The Impact of Localization on the Practice of Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia

How do Muslim unity and local cultural diversity inform the practice of Islam in Indonesia?

This activity underscores the commonalities among Muslims and localized forms in Southeast Asia through examination of a variety of documents, including text, poetry, and photographs. Students will be asked to respond to guiding questions for each document, and then generate a list of universal tenets and examples of localization of Islam in Southeast Asia. Finally, the class is asked to discuss how religions change and develop distinct local features, particularly as reflected in the region that is Indonesia and Malaysia today.

Students will be able to:

  • Identify the universal ideas of Islam and the regional adaptations to its practice.
  • Understand, in general, how “localization,” or syncretism takes place as a religion is spread around the globe.
  • Use primary and secondary artifacts to analyze and interpret culture and historical change.

Two to three class periods

Introduction to Southeast Asia: History, Geography, and Livelihood
Barbara Watson Andaya

Religious Practices and Cultural Expression
Michael Laffan

Diversity and Community in Contemporary Society
Michael G. Peletz

  1. Learning packet of documents, texts, photos and guiding questions, including:
  1. Graphic Organizer: Universal and Local Elements of Islam (one per student)

  1. As a class, ask students to consider how a religion might be influenced by local environments as it spreads across the globe. Specifically, call attention to the differences in geography and culture that might exist between the desert regions of Saudi Arabia and the tropical environs of Southeast Asia. Consider that Islam arrived in Indonesia through merchants from overseas. What elements of the religion would not change? Why? Explain that this lesson will focus on the central tenets of Islam that are universal, and will also consider how religions change with local influences. Specifically, how did Islam change in Indonesia?
  2. Divide the class into small groups of four to five students and distribute copies of the learning packet to each student. Working together, each group will read the documents and answer the guiding questions. Review responses as a class.
  3. Hand out the graphic organizer, Universal and Local Elements of Islam. Using their responses, the groups will each complete the organizer labeled “Basic Tenets of Islam” and “Localization of Islam in Indonesia,” placing examples under each heading.
  4. As a class, review the organizer responses. Consider how Islam in Southeast Asia acts as one example of localization or syncretism of religion. Consider the following questions:
  • How might the local environment influence elements of religion?
  • What elements of religion are likely to change? Remain unchanged?
  • How does having basic tenets unify people within a religion?
  • How might localization make people more likely to embrace a religion?

Students will be assessed on their responses to guiding questions and the organizer, as well as participation in class discussion.

Contents of the learning packet may be amended for the class, or a group, as ability dictates. Heterogeneous groupings may also support English Language Learners or students with special needs.

As an additional assignment, ask students to write an essay on one of the following topics:

  • Research how local Muslims practice their religion. For example: Where is the nearest mosque? What are the days/hours of community worship? Are there markets or restaurants that cater to dietary requirements? Where might a Muslim woman purchase a
    head scarf?
  • Look for evidence of localization of Islam in the United States that is a result of environment and culture. Does this differ in various parts of our country? Why? Which practices remain universal?