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Becoming Better Muslims: Religious Authority and Ethical Improvement in Aceh, Indonesia

Kloos, David

978 0 691 17664 2
List price(s):
77.00 USD
64.95 GBP
73.20 EUR

Publication date:
28 November 2017

Full description: 

How do ordinary Muslims deal with and influence the increasingly pervasive Islamic norms set by institutions of the state and religion? Becoming Better Muslims offers an innovative account of the dynamic interactions between individual Muslims, religious authorities, and the state in Aceh, Indonesia. Relying on extensive historical and ethnographic research, David Kloos offers a detailed analysis of religious life in Aceh and an investigation into today's personal processes of ethical formation. Aceh is known for its history of rebellion and its recent implementation of Islamic law. Debunking the stereotypical image of the Acehnese as inherently pious or fanatical, Kloos shows how Acehnese Muslims reflect consciously on their faith and often frame their religious lives in terms of gradual ethical improvement. Revealing that most Muslims view their lives through the prism of uncertainty, doubt, and imperfection, he argues that these senses of failure contribute strongly to how individuals try to become better Muslims. He also demonstrates that while religious authorities have encroached on believers and local communities, constraining them in their beliefs and practices, the same process has enabled ordinary Muslims to reflect on moral choices and dilemmas, and to shape the ways religious norms are enforced. Arguing that Islamic norms are carried out through daily negotiations and contestations rather than blind conformity, Becoming Better Muslims examines how ordinary people develop and exercise their religious agency.

Table of contents: 

List of Illustrations ixPreface and Acknowledgments xiNote on Spelling, Transliteration, and Italicization xviiMap of Aceh xixIntroduction: Inner Islam and the Problem of Acehnese Exceptionalism 1A Narrative of Violence and Piety 2Religious Agency and Ethical Improvement: An Interactive Approach 6Ordinary Ethics, Moral Failure, and the Sense of a Life Unfolding 10Islam in Aceh as a Subject of Study 14Fieldwork 17Organization of the Book 231 History and the Imagining of Pious Aceh 26Reconfigurations of Authority 28Islam and the Imperial War 33Belief and Practice in a Society in Flux 38Islamic Activism 44Violence and the Transformation of the Public Sphere 48Conclusion 512 The Limits of Normative Islam 53Occupation, Revolution, Rebellion 56Exemplars of Reform 60The Limits of Normative Islam 63Villages in the New Order 67 The Lheueh Dispute 71Conclusion 753 Village Society and the Problem of Moral Authority 77Beyond the Politics of Violence and Grief 78A Crisis of Solidarity 82Generation and the Perception of Moral Authority 88The Theft from the Dayah 92 My Father Is a Good Man but Too Stubborn 97Village Politics and the Reconceptualization of Local Leadership 100Conclusion 1034 Islamic Scripturalism and Everyday Life after the Disaster 105Routines and Debates in a Tsunami-Affected Neighborhood 107A Lost Zeal for Business 111Heaven Lies under Mother's Feet 115Money, Piety, and Senses of Community 118Age, Life Phase, and the Inward Turn 123Conclusion 1295 Becoming Better Muslims: Sinning, Repentance, Improvement 131Sinning, Shari'a, and the Moral Pressures of the Postwar, Post-tsunami Moment 132Early Life Discipline, Older Age Consciousness: The Repentance of Rahmat 137The Responsibilities of Yani 143Aris, Indra, and the Morality of Failure and Success 148The Knowledge of Sins: Competing Models of Ethical Improvement? 153Conclusion 158Conclusion 159Notes 171Glossary and Abbreviations 185References 191Index 207


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




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