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Malay and Indonesian Literature

W. M. Abdul Hadi, Harry Aveling
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Malay and Indonesian Literature

In the eighth and ninth centuries AD, soon after its foundation by the prophet Muḥammad, Islam was carried to Island Southeast Asia by Arabic and Persian sailors. It was only after the thirteenth century, however, with the foundation of the joint kingdoms of Samudra and Pasai in North Sumatra, that the religion and its way of life began to take root and spread throughout the region. In his book Rihlah (Gibb, 1957), Ibn Bāttūtah records that in 1363 AD he passed through Sumatra and found that the king and nobles were already eager to encourage visiting scholars to teach and debate matters of Muslim religion in the royal palace.

Taufik Abdullah (2002) divides the intellectual history of Islam in “Nusantara” (an Indonesian term for Island Southeast Asia) between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries into three periods. The first was a period of setting foundations and of establishing a local Islam within the broader framework of cosmopolitan Islam, and was especially centered around Samudra–Pasai. The basic Muslim sciences were studied—scriptural exegesis and the traditions concerning the Prophet (ḥadīth), doctrine and theology, and law and mysticism—as well as such fields such as logic, grammar, astronomy, and medicine. At the same time, an indigenous intellectual, historical, and poetic tradition began to develop under the influence of Arabic and Persian texts that were studied locally (Hamid, 1983).

The second period was marked by the profound Islamization of all areas of Malay culture and the Malay understanding of reality. This transformation included the revision of previously Hindu texts and worldviews. This period is particularly associated with the kingdoms of Malaka (1400–1511) on the Malay Peninsula and Aceh Darrusalam (1516–1700) in North Sumatra.

The third period saw the creation of many centers of Islamic power across the whole archipelago, each vying to produce its own great scholars. The establishment of Islamic orthodoxy in Nusantara reached its peak during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The Foundation Period.

Many different forms of literary work were undertaken during this first period. One important activity was the extensive translation of Persian poetic and epic works, many with a Shīʿī emphasis that later came to be rejected, muted, or simply ignored. Some of the epics translated at this time described the lives and struggles of religious figures such as the early prophets, the prophet Muḥammad, the Prophet's companions, and great mystics and warriors. Other translations dealt with romantic figures and comical tales.

There were separate works devoted to prophets such as Adam, Joseph, Moses, Solomon, Job, and Jesus as well as larger collective works (such as the the Hikayat Anbiyaʿ, the Chronicle of the Prophets) that included pious accounts of the lives of a range of the elect. Some of these collective works begin not with the creation of the world but with the prior appearance of the Nur Muḥammad, the mystical light of Muḥammad, which was to form the spiritual essence of the whole of creation. Works on the life of Muḥammad include the Hikayat Nur Muhammad (The Chronicle of Nur Muḥammad), the Hikayat Rasulullah (The Prophet of God), Hikayat Bulan Berbelah (The Shattering of the Moon), and Hikayat Nabi Mikraj (The Ascent of the Prophet), all intended to encourage their readers and listeners to lead pious lives following the example of Muḥammad. This obedience marks the lives of the Prophet's Companions in the chronicles (hikayat) devoted to Abu Bakr, ʿUthmān, Ali, Ḥasan, and Husayn. Other works dealing with holy figures were also adapted, such as works about Rābiʿah al-ʿAdawīyah, Sultan Ibrahim, and Shaykh ʿAbd al-qādir Jīlānī.

Epics on the lives of major warriors, such as ʿAlī Hanafīyah, Amir Hamzah, and Alexander III of Macedonia, known as “Alexander the Great,” were well known and remained popular long after the disappearance of Samudra–Pasai. The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Chronicles, 1535), for example, records how the Hikayat Muhammad Ali Hanafiya and Hikayat Amir Hamzah were read on the eve of the Portuguese attack on Malaka in 1511 to encourage the leaders of the Malay forces to fight bravely.

