Landscapes of prayer for the environment in Indonesia are being transformed primarily through interventions of dedication and intent, and secondarily through structural form. Cases of observances of various forms of Muslim prayer, such as observances known as du’a, dhikr, and salawat are presented here by considering how a third term besides supplicant and deity, namely the natural world and its conditions, or “the environment,” comes to emerge or alternatively recede in changing landscapes of prayer. Expectations that prayer carry an intent, subject to the individual dedication of action, now coincide with an expanded array of options for dedication with respect to environmental change, both in the present and in the future.
Anna M. Gade
Anna M. Gade (Ph.D., University of Chicago Divinity School) is Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is also a faculty affiliate of Religious Studies and Asian Studies. She focuses on traditions of global Islam; trends in religious revitalization in Muslim Southeast Asia; theory and method in the academic study of religion; and, humanistic approaches to environmental studies. She is author of the books, Perfection Makes Practice: Learning, Emotion, and the Recited Qur'an in Indonesia (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2004) and The Qur'an: An Introduction (Oxford, U.K.: Oneworld Publications, 2010). Her current research and publications treat Islam and ecology and comparative Muslim religious environmentalism in Asian perspective. She is currently completing a book manuscript under the working title, Islam and the Environment.
Posts by Anna M. Gade
Indonesia is one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, and it is one of the most severely threatened due to deforestation, sea temperature rise and acidification, and other impacts of resource extraction and environmental degradation. Indonesia is also vulnerable to disasters, like earthquakes; these disasters may also be intensified by human factors, as in the case of severe weather events that are linked to climate change.
Disaster brought both the beginning and the end of prayer to the slopes of Mt. Merapi, Java, when the volcano erupted in 2010. Conditions of chaos and re-established social order following the catastrophic eruption transformed key relations of religious dedication. Below I consider two examples: one documents prayer arising spontaneously in the context of environmental crisis, while the other relates of the end of a kind of prayer, or more specifically a mode of its dedication, also brought on as a result of the disaster.
In a trend I have seen developing in Indonesia for at least two decades, some Muslims in Indonesia have recast traditional devotional observances, salawat and dhikr, for non-traditional intents and purposes. Salawat are prayers of peace and blessings devoted to the Prophet Muhammad—a longstanding tradition with a Qur’anic support, which became increasingly popular in the “Islamic revival” since the 1990s (for explanation, see my book). This phenomenon would have been unexpected decades before, given historical controversy around the practice. Salawat has come now to be increasingly performed in new contexts and for public purposes, such as mass entertainment. While long carried out for instrumental ends, such as blessing a at a new baby’s naming ceremony, it was also now being observed for beneficial outcome in new contexts such as corporate functions and even, in one case I documented, as a way for a women’s mosque group to support the home soccer team to a win from up in the stands.
All of the cases show re-dedication of prayers by Muslims with respect to the environment within a landscape of multiple, even expanding options. One ritual had come to exclude agents of prayer with connection to the natural world, the mythic guardian spirit (who nevertheless still receives his new clothes and offerings every year). Coinciding with expectations that religious intention should become rationalized, the traditional forms of prayer associated with labuhan had been rendered as non-religious “culture,” while their identity as private devotion receded into domains of the inaccessible. As a response to the same event that precipitated social change of the labuhan, another form of prayer in the wake of disaster unexpectedly shifted boundaries of intent to include others (Christians) as purpose was reshaped by abrupt environmental change.