Djalaludin Rahmat stood as a PDI-P candidate in West Java II constituency, which spans the regencies of Bandung and West Bandung. He gained 56.402 votes, and secured a seat in the 2014 new national parliament.

‘Kang Djalal’ (as most people call him) is a Muslim intellectual, activist and prominent Shia figure, and also member of advisory board of Ijabi (The All-Indonesian Assembly of Ahlul Bayt Indonesian). Ijabi is a well-known Shia organisation that promotes pluralism and social activism. For almost three decades Kang Djalal has advocated for religious rights and tolerance especially toward minority groups, such as Shia and Ahmadiyah. Shia comprise only 1 million of the total 205 million Muslims in Indonesia, with 99% of Indonesians being Sunni Muslim. There have been consistent attacks against Shia and Ahmadiyah groups in Indonesia, which have escalated under the Presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Kang Djalal Tempo

Jalaluddin Rakhmat. Photo credit:

Because of his public stance supporting the rights of minority religious groups, he was often targeted by conservative Muslim groups, especially the Forum of Indonesian Communty Ulama (FUUI) and the Islam United (Persis). For instance, on April 20, when they discovered Kang Djalal had gained a seat in the coming parliament, these orgnaisations banded together with the Islamic Defenders Front to form a National Anti-Shia Alliance at Al-Fajr mosque, Bandung.

One speaker, Ustad Atian Ali, gave a speech on the dangers of the Indonesia’s Shia community, arguing that they rattle Indonesia’s moral and Islamic unity. A high ranking official in the Indonesian Council of Ulamas (MUI), Ustad Muhammad Ma’aruf Baharun also declared Shias misguided and dangerous for the majority Sunni (Ahlu Sunnah wal Jamaah) in Indonesia.

Previously, MUI Secretary General Deputy KH Tengku Zulkarnaen expressed his disappointment with Muslims who might vote for Kang Djalal, “I always advise the Islamic community to not to vote PDIP. [It’s] an anti-Islamic party with a Shia candidate”. Conservative Islamic media had also weighed in. Online media such as Voice of Islamic,,, published articles spreading rumours that if Jokowi were to be elected president, Kang Djalal would be his pick for Minister of Religion. The headlines of announced: “Identify and be wary of Shia leaders…”

The subtitle insinuated that Shia leadership started with humble beginnings but were working their way up the central branch of the Indonesian Council of Ulama. The article was shared 82,5000 times on Facebook and retweeted 639 times on Twitter. The article listed local Shia leaders with Kang Djalal top of the list, urging Indonesian Muslim to be vigilant and boycott their social and political activities.

In January 2014, the Persis youth branch held a discussion on Shia apostasy; inviting Prof. Maman Abdurahman two-time elected chairman of Persis as a speaker. Provocatively, they held the event in Kiaracondong, a district near to the Shia complex with schools, education centres and Kang Djalal house. Abdurahman labeled Shia, infidels and urged Muslims not to vote for Shia candidates.

This was only one of the many negative campaigns waged by conservative Muslim organisations and media against the Shia.

Yet, somehow, Kang Djalal was elected. How did this happen?

Kang Djalal

Kang Djalal’s campaign poster

Part of the answer to this lies in Kang Djalal’s campaign materials and the ways his presented himself to his constituency. The billboard picture above was a feature around the West Java II constituency and also in online media.

In this image, Kang Djalal signifies his ethnic and cultural background through the traditionalist Sundanese hat called bendo. Normally, he doesn’t wear it, but the campaign season saw it permanently pitched on his head. His name also plays on these cultural associations. “Kang” is a Sundanese term for older brother while most Islamic Scholars in West Java prefer to use the more formal title of Ustad or KH (Kiai Haji) to cement their Islamic authority.

In West Java (as well as in most part of Indonesia), local customs and Islam have blended. Social integration is ushered through religious rituals and ceremony such as Sunatan (circumcision), Tahlilan (remembering the dead), Ziarah Kubur (pilgrimage to the grave) and Mauludan (Remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad). These rituals are often challenged by puritanical Islamic organizations. By contrast, Kang Djalal embraced these rituals as part of a rich Sundanese Islamic tradition.

Second, Kang Djalal depicted himself as a nationalist. Sukarno featured on his campaign billboard and brochure. On March 25th, his election speech praised Sukarno as the founding father of Indonesia nationalism. Kang Djalal Islamised the PDI-P brand by wearing a red Arabic scarf wrapped around his shoulders, brandishing a rare photo of Sukarno raising his hand for pray and a traditionally veiled Megawati. This poster lent an Islamic flavor to PDIP nationalism.

These are a few examples of Kang Djalal’s ‘religious nationalism’ – an old fashion term, but nonetheless effective in constituencies like Java where Islamic tradition and rituals merge with local customs.

“Religious nationalism” doesn’t come without its critics. Conservative Islamic parties and orthodox Muslim organizations, such as the Pro-Shariah Legislative Candidates (FCS) argue that ‘religious nationalism’ places nationalism on par with religion, which should surpass any other kind of belonging or identity. is a problematic term. To them, combining Islam with Nationalism is effectively heresy (bi’dah).

By embracing his multiple identities of geography, ethnicity, culture, nationality and religion, Kang Djalal effectively shucked off the stigma of Shiaism and was embraced by West Java’s Sunni Muslim majority.

As Jokowi and Prabowo continue their campaign for President, we see a similar turn to religious nationalism. Both visited senior Nadlahtul Ulama figures such as Rais Am Musthapa Bisri, and KH Maimun Zubair. As the biggest traditional Islamic organization in Indonesia, NU not only represents the majority Muslim community, but promotes nationalism and the state religion Pancasila. While many Islamic organizations turned conservative in post-authoritarian era, NU has maintained a plural and moderate message.

Part of the black campaign against Jokowi has questioned his commitment to Islam. Jokowi has been accused of having abangan (nominal Islam). In Samarinda East Borneo, while attending Muhammadiyah Tanwir (congress), in front of hundreds Muhammadiyah’s, Jokowi said “My name is Jokowi, Alhamdullilah I’m already a Haji, my mother is a Haji, my brother also a Haji.”

Jokowi JK pray

Jokowi and Jusuf Kalla praying. Photo credit: Antara news

In contemporary Indonesia, religious nationalism is vital to campaign success, but blending the two requires an artful symbolic gymnastics which is often hard to pull off.

In this regard, Jokowi and Prabowo could learn a thing or two from Kang Djalal.

Ahmad Syarif Syechabubakr is a researcher in Jakarta. He is editor of the Islamic Journal As-Syiasah, which will begin publishing in October, 2014.