Alongside the translation of various foreign romances, such as the Hikayat Bayan Budiman (The Wise Parrot) came the transformation of indigenous oral tales of a heroic and romantic nature into Muslim works of art. Some of them, such as the Hikayat Syah Mardan (Story of Shah Mardan), even became Ṣūfī allegories, using the journeys of the hero as a metaphor for the soul's spiritual growth. The most famous Ṣūfī text translated was perhaps Hikayat Burung Pingai, Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār's Conference of the Birds (Braginsky, 1993).

One of the major works produced in Samudra–Pasai was a history of the kingdom, the Hikayat Raja-raja Pasai (Chronicle of the Kings of Pasai). The book was completed after the region was conquered by the great Javanese empire of Majapahit, in around 1365 (Alfian, 1999). The text shows the increasing influence of Arabic and Arabic-based script (jawi). It also sets the pattern for future histories of the various Malay kingdoms: it begins with a pious exordium; then treats the creation of the world, the founding of the kingdom, its conversion to Islam, and various events in the lives of its rulers; and finally relates the demise of the kingdom itself.

Flowering of an Islamic Literary Culture.

These brilliant literary beginnings were consolidated in Malaka and Aceh. Of particular note were the emergence of a mystical poetical tradition at the hands of such great figures as Ḥamzah Fanṣūrī and Shams al-Dīn al-Sūmātrānī, and the appearance of books on statecraft, particularly the works of Bukhari al-Jauhari and Nūr al-Dīn al-Rānīrī (Taufik Abdullah, 2002).

Ḥamzah Fanṣūrī was born in North Sumatra, probably in the middle of the sixteenth century, and established a religious foundation at Singkil. He was a member of the Qadarīyah mystical order and traveled extensively in the Middle East, where he appears to have studied in considerable depth the works of Fariduddin, Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, and ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Jāmī.

Ḥamzah wrote a number of tracts, including the Syarab al-ʿasyiqin (The Drunk of the Intoxicated), Asrar al-ʿArifin (The Mystic's Secret), and al-Muntahi (al-Attas, 1970). He also created a new form of verse in Malay, called syair—long poems in a regular form, using set patterns of end-rhyme. These syair were used to present Ḥamzah's mystical teachings on the union of the soul with God. They contain many Arabic and Persian technical terms and employ conventional metaphors from Middle Eastern writing, such as the sense of the author as a beggar (faqīr) and lover (ʿasyiq); references to wine and drunkenness; and references to journeys as reflections of the stages that the soul must pass through to gain final enlightenment. Ḥamzah was criticised by later scholars, especially Nūr al-Dīn al-Rānīrī, for his pantheistic (wujūdīyah) tendencies. The syair form was later used by other authors to convey religious teachings and general advice, to record historical events, and to tell complex love stories.

Bukhari's Taj al-Salatin (1603) is a book of ethics, politics, and government that illustrates its moral teachings through reference to many attractive stories drawn from various sources, including Syiar al-Mulk by Nizām al-Mulk (1092–1106), Asrar namah (The Secret of Life) by Fariduddin, Akhlāq al-Muhsīnī, by Husain Waʿiz Kasyifi (1494), and the Kitāb Jamiʿ al-Thawarikh (The History of the World, 1535–1556), as well as the romances of Layla and Majnūn, Joseph and Zulaikha, and Khusraw and Sirin. The central theme of the Taj al-Salatin is the need for justice: Bukhārī insists that the wise and just ruler will have his reward in heaven while the foolish, unjust king will suffer eternal damnation.

Nūr al-Dīn al-Rānīrī also wrote a work entitled Bustan al-Salatin (The Garden of Kings), which he hoped would complete the deficiencies in Bukhārī's work. The book includes seven parts: beginning with the creation of heaven and earth and of Adam, there follow extensive treatments of wise kings and their ministers, treatments of pious Ṣūfīs, and a semimedical treatise on the mind, the body, medicine, and the nature of women.

