The Foundation of the Partai Muslimin Indonesia

Author/s (editor/s):

Ken Wa

Publication year:


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Cornell's interest in Indonesian Islam goes back many years and was given an early stimulus by the lectures of the late Hadji Agus Salim, who served as visiting professor at the university in 1953. One of the points which he made in his lectures was that, as a political force in his country, Islam had not assumed an importance at all commensurate with the fact that Indonesia was the largest predominantly Islamic country in the world. Hadji Salim was speaking at a time when Indonesia's principal Islamic party, the Masjumi, was yielding cabinet leadership to the first of many cabinets dominated by secular nationalists. Today, seventeen years later, Islamic political power in Indonesia has become considerably weaker, and the influential Modernist Islamic elements who previously led the Masjumi are without political focus and organization.

Despite the fact that Modernist Islamic thinking is still inchoate and insufficiently articulated for political effectiveness, in the judgement of the present army leadership, it is perceived as having latent power which if effectively channelled might threaten the present political balance. Attempts in 1966 to revive the Masjumi, which had been outlawed by President Sukarno in 1960, were thus banned by the army-dominated government of President Suharto; for it too regarded a Modernist-led Islamic party as a potential danger, and its prospects something to be circumscribed and undercut. Finally, in 1968, the Suharto government permitted the establishment of a Modernist-oriented party, The Partai Muslimin Indonesia, but it forbade the men of stature, who had earlier guided Masjumi thinking, to assume leadership of the new party.

In describing and analysing these developments, Mr Ken Ward has made a significant contribution to our understanding of Modernist Islam's political failure in Indonesia. He has helped clarify why it has been impossible to build a consensus among Indonesia's Islamic leaders as to how Islamic doctrine is to be applied to Indonesia's political and socio-economic development. Mr Ward's study thus helps one understand why Islam has not become a political force commensurate with the size of Indonesia's Muslim population.

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