Islam in West Sumatra

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Minangkabau adat festival. Many of the traditional Minangkabau female costumes follow the Islamic prescriptions of hijab.[1]

Islam is the most adhered religion in West Sumatra, a province of Indonesia, embraced by 97.42% of the whole population. The percentage of Muslim population increases to 99.6% if excludes the Mentawai Islands, where the majority of the non-Muslim (Protestant) West Sumatrans reside.[2] Denomination among Islam in West Sumatra is predominantly Sunni Islam, and there is a small Shia Islamic pocket within the coastal city of Pariaman. Minangkabau people who are indigenous to West Sumatra and consist 88% of West Sumatran population today have historically played the important role within the Muslim community in Indonesia.[3] Up until today the region is considered as one of the strongholds of Islam in Indonesia.


Introduction of Islam

Introduction of Islam in West Sumatran region, especially the Minangkabau Highlands where was the home of Minangkabau people, is assumed as taking two routes, from the east of Minangkabau between the 7th and 8th century and from the west coast of Minangkabau after the 16th century. The first route was cultivated by the Muslim Arab traders came down from the Strait of Malacca through Kampar River flowing from the highlands into the strait.[4] This trade activity is estimated as the first contact between the indigenous people in the area and Islam. The cultural contact became more intensive in the 13th century with the rise of Muslim Samudera Pasai Sultanate in the northern Sumatra, assuming control of the strait and advancing into the east Minangkabau for gold mines and pepper production center. Islam began entering the West coast of Minangkabau after the fall of the Strait of Malacca into Portuguese in the 16th century, through the coastal cities such as Pariaman. During the time, the strongest Muslim empire in the region was Aceh Sultanate based in the current Aceh province. Intensive interactions between the Aceh Sultanate and Minangkabau region had developed into significant influence by the former on the latter in terms of Islamic teachings. Among the first Islamic proselytizers in Minangkabau area was Sheikh Burhanuddin Ulakan, a disciple of Sheikh Abdur Rauf Singkil who adhered to the Acehnese line of Shattari tariqa. Shattari tariqa was quickly spread into Minangkabau through the traditional religious educational institution known as surau.[5]

Spread of Islam

Royal seal of Pagaruyung Kingdom based in West Sumatra.

Islam was propagated by several Sufi orders, namely Shattari and Naqshbandi tariqas, through suraus and proselytization in the 17th-19th century. During the process, there were certain differences in the way religion had developed between the western coastal area and the eastern inland area. Within the inland area, the more syncretic form of Islam was spread through Naqshbandi tariqa which was disseminated by Ismail al-Khalidi al-Minangkabawi, and gained the strong foothold there, combined with the commercial advantage coming from its geographic proximity to the Strait of Malacca.[6][7] The development of Islam in West Sumatra can also be characterized by the practice of tasawwuf (science of Islamic mysticism) through the emphasis on sharia, which was instituted by the influential Minangkabau ulamas, pioneered by Tuanku Nan Tuo. Tuanku Nan Tuo was a Sufi-oriented reformer who took wasatiyyah (moderate) position. His syncretic approach between the orthodoxy and non-orthodoxy had successfully laid the foundation of sharia within the Minangkabau Sufi traditions.[8] This had led to the comprehensive development of Islamic sciences and studies, often accompanied by the application of Islamic solutions to the social issues and other worldly affairs, not confining it to the spiritual aspects.[9] This development had attempted to transform various aspects of Minangkabau society, especially within the inland agrarian area. The transformation was often colored by conflicts in the religious interpretations stemming from the cultural roots of Minangkabau people such as matriarchal system. The conflict, for example between the mainstream sharia and Naqshbandi practices, as well as later Islamic modernism between the Sufi orders, had resulted in intense intellectual development of the religious interpretations and indirectly contributed to the ascendance of Minangkabau region as one of the most important centers in the history of Islam in Indonesia.

Pre-modern era

After the spread of Islam in the 17th-19th century, Islam had been embraced by most of Minangkabau people lived in both inside and outside of West Sumatra, through the unorthodox approaches. Beginning from the early 19th-century, Minangkabau society began to be influenced by the Islamic intellectual development in the Middle East. Certain Minangkabau ulamas who were inspired by the newly founded Wahhabism in Mecca had intensified its scrutiny against the Pagaruyung kings who were deemed as not fulfilling the sharia prescriptions and performing acts which were deemed forbidden or heretical. These reformist scholars came to be known as padri, who were mostly disciples of Tuanku Nan Tuo. Prominent padris include Tuanku Nan Renceh, Tuanku Imam Bonjol, Tuanku Tambusai and Tuanku Rao.[8] The rupture of negotiations between the Minangkabau kings and the padris in 1803 had erupted into a conflict known as the Padri War. The war was fought between the two parties, the followers of padri and the adherents of the local custom (adat). After the 20 years of fighting, in 1833, the adat group requested the Dutch support. This had led to the intensification of the conflict and the increase in the loss of human resources and cultural properties, erosion of the power of the kingdom, and the infiltration by the Dutch taking advantage of the conflict.[10][11] Facing the situation, the leader of padri group, Tuanku Imam Bonjol, began to embrace the indigenous cultures and made an agreement between the two parties to unite against the Dutch colonialism. The two parties had made a consensus on the amalgamation between the Islamic teachings and the local customs, under the principle of Adat basandi syarak, syarak basandi Kitabullah ("Adat based on the teachings of Islam, the teachings of Islam based on the Qur'an").[12]