The tradition of writing court chronicles that began with the Hikayat Raja-raja Pasai was further developed in this second period. The Sejarah Melayu records the history of Malaka from its foundation (and, in fact, from before then, including a subtly modified history of Samudra–Pasai) through to its fall. The work continued to be revised and extended for another hundred years as the Malakan dynasty settled first in Aceh then later in Johor. The Sejarah Melayu is often considered the best of all historical works, but it has many successors, including the histories of Aceh itself, Banjar, Brunei, Pahang, Johor, and Kedah (the Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa).

In addition, various legal codes were produced in this period, such as the Undang-Undang Malaka (Laws of Malaka), and the later Undang-Undang Palembang and Undang-Undang Johor. Most of these codes deal with the patriarchal “Adat Temenggung”; a few later codes are devoted to the matriarchal “Adat pepatih” of the Minangkabau ethnic community of West Sumatra (including the Undang-Undang Minangkabau, Tambo Minangkabau, and Kitab Kesimpanan Adat Minangkabau, The Volume to Preserve Minangkabau Customary Law).

The Consolidation of Orthodox Islam.

After Aceh lost its prominence, other kingdoms such as Palembang (Sumatra), Banjarmasin (Borneo), and Patani (Southern Thailand) rose to prominence from the eighteenth century onwards.

Mystical speculation in Palembang turned away from the potential pantheism of Ibn ʿArabī and grounded itself firmly in the thought of the great philosopher Imam Abū Ḥāmid Ghazālī. Representative works include Syarah yang Latif atas Kitab Mukhtasar Jawhaat al-Tawhid, by Abdullah Muhammad al-Falimbangi; Ulasan Ikhya ʿUlum al-Din, by Abdul Samad al-Falimbangi; and Nahafat al-Rahman by Kemas Muhammad bin Ahmad. Beside the many religious authors, an important figure was Sultan Mahmud Badarudin (1766–1852), who ruled Palembang from 1804–1821 before being captured by the Dutch and exiled to Ambon, where he wrote the deeply moving allegorical work Syair Burung Nuri (Syair of a Parrot), a poem of secular and divine love and longing.

Banjarmasin also produced many fine scholars, including Muhammad Arsyad al-Banjari (Sabil al Muhtadin), Muhammad Nafis bin Idris al-Banjari (al-Dur al-Nafis), and Usman al-Fantanayani (Taj al-Arus) (Steenbrink, 1984). Patani also established itself as a major Malay center of Muslim orthodoxy in the nineteenth century, despite its control by Thailand. Its most famous scholar was Daud Abdullah al-Fatani. His first work was a translation of al-Ghazālī's Ihya ʿUlum al-Dīn; he later wrote extensively on mysticism, religious law, and theology and even produced a number of religious syair.

Finally, mention should be made of the extensive intellectual and literary activity that took place in Riau from the middle of the nineteenth century onward, especially at the hands of the Malay nobility, who were determined to preserve the achievements of their literary predecessors. One of the most prominent writers and scholars of the time was Raha Ali Haji, a poet, linguist, and historian. He wrote Gurindam 12 (12 Gurindam Verses, 1847), Pengetahuan Bahasa (An Introduction to Language, 1856–1859), Salsilah Melayu dan Bugis (A History of the Malays and Buginese, 1860), and Tuhfat al-Nafis (Precious Gift, 1865). As a member of the Naqshbandīyah Order, he was also able to transmit many of the elements of Muslim renewal currently taking place in Egypt under the influence of the muftīMuḥammad ʿAbduh.

With the coming of European colonialism, Malay writing changed and adapted to new ways. Old texts continued to be copied, adapted, and added to. New works on religious themes believed to be of paramount importance continued to be produced. One era had ended, but a new and different one was beginning.

Islam and Modern Indonesian Literature.

