Introduction. Approaching the Madurese ulamaThroughout history, the Islamic Madurese people have been known for their strong attachment to their religious leaders. The Madurese are the third largest ethnic group in Indonesia, and they are presumed to be pure and traditional Muslims, a bit isolated from the other Indonesians.
Theme and aim The group of Islamic religious leaders, the ‘ulama’, have a strong hold on the Madurese Muslims. Collectively seen, the ulama are in possession of great power. Are we quite aware of the extent of their power? How may we reveal their nature as power-holders? The attachment between the religious leaders and the Madurese people could be characterized as a relationship of patrons and clients. The theory of patron-client relations seems like a useful tool in an attempt to reveal the strong hold of the ulama. Hence, the theme of my dissertation is the Madurese ulama as patrons. My aim is to reveal the most dominant ways in which the Madurese ulama further patron-client relations.
Findings Based on previous empirical research on Madura and strengthened by my own field research, it seems that the most dominant ways in which the Madurese ulama further patron-client relations are by utilizing: 1. Intertwined social relations; 2. Organizational involvement; 3. Economic involvement.
Patronage through intertwined relationsThe fundament of ulama’s intertwined social relations is the patron-client dyad of a ‘kyai’ (top ulama, Islamic high-level teacher) and a ‘santri’ (student of Islam). The center of this kyai-santri relation is the ‘pesantren’ (Islamic boarding school, educational center).A ‘madrasah’ (Islamic school) may be directly subject to a pesantren. There may also be an overlap in personnel between the pesantren and the madrasah. To the extent in which a madrasah is directly attached to a pesantren, the kyai has ample opportunity to extend his ‘pyramid’ of patron-client relations. Just as the madrasah, the ‘langgars’ (Islamic neighborhood schools) may be attached and subject to a pesantren. Mosques may probably be subject to a pesantren in the same way. We realize that a kyai who heads a pesantren may extend his intertwined social relations to include large segments of society. Besides controlling a pesantren, a kyai may also indirectly control the Islamic institutions of madrasah, mosque and langgar. Moreover, beyond the Islamic institutions of pesantren, madrasah, mosque and langgar, kyais also attempt to subject the larger Madurese community to their intertwined social relations. Thus, we realize that the patron-client relations subject to op ulama are expanded to a patron-client pyramid that covers society at large. We realize the contours of the ulama’s extensive societal power. Furthermore, we have seen that the ulama are also in charge of the ‘tarekats’ (Muslim mystical brotherhoods). The tarekats extend the intertwined social patron-client relations subject to the ulama even further.
Patronage through ulama organizationsWe see that the ulama have ample opportunity to organize. There are several ulama organizations which the ulama may join. I use the distinction between unofficial and official ulama: The former group concentrates its work on religious matters. The latter group is involved in official and political matters. It is this latter group that is my focus when analyzing ‘patronage through ulama organizations’. It is interesting to note that ulama organizations resemble ‘networks’ of patron-client relations. Hence, we look beyond the patron-client ‘pyramids’ that were the focus of ‘patronage through intertwined relations’. At present, Madura sees a growing trend among the ulama to run for political office. What impact has the late political developments of Indonesia had on the people’s resource base, and the clients’ power vis-a-vis the patrons’? We realize that the ulama seem to seize the new means of power brought on by democratization. On the other hand, the people have traditionally had little interest in politics. Probably the people will have some serious barriers to overcome before they too are able to seize the new options offered by democratization. Compared to their ulama, the clients will probably be less confident and less conscious of the new options that democratization offers.
Patronage through economic involvementA large part of the kyais’ wealth comes from gifts. This is in many ways a primordial phenomenon. In such practices, we realize the strength of the bonds connecting the ulama and the villagers. Yet, the ulama both receive and provide services. They lend money to villagers for different rituals. Another source of economic involvement is the higher ulama’s access to cheap santri labor. But, to the extent that the laborers are free to travel, they may avoid ulama-exploitation.
Synopsis. The actual power of the Madurese ulamaWe realize that the Madurese ulama are in possession of great power. My dissertation shows that through informal intertwined social relations and through organizational and economic involvement, the ulama can be described as patrons. Regarding ulama-power in the realm of intertwined social relations, pesantrens are fruitful grounds for ‘pyramids’ of patron-client relations to grow. The patron-client relations evolving in this sphere may to a certain extent contest the power of the state-sphere. Regarding ulama-power in the realm of organizational involvement, we have seen that ulama organizations resemble patron-client ‘networks’. And at present, Madura sees a growing trend among the ulama to enter ulama organizations as the first step toward running for political office. We have to recall that ulama organizations unite power holders or patrons. Regarding ulama-power in the realm of economic involvement, we should be aware of a possible overlap between business and religion, between traders and ulama. And the power of the trading ulama may also be greater than that of the government. Ulama’s intertwined social relations; involvement in official and political affairs; and involvement in business are the most dominant ways in which the Madurese ulama further patron-client relations. Patron-client relations or patronage on the one hand concerns reciprocal exchange of goods and services between two parties. On the other hand, patronage also concerns unequal social status. There is an asymmetry in societal power. In patron-client relations the two parties involved do not have equal societal power. The patron is the superior and the client is the inferior. Patronage is about real societal differences. And the patterns of patronage seem to encompass most of Islamic Madura.
Reflections on democracyCould the power of the ulama be a problem for Indonesia’s ongoing democratization? Are patterns of ulama-patronage compatible with democracy?My analysis of the Madurese ulama, has shown that by utilizing intertwined social relations, organizational involvement and economic involvement, the ulama further patron-client relations. Specifically asymmetry in power is a feature of patron-client relations that could be incompatible with democracy. Reflections on Madura and democracy should take into consideration the power relations revealed in my foregoing analysis of the Madurese ulama as patrons.