Best Drupal HostingBest Joomla HostingBest Wordpress Hosting

World Policy Journal is proud to share our weekly podcast, World Policy On Air, featuring former Newsweek On Air host David Alpern. Click here to subscribe on iTunes!



Indonesia: Innovation and Invocation

By Aubrey Belford

JAKARTA—Twenty-five miles south of the city—far enough from the urban tangle for the air to be breathable—the unfinished Sentul City housing estates are, on the surface, familiar imitations of Western suburbia. A sign off the six-lane expressway leading to the development welcomes visitors to the “City of Ennovation.” Just alongside the development sits the Bellanova Country Mall, the entry point to a landscape of wide boulevards and meticulous landscaping, detached houses, and empty lots awaiting new construction.

The parking lot outside the mall is packed with sedans and SUVs. At an arcade inside, Rina Damayanti, a 29-year-old house- ife, watches as her husband, Aldi Rahman, thumbs the remote control of a miniature car carrying their 4 year-old son, Rosihan. She says life here beats the chaos of Jakarta—it is clean, comfortable and friendly.

“It’s better here,” she says. “There’s community life here. People make a priority of self-discipline and educating their kids.”

Just across the expressway, a similar housing development is rising. For the moment, this aspiring rival—called Bukit Az-Zikra, or “The Hill of Invocation”—comprises mostly rows of unbuilt homes. But its developers are confident that it will soon be a thriving, 400-home housing complex. Unlike the unabashedly worldly Sentul City, however, Bukit Az-Zikra will offer a vision of modernity and prosperity specifically intended for the observant Indonesian Muslim.

About 40 people already live in the complex, which will ultimately feature an office and shopping complex—based on “Islamic principles” of trade and business—to rival the mall across the expressway. All residents, when at the complex, are obliged to join prayers five times a day. Smoking is banned, and traditional Islamic dress is mandatory. Towering above the complex is the 10,000-person capacity Muammar Gaddafi Mosque—built with funding from the Libyan government’s international missionary arm.

Beside the mosque is a large, white-walled villa. This is the home of Arifin Il- ham, a celebrity television preacher and the public face of Bukit Az-Zikra. The housing complex’s ethos is based on the same message that Arifin brings to Indonesians in his television and radio sermons, and to the thousands-strong mass gatherings he holds for zikr, or Sufi-inspired chanting. Society is full of maksiat (immorality) and corruption, he argues, and in need of internal spiritual renewal. It is a message that resonates with Indonesia’s swelling middle class, who make up a key part of Arifin’s audience and are the explicit target market for his version of Islamicized suburbia.

Standing on his balcony as the call to prayer booms from the mosque, Arifin—a boyishly handsome man in his early 40s who speaks in a coarse growl—reflects on the needs of his followers. “They’re already successful. They already have the world. But—” Arifin breaks into English. “His soul—poor. All are fine, have money, popularity, success, but no heart.”

In other words, all this new money—and the secular suburban life on the other side of the expressway—is bad for the soul. Living alongside Muslims according to Islamic principles is the way to remove this taint. “Even charitable people, without an environment of brotherhood, can become weak,” Arifin says.

Arifin’s popularity is evidence that the growth of a middle class can take an unpredictable path. In Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, prosperity has not led inexorably to an embrace of secular values.


[To read the rest of this article, click here.]



Aubrey Belford is a freelance reporter who writes about Asia from his base in Jakarta.

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly. If you have a Gravatar account, used to display your avatar.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image. Ignore spaces and be careful about upper and lower case.


Around WPI

Jihad in Sub-Saharan Africa 

This paper, “Jihad in Sub-Saharan Africa: Challenging the Narratives of the War on Terror,” examines the history of Islamic movements in Africa's Sahel region to contextualize current conflicts.

World Economic Roundtable with Vicente Fox 

In this World Economic Roundtable, former Mexican President Vicente Fox discusses his current quest to make his country a hub for technology. 

Intern at World Policy

Want to join our team? Looking for an experience at one of the most highly sought-after internships for ambitious students? Application details here.


Al Gore presides over Arctic Roundtable 

As the United States prepares to assume chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015, this inaugural convening of the Arctic Deeply Roundtables launches a vital conversation for our times. 


When the Senate Worked for Us:
New book offers untold stories of how activist staffers countered corporate lobbies in the U.S.

MA in International Policy and Development
Middlebury Institute (Monterey, CA): Put theory into practice through client-based coursework. Apply by Feb. 1.

Millennium Project’s State of the Future 19.0: Collective Intelligence on the Future of the World


To learn about the latest in media, programming, and fellowship, subscribe to the World Policy Weekly Newsletter and read through our archives.

World Policy on Facebook