Modern Indonesian literature was born at the beginning of the twentieth century. The first literary models arose as a consequence of the study of European literature by young writers in the Dutch East Indies as a part of their formal education. An Indonesian language already existed: Malay, the language of the Malay Peninsula and parts of North Sumatra. In 1928, a congress attended by nationalist-minded representatives of various youth groups across the whole of the Dutch East Indies declared that Malay would henceforth be known as “Indonesian” and should become the major language of the region, which they called Indonesia.

The first literary works in Indonesian show a mixture of nationalism, individualism, and romanticism. They argue for the need to struggle against traditional customs in the name of personal freedom, and they idealize the new ways of the rapidly modernizing urban metropolises. These works can seem to be cut off from their Malay Muslim roots, but if examined carefully, they still display the strong influence of traditional themes, literary conventions, and poetics. This can be seen in the mixture of traits in the major early novels—Siti Nurbaya (Siti Nurbaya, 1920) by Marah Rusli and Salah Asuhan (A Wrong Education, 1928) by Abdul Muis—and in the more clearly “modern” works of the 1930s, such as Layar Terkembang (With Sails Unfurled, 1936) by Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana and the controversial Belenggu (Chains, 1941) by Armijn Pane.

Of these authors, the one who perhaps most struggled with the relationship between religion and nationalism was Abdul Muis (1890–1955). Muis, a novelist and a politician, was a leader of the grassroots political movement Sarekat Islam (Muslim Union) and as such was under constant Dutch surveillance. Salah Asuhan was heavily censored by the Dutch government printer, its eventual publisher. The novel tells of a young Minangkbau (West Sumatra) man, Hanafi, who falls in love with a girl with European blood, Corrie. He is first married to a girl from his own village, Rabiah, but that marriage fails. Eventually Hanafi is given full rights as a Dutch citizen and marries Corrie after divorcing Rabiah. That marriage too fails, and Hanafi commits suicide. The story is, of course, deeply symbolic of the inner conflicts experienced by Muslim Indonesian intellectuals of the time, torn from their own society but unable to adjust to the thoroughly western lifestyles to which they aspired.

Far more successful in his own life, although not as great a writer, was Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah (1906–1985). Hamka, as he was popularly known, was far less alienated from his traditional roots than was Muis. He was a scholar, a preacher, the author of a number of works of Koranic exegesis, and a prolific writer. Hamka's father was a prominent modernist, and Hamka himself became a leader of the Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Muslim modernist social welfare movement. During the 1950s, he became a member of parliament representing the Masjumi (Muslim) Party. When this party was banned by the Indonesian president Sukarno (r. 1949–1966) in 1962, Hamka was imprisoned for three years.

Hamka's novels included Di bawah lindungan Kaʿabah (Beneath the Shelter of the Kaʿbah), Tenggelamnya Kapal van der Wijk (The Sinking of the van der Wijk), Merantau ke Deli (Wandering to Deli), Tuan Direktur (Mr. Director), and Dalam Lembah Kehidupan (In the Valley of Life). “Beneath the Shelter of the Kaʿbah” is his best-known work and is written as a series of framed incidents depicting the pilgrimage of a poor young man to Mecca after his love for a rich girl has come to naught.

Poetry written during the 1920s and 1930s is still traditional in a number of ways, despite its similarities to late nineteenth century Romanticism. Although the writers used the sonnet form, they were in fact adapting the traditional four-line verse forms of pantun and syair to meet their contemporary needs. Their subject matter often incorporated nostalgic longing for the peace and sure faith of rural village life—usually implicitly Islamic. In drama, playwrights such as Muhammad Yamin and Sanusi Pane sometimes went back past the coming of Islam to reflect on the “golden age” of Hindu Java (eleventh to fifteenth centuries AD), ages of great kingdoms and highly aesthetic literature.