Modern era

In the late 19th century, a Minangkabau ulama Ahmad Khatib al-Minangkabawi rose to its prominence through rigorous education in Mecca, to the point that he became the first foreign scholar occupied the position of the mufti of Shafi'i school in the city. Many ulamas, scholars, and intellectuals throughout the archipelago who studied in Mecca became the disciple of al-Minangkabawi, including Ahmad Dahlan, the founder of Muhammadiyah, and Hasyim Asy'ari, the founder of Nahdlatul Ulama.[13]:356 Rosters of Minangkabau ulamas who returned to West Sumatra after the education under al-Minangkabawi had formed a new generation of intellectuals, including Muhammad Jamil Jambek, who turned from tariqa-oriented scholar into the avid critic of Sufism,[14] and Tahir bin Jalaluddin, known for his publication Al-Imam and its influence on Abdullah Ahmad's Al-Munir magazine.[15] These ulamas were based in suraus in each nagari which turned into a counterweight against the Dutch colonization and the Western education brought by the colonial government. Minangkabau ulamas of this generation is marked with the intellectual struggle between the traditionalists, who uphold the syncretic Islam fostered mainly through Naqshbandi worldview, and the modernists who are inspired by newly founded Islamic modernist movement which advocates for Sunnah, modern education and forsaking of non-orthodox traditions. Among the main contentions of the struggle are the allowance and the scope of ijtihad (independent thinking) and the aspects of hukum wasilah (rules of tawassul) deemed as incompatible with Sunnah.[16] Modernists had hold West Sumatra as one of their bases for exerting the influence throughout the archipelago. One of the first modernist mass organizations in the archipelago was established in Padang called Sumatera Thawalib in 1915. The West Sumatran chapter of Muhammadiyah was established by Abdul Karim Amrullah in 1925. Modernist political party Union of Indonesian Muslims (PERMI) was established in 1930, with Rasuna Said among its leaders. Correspondingly, Union of Islamic Education (PERTI) was established by the traditionalists in the same year. After the independence of Indonesia, the state had seen the rise of Java based mass organizations and the intellectuals from Jakarta, Ciputat and Jogjakarta. Under this circumstance, the prominence of West Sumatra and Minangkabau people among the intellectual landscape of Islam in Indonesia had fallen off since the New Order year. Among the important Minangkabau figures of post-independence era are Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah (Hamka), who authored Tafsir al-Azhar in 1967, the first tafsir written in Bahasa Indonesia and taking the vernacular Minangkabau and Malay approaches in interpreting the Qur'an,[17] and Mohammad Natsir, who led the Masyumi Party and Indonesian Islamic Dawah Council, contributing greatly to the propagation of Islamic orthodoxy in Indonesia.[18]


Religious outlook

Among Minangkabau people, Islam is occupying the core part of their identity. Minangkabau people are considered among the most pious Muslims in terms of the observance of the rituals within the Five Pillars of Islam.[19] As exemplified by their saying Adat basandi syarak, syarak basandi Kitabullah ("Adat based on the teachings of Islam, the teachings of Islam based on the Qur'an"), Minangkabau culture is considered linking directly to Islamic religious precepts, in which the authority of the former is upheld by the latter. As such, leaving Islam (murtad) is considered tantamount to leaving Minangkabau society on both physical and mental basis.[20]


Surau is the traditional Islamic educational institution originated around the West and South Sumatra region, in the form of assembly building for religious, cultural and festive purposes, similarly to Arab Zawiya.[21] The tradition of surau was preceding the formal Islamic education which employs orthodox theory and method brought from abroad, and it is considered having a pre-Islamic root, which can be traced back to a Buddhist monastery founded near Bukit Gombak in 1356 by Adityawarman.[22]


Jami Mosque of Taluak in Agam Regency, featuring vernacular Minangkabau architectural style.

