In November 2018, I was invited by the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia to Riyadh to attend the Janadriyyah Festival. We were also asked to take a walk to the village of origin of the Wahhabi sect in Dir’iyyah. As for entering Riyadh, it requires a special visa from Saudi Arabia. The city of Riyadh is indeed the center of this kingdom’s government. The flow of modernization is so fast and intense— expatriates everywhere with various professions. There is even a market around Dir’iyyah. All women wear veils. We can only see the eyes of women in the super mall. At the same time, the man wears a robe and other attributes commonly recognized as Arab men, which is the first time I have stepped foot on the land claimed to be a Wahhabi center.
When walking around during the Janadriyyah Festival exhibition, Arab faces are amicable. They always greet us in a friendly manner. Even when we mentioned Indonesia, they immediately greeted with ‘how are you,’ ‘Indomie,’ and ‘Sukarno.’ Even though they were veiled, they still wanted to say hello and be friendly if I met some Arab women. Not only that, those who work as SPG (Sales Promotion Girl) also serve in a friendly manner. Of course, this hospitality differs from some of the veiled women I met in Aceh. It was as if I was not in a country alleged to be a Wahhabi. First-class perfume is always smelled in the mall. Branded clocks appear in the display case figures. Branded clothes also target the upper-class social groups in Saudi. Shopping is a hallmark of Saudi women.
When I was about to leave for Indonesia from Jeddah Airport, I started to feel the airport as a city bus terminal. Fighting each other’s queues when they want to check is a characteristic. Shout after shout of ground staff officers always shouted. Some residents allegedly wearing veils and robes were not interested in the queuing culture. Here, of course, it is different from some airports that I have visited in several countries. I almost gave up hope; what if I was late to the plane door. Finally, local staff from the Indonesian Consulate in Jeddah helped us check-in. Even when they want to enter goods during security checks, they are still snatched away. Shaking your head is the most natural response.
Another thing I observed was that when the immigration officer stamped our passports, I saw several women taking off their black clothes and veils. Some go to the toilet to change their clothes. After that, I was shown women who wore clothes like a modern girl. It turned out that when I was on the plane, I got the same view. I assume that they are expatriates who want to return to their hometowns, even though some have an Arabian face. When I arrived at SHIA (Soekarno Hatta International Airport), I found out that some Arab men had come to travel to Indonesia. I do not want to continue what they are doing in several tourist areas in Indonesia.
This is my story in Saudi Arabia. In addition to other experiences about Umrah pilgrims, 5-star hotels around the mosque area in Medina and Mecca, the ability to speak Indonesian among some sellers in the market around Mecca and Medina, begging in mosques, and other things that include in the category of spiritual experience. This experience while in Saudi Arabia was very memorable for me. At least, besides being able to worship, you can also see how the latest developments in Saudi Arabia are.
Understanding the tension between Wahhabis and Aswaja in the Nusantara will not be the same as what happened in Saudi Arabia. My experience explains the phenomena that occurred in Riyad, Medina, and Mecca. Of course, the cultural, economic, political, and social aspects become a kind of explanatory tool when understanding what is happening in Saudi Arabia is not purely because of religious issues. On the other hand, looking at Indonesia’s cultural, economic, political, and social aspects, there is always a religious explanation behind it. In other words, religion is often used as a tool of legitimacy in matters in this country.
However, socio-cultural explanations in Nusantara society are not always triggered by religion. The symptoms of the umrah travel service bureau and the various businesses are that economic aspects, not just religion, trigger them. In Banda Aceh, for example, various shops have appeared that sell all-Arabic equipment in response to the phenomenon that people feel comfortable with what is provided in these shops. Although the goods sold are not products from Saudi Arabia but South Asia and East Asia. The process of refining in the archipelago is getting more intense in line with the Umrah and Hajj plus business trend. The social space of society provides an opportunity for anyone to reproduce a new culture in this country.
For example, almost all cafes in Banda Aceh use English in their drink and food menus. Shop names in English began to appear by the roadside. Various foods and drinks have also begun to use names from outside Aceh. Fried bananas are replaced with Pisang Adabi. Tea with milk is replaced with Thai Tea. The phenomenon of Starbucks-style coffee shops began to be liked by the Acehnese. Uniquely, there does not appear the slightest religious interest, for example, at the level of ethics in religion. Religion does not exist in a realm that requires ethics and morals.