The most outstanding writer in the period prior to the World War II was Amir Hamzah (1911–1946), sometimes dubbed “the King of the New Poetic Movement.” Hamzah's poems are intensely religious and strikingly original in their language, which uses the resources of Malay to their utmost. Unlike his companions, who were fascinated by the West, Amir Hamzah was profoundly rooted in Eastern culture. He translated many Asian and Middle Eastern classics into Indonesian, including the works of Firdawsī, Saʿdī, ʿUmar Khayyām, and Rūmī. The influence of Sufism in his poetry is strengthened by his affinities with the seventeenth century Sumatran mystic Ḥamzah Fanṣūrī. Amir Hamzah's poetry in Nyanyi Sunyi (1935) and Buah Rindu (1941) deals with the failure of his own human love and his deep desire to be united with an absent God, and it strikingly combines images from the Qurʿān and the broad range of classical Muslim literature.

The Generation of 1945.

On August 17, 1945, Sukarno and fellow leader Mohamad Hatta proclaimed the independence of Indonesia following the surrender of the Japanese army to the Allies in World War II. For the next four years, the young Republic had to fight to establish its claim to freedom.

A new literary movement was born during this period: “the Generation of 1945.” The leader of the movement was Chairil Anwar (1922–1949), a fiery young bohemian poet. Although Anwar often struggled with his faith, his commitment is evident in the poem “Doa” (Prayer), written shortly before his death:

My Lord / in my confusion / I still call Your Name //

Although it is hard / to remember You / Your pure light /

remains like a candle in the dark // My Lord / I lose my

form / I am crushed / my Lord / I knock at Your door /

and cannot turn away.

Islam, however, was only one option at a time when young intellectuals and writers were variously attracted to humanism, socialism, and even existentialism. These struggles are carefully depicted in the novel Atheis (The Atheist) by Achdiat Karta Mihardja. The novel tells of a young traditionally educated member of a Ṣūfī religious order who is suddenly confronted with the ideas of his more sophisticated and exciting friends. Traditional religion in this novel is the world of rituals, devotional practices, and formalistic legal requirements; it does seem to offer scope of living in a radically different “modern” world.

Other writers were more kindly disposed toward the religious training they had received in their early years. Many writers who came to prominence in the late fifties and early sixties, such as Muhamad Diponegoro, Ali Akbar Navis, Jamil Suherman, Misbach Yusa Biran, Arifin C. Noer, Syuʿbah Asa, Ajip Rosidi, and Taufiq Ismail, were able to combine devotion with a simple acceptance of their belief in God and His Prophet in their writings. Navis, for example, in his short collection Robohnya Surau Kami (The Decline and Fall of Our Local Mosque, 1963), reflected on both the charm and piety of traditional faith while also arguing for a more active involvement in the affairs of the world. Arifin C. Noer's play Datang Rasul Pergi Rasul (Come Oh Prophet, Go Oh Prophet, 1964) belongs to a genre well established in Arabic, Pesian, Urdu, and Malay cultures: al-madaʿih al-nabawiyah, songs of praise in honor of the Prophet Muḥammad.

The final years of the Sukarno regime (the early to mid 1960s) saw the writing of a number of works, particularly novels, that were critical of the political repression of that time. Mochtar Lubis’ Senja di Jakarta (Twilight Over Jakarta) was influenced by the struggle of a modernist Islam to oppose the cult of personality that surrounded the presidency. Such works could not be published in Indonesia until the 1970s; ironically, when the same authoritarian features found in the Sukarno regime were beginning to mark the role of the new president, Suharto (r. 1967–1998).

The “New Order”: 1966–1998.

The fall of Sukarno was dramatic and, because of the extensive social conflict that accompanied it, traumatic in many ways. Nevertheless, a sense of great freedom was felt by the new generation of authors who appeared at the time of Sukarno's ouster, and their works are highly innovative. They drew their ideas from many sources: not only Islam but also humanism, transcendentalism, absurdism, surrealism, imagism, and eventually a highly contemporary Sufism as well. Their literary styles were likewise extremely varied.

