In and beyond the gate of pesantren: Islamic feminism and female ulama contributions to Islamic discourse in Indonesia



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This project investigates the competing narratives within the discourses of Islam in Indonesia, notably in the study of gender and women's positions within Islam, by using one pesantren based in Yogyakarta as a case study to better understand such larger discourses. By implementing Saba Mahmood’s concept of religious sociability, and pesantren values in Islamic teachings, I conduct a rhetorical analysis of pesantren communities and Islamic feminist organizations to shed light on existing narratives and how they influence larger aspects of Indonesian Islamic society. I argue that religious sociability practiced by female ulama in pesantren enables the intimate space that allows Islamic feminism to thrive, both within the constrained space of male-dominated fields and the larger society as a part of Islamic discourse. I also argue that Islamic feminist organizations and figures existing within and complying with pesantren values help build the narrative of moderate Islam and dismantle patriarchal interpretations of Islamic teachings. This thesis is divided into four chapters: First, I provide the contextual background of the interrelated and sometimes contesting narratives within the Islamic discourse in Indonesia. Then, I explore the concept of Islamic education, pesantren, and how religion has become a site of knowledge production to produce discursive realities. Second, I will explain the history of women’s organizations in Indonesia, and how Muslim women organizations in Indonesia have long paved the opportunities for the construction of Islamic feminism. Third, I will engage with Saba Mahmood’s concept of religious sociability to analyze a speech of a female ulama in Pesantren Krapyak Ali Maksum, Yogyakarta to find out how the rhetorical style of familiarity and sensibility are expressed in her persona, and how the figures of Ibu Nyai become rhetorical agents that inspires students. Lastly, I will discuss the social and digital activism of Islamic feminist organizations such as Mubadalah Indonesia and the Congress of Indonesian Female Ulama (Kongres Ulama Perempuan Indonesia/KUPI) as the contributions of Islamic feminism and pesantren values in shaping Islamic discourse in Indonesia.


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