Intellectuals or housemaids?

Indonesia Project

Event details

Indonesia Study Group

Date & time

Monday 12 April 2010


Coombs Seminar Room B, HC Coombs Building 9, Cnr Fellows Road and Garran Road, ANU


Yon Mahmudi, Arabic Studies, Faculty of Humanities, The University of Indonesia.


Indonesia Project
+61 2 6125 5954

Islam was once seen as synonymous with Arabs and their culture, some 60 per cent of Muslims now live in Asia and their religio-cultural expressions reflect local traditions. Southeast Asian Islam draws heavily on Malay cultural and religious influences. Arguably, Indonesia Islam is more representative of the interests of the broader Islamic world than Arab Muslims in the Middle East. Indonesian Muslim leaders want their country to play a larger role in the Muslim world, including helping to resolve conflicts in the Middle East. Recent Australian and US governments have also advocated a greater role for Indonesia.

Indonesia has not been recognized by its fellow Muslims in the Middle East as representing a major voice of Islam. This is because of negative perceptions that developed about Indonesia in the Arab world. Indonesia as the land of the housemaids, reflecting the fact that Indonesian foreign workers staff the houses of many well-to-do families in the Middle East. Thus, they have a low opinion of Indonesians and see them as incapable to contributing to global Islamic politics and diplomacy. The 18th century till the mid-20th century, Indonesian scholars were highly respected in the Holy Land and held senior teaching and clerical positions. They were acknowledged as eminent ulama rather than domestic laborers, as is the case now. In this seminar, I will describe the changing perceptions of Indonesians in the Middle East and analyze how this shapes Arab relations with Indonesia.

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