose?

Fundamentalism is interesting to study because on the one hand there is a tendency for a generalized view saying that fundamentalism is always synonymous with violence. Meanwhile, on the other hand, women often become effective symbols that mark the membership of a fundamentalist group that is different from the members of other groups. The purpose of my research is to show that fundamentalism is not always synonymous with violence because someone can have a theological view that is fundamentalist or even radical, but in the practice of daily life they are inclusive and respect differences.

Moreover, I want to show the agency of women who are in that group. The general view considers women in fundamentalist or radical groups as passive, submissive and a symbol of perfect discrimination. I want to see and show that the women who are involved in a fundamentalist group in a certain extent are active, powerful and have strategies or ways to deal with patriarchal structures in their groups. 

What are the symptoms like? Can we identify the signs?

Among the characteristics of the fundamentalist movement are: first, anchoring its argument on a literal understanding of the Islamic text without much theological debate or interpretation; second, glorifying and idealizing the golden age of Islam as a model; third, imagining ideal societies based on Islamic doctrine (as they understand it) in the context of contemporary reality; fourth, organized in a network with a leader, usually seen as a charismatic leader, in order to spread ideology and monitor its members; fifth, actively opposing modernism and the Modern West, especially the concept of materialism, secularism and individualism; sixth, rejection and hatred for everything that is Westernized; seventh, having a tradition of theodicy (a view of God’s interference in upholding justice in human life) to explain and justify the suffering or challenges they face. Other characteristics or symptoms that also appear are strong collective identities, such as in terms of clothing, language, and exclusivity. 

The symptoms of fundamentalism in Indonesia can be seen from the spread of the groups that have the above characteristics, and especially the exclusive group identity that appears in society. Among these identities are clothing or a distinctive appearance that marks the membership a particular group, a language that is distinctive and different from the general language used by the community, and various activities and expressions that show the exclusivity of the group.

Various discriminatory regulations and policies in the name of religion appear everywhere. Is this also a symptom of fundamentalism?

Yes. To the extent that fundamentalism is understood as a notion or movement that wants to realize the Divine social order as they understand it, a policy that takes the name of religion is a sign of fundamentalism. In this context, the understanding of a particular religious group is adopted as a regulation or policy that applies to the wider community and is politically made as a strategy to create a social order that is considered religious. Religion, or more precisely the juxtaposition between religious understanding and political movements of certain groups becomes ambiguous.

The dangerous thing that often arises is when on the one hand religion is narrowed down to an understanding of a group of Muslims who are permissive to violence in the name of the enforcement of religion, while on the other hand people consider that understanding as the religion itself. Islam with its normative universal values (such as tauhid, justice, peace, musyawarah– consensus decision making, anti-violence, etc.) is reduced to an understanding of a group of Muslims that are partial, primordial and even more dangerous in the name of religion to justify discrimination and violence.

Why do most of the prevailing rules target women? What is the impact on women?

Women are often the most effective symbol to distinguish members of a fundamentalist group from outsiders. Group identity which is characterized by clothing, for example, is more obvious and easily recognizable when women wear certain clothes, with certain models, sizes, and even colors that are representations of the group identity. In addition, for centuries, the history of the development of Islam and religious understanding were dominated by androcentrism, sexism and patriarchal tendencies. Androcentrism means that religious traditions are constructed, developed by and from a male perspective, and therefore the main focus is the experience of men. Meanwhile, patriarchy shows the existence of male domination and superiority in the discourse and history of religion.

Religion or the understanding (interpretation) of religion, in the end, becomes sexist, meaning that the dominant understanding of religion gives privileges to men and the experiences of men and places men as superior, and at the same time places women lower and considers them as inferior. Therefore women are often positioned as objects of various rules.

How does this fundamentalist group usually see the existence of women?

In the hegemony of religious understanding and culture which is androcentric, sexist and patriarchal, women are usually placed as objects and second-class people who are subordinately under men. Women’s experience and contribution to religion have no place in the history and discourse of religion. Women seem to be silent and marginalized from the process of formulating doctrines and religious beliefs, and thus disappear from the history of religion. Patriarchal, androcentric and sexist religious notions, in turn, give birth to gender differentiation, gender segregation, and gender injustice, where women are generally discriminated and get injustice.

Fundamentalist group sees the existence and position of women based on such religious understanding and culture. For this reason, this group is characterized by distinct gender roles and a strict differentiation of the working area between men and women. It is deemed appropriate for women to be at home doing domestic work and serving family members. It is their destiny.

The main role of women according to the fundamentalist group is as wives and mothers who are synonymous with serving, nurturing and maintaining the integrity of the family. The rigid definition of domestic roles usually creates a double burden when in reality the women in the group are also active outside the home, at least actively doing da’wah in the society.

Why is there always an effort to control the female body and limit their movements in the public space?

Women are often rigidly separated from the male world because of the construction of fundamentalist sexuality that places the female body as a source of temptation and all kinds of slander. The view that places women as a source of sexual temptation has implications for the efforts to control the female body and limit or marginalize women in the public domain because the body and even the voice of women are considered aurat (private parts).


In the latest phenomenon, women are not only in the domestic sphere. They also often become the front guards of demonstrations echoing the implementation of Islamic law and some even become suicide bombers. How do you see this?

