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Aa Gym

By:
James B. Hoesterey
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Aa Gym

Abdullah Gymnastiar (b.1962) is an Indonesianpreacher popularly known as Aa (elder brother) Gym. Despite minimal orthodox religious education, Gymnastiar attained national fame through his adept use of media technologies, his entertaining preaching style, and his sermons on self-improvement. In this respect, he is similar to the Egyptian preacher Amr Khaled and the Malian preacher Cherif Haidara.

During his adolescence in Bandung, West Java, Gymnastiar excelled in public oratory and theater. These skills, combined with his entrepreneurial spirit, provided the foundation for his later success in preaching and business. In his early twenties, Gymnastiar became deeply interested in Islam. He studied at various Islamic schools in West Java, where he was influenced by Sufism, particularly by al-Ghazālī 's writings on the heart.

In 1990 Gymnastiar opened an Islamic school in Bandung. He acquired widespread acclaim in West Java with his preaching style that favored humor and everyday anecdotes over deeper theological issues. Some intellectuals questioned the depth of his religious knowledge and Salafīs critiqued his Ṣūfī influences. In 2001, Gymnastiar delivered a televised sermon before national politicians and foreign dignitaries. With his deft rhetorical style, he moved the audience from irreverent laughter to tears of repentance. This sermon brought Gymnastiar national fame and, in the years to come, “Aa Gym” became Indonesia 's most famous television preacher.

As transnational psychology and business management theories became increasingly popular in Indonesia, Gymnastiar positioned himself as a leader in the burgeoning Islamic self-help industry. Gymnastiar popularized “Managing the Heart” (Manajemen Qolbu, or MQ), his self-help program that blended Ṣūfī psychology with business management theory and appealed to upwardly mobile Indonesians seeking both piety and prosperity. Gymnastiar detailed his MQ formulas for success in his book Jagalah Hati: Step by Step Manajemen Qolbu (Take Care of Your Heart: Step by Step Management Qolbu) and through his television and radio programs, print media, internet, and daily text messages. Between 2001 and 2006, he leveraged the popularity of MQ to promote more than twenty business ventures that included a television station, publishing company, and multilevel marketing firm that sold MQ household products. Gymnastiar 's entrepreneurial talents established him as a leading figure among reformists who advocated financial success as part of Islamic revitalization.

Millions of viewers watched his television show and thousands of pilgrims and corporate trainees came to his Islamic school each week. As both preacher and self-help guru, Gymnastiar marketed himself as the ideal husband and embodiment of Islamic virtue. Consequently, he was especially adored by women, who represented the vast majority of his following. When he took a second wife in 2006, Gymnastiar 's popularity plummeted, rekindling the polygamy debate in Indonesia. Most of his admirers acknowledged that polygamy was permissible according to Islamic law, but lamented that his polygamy was inconsistent with the public image of a virtuous husband. Gymnastiar lost his television contracts, his business ventures suffered, and attendance at his Islamic school dropped by approximately eighty percent. Gymnastiar 's rise and fall should be understood as part of the diversification and commoditization of religious authority in late capitalist modernity.

Bibliography

  • Hoesterey, James B.“Marketing Morality: The Rise, Fall, and Re-branding of Aa Gym.” In Expressing Islam: Religious Life and Politics, edited by Greg Fealy and Sally White. Singapore, forthcoming.
  • Watson, C. W.“A Popular Indonesian Preacher: The Significance of Aa Gymnastiar.”Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute11, no.4 (December 2005): 773–792.
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