Another example is the shabu-shabu phenomenon which is very rampant in Aceh, especially in villages. Here, local religious authorities do not seem to influence the destruction of Aceh’s young generation. It is not surprising that religion has become a haven for the shabu-shabu mafia. This fact reinforces the reason that there are critical problems in the social life of the people in Aceh. This condition is that religion often appears as part of social sentiment. Not only that, but religion is also present in the issue of social sympathy and empathy, which can be seen. For example, sentiment is needed to bind or unravel them to build social alliances. One of the tools for binding is religion. Even to the point of violence, religion is utilized as a tool of legitimacy.
Social sentiment is needed to make the social determination in society, coupled with the emergence of concepts that can divide society. The control of public space in terms of worship, for example, also triggers the problem. This pattern of religious life is currently prevailing in the archipelago, which will create a productive or counter-productive agenda in this country. One space for religious interpretation is the realm of fiqh. Although fiqh activities were initially scientific, sometimes they turned into normative theological activities. It is already at an ideological stage. This scientific activity versus ideological activity will not be side by side forever. Because when ideological activities are put forward, the truth claim sticks out the most. For example, justifying and blaming each other. This condition is exacerbated by the post-truth era, which is part of the rise of social media. The process of weaponization of social media results in social disintegration. Therefore, the behavior of “min na wa min hum” (“us and them) is commonplace in Nusantara.
There is an imaginative narrative about the battle of Aswaja and Wahhabis. What is meant by the imaginative narrative is how people today imagine what Wahhabis and Aswaja are. Sometimes this narrative tends to be inconsistent with the socio-historical narrative. For example, social categories or stigmas appear in religious, social life because certain moments or interests exist. These socio-religious categories are then allowed to live in the people’s imagination. The religious authorities are not interested in providing enlightenment to what is imagined by society. However, they allow the stigma to emerge to secure their social position in the existing social reality.
This is where social conflicts begin to emerge because agency processes continue to emerge to secure each other’s imaginations that have been implanted in them. This social imagination still seems to need a comprehensive study of the Wahabi and Aswaja concepts in Aceh. An understanding will experience locality. That is, local people understand according to what and who influences them. Therefore, the locality aspect of understanding the two concepts will also undergo a process according to social stratification. There are sociological and anthropological factors in distributing public knowledge about the Wahhabi and Aswaja concepts.
My experience of seeing veiled women in Riyadh malls has also been found in several dayahs in Aceh province, which are claimed to be part of the Aswaja sect. The wearing Arab robes are no longer just a monopoly, allegedly a Wahhabi sect. However, social media has also enjoyed it, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. This tsunami of religious information finally makes a person’s religious attitudes and traits more towards ideology than science. Not only that, someone is increasingly blaming each other. Actions that start from anarchy in thought and emotion finally manifest in a social anarchy. The hatred caused by anarchy in the mind is mainly triggered by the lack of time to understand other people’s thinking. As a result, social tensions triggered by religious understanding are unavoidable.
The situation did not only arise because of differences in religious understanding. However, there has been a shift in authority and ideological reproduction in a person’s attitude and character. In this country, this trend emerged after social spaces became an arena for contesting religious understanding. So it was at first. However, recently when this arena was attached to the existing political system, the tension worsened. For example, in the context of Aceh, people who used to study religion at pesantren began to involve themselves in the political arena. In the past, the influence of Islamic renewal was more in the socio-cultural layer. Something that is not under Islamic teachings is seen as bid’ah. Here the tension is more on what is not following the understanding of a sect or religious group. Finally, whoever is the strongest in maintaining the authority and power in the system of understanding religious teachings will be the one who will control the behavior of the people.
I want to close this essay with some critical notes regarding social tension in the Wahhabi and Aswaja problems in the archipelago. First, the three religions become the basis of social engineering in a society, so, like it or not, the battle of concepts, actors, groups, policies, and ideas of social imagination will clash with each other. In this case, tension and conflict cannot be avoided, as in Nusantara. Therefore, social tension will show its vibrational strength even though the government actively intervenes.
Second, efforts are needed to purify the understanding of the Wahhabi and Aswaja concepts. Because there are still many points of contact for similarities rather than differences at specific points. The meaning of the origin of these two concepts needs to be carried out at an immediate and proper level. This effort certainly does not reduce social tension activities but accumulates public understanding at the point of tasamuh nuance. Arguments between the two groups sometimes circulate not in scientific dialogue but in blaming each other. Even scientific dialogue efforts do not occur when a group can still close itself off. The emergence of various schools of thought in the trajectory of Islamic history primarily resulted from scientific activities.