This eclecticism is clear in the work of Kuntowijoyo (1943–2005), who was not only a prolific novelist and short story writer but also an historian and a major religious thinker. His short stories weave a mixture of mysticism, asceticism, and social commitment together with the use of stream-of-consciousness techniques. His novel Khotbah di atas bukit (Sermon on a Mountain, 1976) moves freely between the ideas of existentialism and Sufism and the philosophies of Heidegger.

The short story writer Danarto presents a more indigenous dimension to this renewal. In his first collection, Godlob (The Love of God, 1971), and in subsequent works, he drew on a traditional pantheistic Javanese mysticism to describe an inner world of mythic fantasy where the soul was born and reborn until it finally evolved into complete union with God. Later in the 1970s, he undertook the pilgrimage to Mecca and recorded his experiences, good and bad, in a diary entitled Orang Jawa Naik Haj (A Javanese Goes on the Pilgrimage).

Danarto's only novel bears the romantic title Asmaraloka (The Realm of Love), but it tells of the great final battle at the end of the time. It draws on traditional Javanese epic styles from both the Mahabharata and the Hikayat Amir Hamzah (The Chronicle of Amir Hamzah) but uses a decidedly contemporary setting to humorous effect. The war described in the novel involves many nations, races, and cultures but is presented as an ongoing football game that individuals may either participate in or watch. The heroes of the story are a husband and wife: the wife enjoys watching the war with their child, while the husband, tempted by Satan, lives contentedly in ignorance of the suffering that the war is causing the world.

Like Danarto and Kuntowijoyo, the poet Sutardji Calzoum Bachri also explored his relationship with God in his writing. His most extreme poem,“Q,” consists only of the three “mysterious letters” that precede a number of chapters in the Koran—alif, lam, and mim—as well as a series of exclamation marks. The poem may, as many have thought, represent a series of expressions of awe at the greatness of Allah and His Prophet; in fact, it may be about anything. Like Danarto, Sutardji also undertook the pilgrimage to Mecca in the late 1970s. In Sutardji's case, the pilgrimage led to a profound revolution in his faith marked by a series of poems repenting his previously exuberant artistic lifestyle.

The undertaking of the pilgrimage by Danarto and Sutardji signals, in a way, the end of a conflict between East and West, between Islam as a natural part of Indonesian traditional and modern culture and the secular modernism of European thought. The Islamic Revival that began in the Middle East in the mid-1970s affected Indonesia deeply and was a significant influence on poetry, in particular, during the 1980s. Modern theatre, which had previously focused on intense psychological conflict between a few tormented characters, also opened up to large-scale musical kasidah festivals in honour of the Prophet and his Divine Master.

Other writers of this time, including poets such as Abdul Hadi WM, Taufiq Ismail, Ikranagara, Hamid Jabbar, and Zawawi Imran and short story writers such as Fudoli Zaini, Zuli Dahlan, Hamzad Rangkuti, and Mustafa Bisri began to write naturally and with sincerity about their faith. Taufiq, primarily known for his political poetry of 1966, made significant contributions to the genre of songs of praise in honor of the Prophet Muḥammad. A fine example is the poem “Oh Prophet,” of which this is one verse:

Between the leaves / of History / I see your robe

/ oh Prophet — / my Prophet!! / Through the

leaves / of the restless forest / I hear your foot

steps fall / oh Prophet — / my Prophet // After

the red / desert / I encircle the Kaʿbah / after

years / of restlessness.

Many poets writing in the 1980s were educated in religious schools (pesantren) rather than in secular colleges. Among them are Zawawi Imran, Emha Ainun Ndjib, Ahmadun Yosi Herfanda, Jamal D. Rahman, Ahmad Nurullah, Acep Zamzam Noor, and Hamdy Salad. Three are of particular note: Emha, Ahmadun, and Acep.