Vernacular style mosque in West Sumatra is distinguished by its multi-layer roof made of fiber resembling Rumah Gadang, the Minangkabau residential building. Prominent examples of mosques with vernacular Minangkabau designs are Bingkudu Mosque,[23] founded in 1823 by the Padris, and Jami Mosque of Taluak, built in 1860. Another important religious institution surau is also often built in vernacular Minangkabau style as well, with three- or five-tiered roofs and woodcarvings engraved in the facade.


Tabuik is a Shia Islamic occasion in the city of Pariaman and it is a part of the Shia days of remembrance among the Shia local minority. Tabuik refers to the towering funeral biers carried during the commemoration. The event has been performed every year since the Day of Ashura in 1831, when the practice was introduced to the region by the Shia sepoy troops from India who were stationed—and later settled—there during the British Raj.[24] The festival enacts the Battle of Karbala and plays the tassa and dhol drums.


  1. ^ A different look at Minangkabau fashion, Jakarta Post. Retrieved November 14, 2017
  2. ^ "Penduduk Menurut Kelompok Umur dan Agama yang Dianut: Provinsi Sumatera Barat". Badan Pusat Statistik. Retrieved 2012-05-03.
  3. ^ Giap, Tan Khee et al. Competitiveness Analysis And Development Strategies For 33 Indonesian Provinces. World Scientific.
  4. ^ Mansoer, et al., 1970: 44-45
  6. ^ Abdul Rahman Haji Abdullah (1997). Pemikiran Islam di Malaysia: Sejarah dan Aliran. Gema Insani. ISBN 978-979-561-430-2. pp.53.
  7. ^ Dobbin, 1992: 146
  8. ^ a b Kaum Sufi dalam Sejarah di Minangkabau Harian Singgalang, 30 March 2012. Retrieved December 8, 2013.
  9. ^ Dobbin, 1992: 151-152
  10. ^ Abdullah, Taufik (1966). "Adat and Islam: An Examination of Conflict in Minangkabau". 2 (2): 1–24. doi:10.2307/3350753.
  11. ^ Amran, Rusli (1981). Sumatera Barat hingga Plakat Panjang. Penerbit Sinar Harapan.
  12. ^ Jones, Gavin W.; Chee, Heng Leng; Mohamad, Maznah (2009). "Not Muslim, Not Minangkabau, Interreligious Marriage and its Culture Impact in Minangkabau Society by Mina Elvira". Muslim-Non-Muslim Marriage: Political and Cultural Contestations in Southeast Asia. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 51. ISBN 978-981-230-874-0.
  13. ^ Ricklefs, M.C. (1991). A History of Modern Indonesia 1200-2004. London: MacMillan.
  14. ^ "Minang Saisuak #80 - Syekh Muhammad Djamil Djambek" Surya Suryadi - Harian Singgalang, Retrieved 11-01-2015.
  15. ^ Ricklefs, M.C. (1991). A History of Modern Indonesia 1200-2004. London: MacMillan. p. 353-356.
  16. ^ Hamka, 1967: 79
  17. ^ Yusuf, M. Yunan. (2003). Corak Pemikiran Kalam Tafsir Al-Azhar. Penamadani. pp.103.
  18. ^ Ma'mur 1995, pp. 34–35.
  19. ^ Keddie, Nikki R. (1987). Islam and Society in Minangkabau and in the Middle East: Comparative Reflections. Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia. app.1
  20. ^ Jones, Gavin W. et al, 2009: 181
  21. ^ Azyumardi Azra, Islam in the Indonesian World: An Account of Institutional Formation. Bandung 2006, S. 63-69.
  22. ^ Dobbin, 1992: 142
  23. ^ Dina Fatimah. "KAJIAN Arsitektur pada Masjid Bingkudu di Minangkabau dilihat dari Aspek Nilai dan Makna" (PDF).
  24. ^ Bachyul Jb, Syofiardi (2006-03-01). "'Tabuik' festival: From a religious event to tourism". The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 2007-01-27.


  • M.D. Mansoer et al. (1970). Sejarah Minangkabau. Jakarta, Bhratara.
  • Dobbin, Christine. (1992). Kebangkitan Islam dalam ekonomi petani yang sedang berubah: Sumatra Tengah, 1784-1847. Inis.
  • Jones, Gavin W. et al. (2009). Muslim-Non-Muslim Marriage: Political and Cultural Contestations in Southeast Asia. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  • Hamka, (1967) Ayahku, Riwayat Hidup Dr H. Abd. Karim Abdullah dan Perjuangan Kaum Agama di Sumatera. Jakarta.
  • Dobbin, Christine (1983). Islamic Revivalism in a Changing Peasant Economy: Central Sumatra, 1784–1847. Curzon Press. ISBN 0-7007-0155-9.
  • Ma'mur, Ilzamudin (1995). Abul Ala Mawdudi and Mohammad Natsir's Views on Statehood: A Comparative Study Montreal: McGill University. Retrieved 28 October 2011.
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