Yes, not a few women in the fundamentalist movement actively participate in the public sphere to carry out the da’wah agenda and socialize the idea of women’s domestication. The idealism to carry out da’wah also encourages women, or women’s agencies, to participate in various actions and demonstrations to fight for the group’s agenda, including the agenda for implementing Islamic law as they understand it.

How do they carry out this indoctrination?

They make various efforts for the indoctrination, at least through the three most effective institutions to instill the values, including religious values, namely religious institutions (mosques, pesantren, etc.), schools and families. The purpose of indoctrination in schools, especially through extra-curricular activities, is, of course, to instill and perpetuate the values as believed by the teachers or the communities that control these activities. One study stated that extra-curricular religious activities in some of the favorite public schools in Yogyakarta are held by fundamentalist groups who wish to make the Divine order in public schools in accordance with their understanding. Many mosques are also occupied by the fundamentalist groups with one of their distinctive features, namely not giving opportunities to figures from outside of their groups to handle religious activities or play an important role in the mosque.

Why do they often use violence (although actually, some parties such as HTI or PKS do not always seem to use violent means)? In some places, the practice of violence was also carried out against women in the name of religion. How could this happen?

I do not think it is wise to generalize that the causes of violence are merely ideological or religious understanding. In many cases, violence occurs because of various other factors, such as political interests to control or hegemonize other groups, or group identity battles. In Aceh, for example, violence against women as a result of the application of Regional Regulations (Perda) also received much criticism because it was not only a matter of religious understanding but also the political purpose of asserting identity as an Acehnese.

However, several studies also show that domestic violence (KDRT) perpetrators often use Quranic verses to justify violence perpetrated against women, especially wives. But on the other hand, domestic violence occurs because of problems of unequal relations between husband and wife, which can be rooted from different cultures and capital, both economic capital (the economic level of husband and wife), social capital (community trust), cultural capital (such as education level) and religious capital (ability to understand religion). 

There are women who often become victims of layered discrimination committed by fundamentalists. What kinds of discrimination and on what basis?

As I mentioned above, that the religious understanding of the fundamentalist groups tends to be androcentric, sexist and patriarchal. In the context of the production of such religious understandings, women face various kinds of discrimination. The forms of discrimination vary, among them are stereotyping, namely generalized negative labeling, for example, the stereotype that women are created from men’s ribs and so they only have half of the minds of men, and various other weaknesses. Another form of discrimination is subordination, namely making women as second-class people and the marginalization of women.

Because women are weak, emotional, created from the male part, women are seen as second-class creatures, even in families. So various decisions and opportunities will be given to women after men, or if there are no men. Subordination will usually continue with marginalization, that is by not involving women in various decision-making or activities. Stereotyping, subordination, and marginalization will usually result in multiple or excessive loads. With various labeling and subordinate positions of women, it is considered normal for women and in fact, deemed to be their nature to stay at home serving family members. When in fact women participate in preaching and various public activities there will be excessive burdens, because the construction of the status and role of men in the public domain does not shift. Another thing that might happen is violence.

What efforts can be made by women to reject or overcome fundamentalism?

According to several studies that I have done, there are several strategies that can hinder the involvement of women in fundamentalist groups. First is education, especially inclusive education in the field of religion, both formal and informal. Inclusive education is the main door to help someone get out of the doctrine that considers others wrong and they themselves are right. One of the former activists of the fundamentalist group told me how discussions about the variety of interpretations and the schools of interpretations in college could open her eyes and change her radical views to become open. The second is the willingness to dialogue and continue to seek Islam. When women still have the willingness to dialogue even with those who are outside their group or those who have different views, the possibility to engage in a fundamentalist movement is low. One female friend of mine who was the leader of a fundamentalist group rejected to have a discussion with me and said that “discussion is only for those who are not yet convinced of Islam because everything is clearly written in the Qur’an and Hadith.” Third, the willingness to continue reading and learning. Fourth, understanding Islamic history and the development of Islam in Indonesia and cultivating logical thinking. This latter strategy is no less important, as a counter to the tradition of fundamentalist groups that emphasizes oral tradition, indoctrination and erodes logical and historical reasoning.

What religious values can be used as a counter to the views of fundamentalist doctrine?

Religious values that can be used as counter to fundamentalist doctrine are normative universal values of the Koran: a) Rahmatan lil ‘alamin Islam (Al-Ambiya (21): 107); b) monotheism or the principle of unity (QS. al-Ikhlas [112]: 1); justice as the closest thing to piety (Surah Al Ma’idah [5]: 8), respecting others (QS. An Nisa: 86); recognition of plurality (Surah Ali Imran: 64); anti-humiliation / abuse (Surah al-Hujurat [49], 11); moderate (Surah al-Baqarah [2]: 143); anti-violence (QS Ali Imran [3]), 159; anti-destruction (QS ar-Rum [30], 41); consensus decision making (QS. As Shura [42], 38), and equality (QS. As-Shura [42], 38).  

I always convey to my students and the society through pengajian (religious gathering), that if we hear, see or read things that are contrary to the above normative universal values, for example beating wives in the name of Islamic teachings or persecution or acts of violence against other groups which are different from us in the name of defending Islam, so it is not the Islam itself but the people’s understanding of Islam that is not in line with those beautiful universal values. {} AD. Kusumaningtyas


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