Emha Ainun Ndjib was born in 1953 and educated at the famous Gontor pesantren in central Java. As a religious and social activist, Emha regularly recited his works to large crowds, accompanied by his own musical group. Emha's poetry deals sympathetically with the inescapable struggle to live in a sinful world and yet remain committed to the service of a transcendent God.

Ahmadun Yosi Herfanda, born in 1956, is the author of gentle verse that rings with an awareness of the beauty of the created universe and the presence of a God who is “nearer than our jugular vein” (Qurʿān 50:15, quoted in Ahmadun's poem “Sajak Urat Leher,” A Poem on the Jugular Vein).

Acep Zamzam Noor was born in 1960 and educated in Tasikmalaya, West Java, and then at the Asy-Syafiʿiyah pesantren in Jakarta. Acep's religious verse shows an awareness of the wider Islamic literary tradition. His poem “Para Kekasih” (The Lovers of God) dwells passionately on the verses of ʿAṭṭār, Sanāʿī, Rūmī, Ḥāfiẓ, and Jami, as well as on the prophets David and Jonah.

These writers successfully brought Islamic devotion back into the mainstream of modern Indonesian literature. They showed that it was possible to live devoutly in the modern world without any sense of personal division or conflict. That the wider public was prepared to accept these new developments was clear in the staging of two festivals, Istiqlāl I and II, held in 1991 and 1995. These literary festivals each lasted a month and together attracted a staggering attendance of ten million people.

Islam in Contemporary Indonesian Literature.

Following Suharto's resignation of the Indonesian presidency in 1998, Islam continued to grow in importance in Indonesia and make itself felt in the literary field.

Kuntowijoyo published three novels in quick succession around the beginning of the new millenium: Impian Amerika (Dreams of America, 1998), Mantera Penjinak Ular (The Snake Charmer's Spell, 2000), and Waspirin dan Watah (The Names of the Major Characters, 2003); a collection of fables, Mengusir Matahari (Driving Away the Sun, 1999); and scholarly works such as Identitas Politik Umat Islam (Political Identity of the Muslim Community, 1997), Muslim Tanpa Masjid (Muslims without a Mosque, 2000) and Selamat Tinggal Mitos, Selamat Datang Realitas (Farewell Myth, Hello Reality, 2002).

It is too early to discern clear trends among Indonesia's newer writers, such as Mustafa W. Hasyim, Abidah S. Khalliqy, and Habiburrahman, whose novel Ayat-ayat Cinta (Sentences of Love, 2004) was a best seller for two years. Ayat-ayat Cinta is written in an extremely popular, highly sentimental manner characteristic of the increasing focus of Indonesian writing on the young, often “chick lit” market, and its style is in many ways not unlike that of the best Bollywood movies. Set in Egypt, the novel tells of the sufferings of its very handsome and very pious hero, Fahri Abdullah, who is forced to defend himself against false charges of indecent behavior. The novel finishes happily and Fahri marries his love, Maria, grateful for the opportunity to at last touch her hand.

The work of Helvy Tiana Rosa, another contemporary writer, is more serious than that of Habiburrahman but also carries wide appeal. Helvy was born in Medan, North Sumatra, in 1970 and is a graduate of the Middle Eastern Studies program of the Department of Arabaic, University of Indonesia (1995). In 1991, while at university, she established an alternative Muslim women's theatre group and directed some of its productions. She began working with the children's magazine Annida in 1992 and is now its editor; the magazine is popular with Muslim youth and sells approximately forty thousand copies every two weeks. Helvy established the Forum Lingkar Pena (Writers Circle) in 1997, which boasted approximately three thousand young writers as members as of 2007. Helvy had published some sixteen novels and collections of short stories by 2007 and seen her work appear in fifteen anthologies.

Helvy's work stands in an increasingly defined position that firmly rejects the perceived immorality of much of the “chick lit” that floods Indonesian book stores today. The future of an avowedly modern Muslim Indonesian Literature is still to be written, but the foundations for its development are now firmly in place.


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