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SAREKAT ISLAM. Indonesia’s first mass political party, Sarekat Islam at one time claimed more than one million adherents. It was the successor to Sarekat Dagang Islam, a primarily commercial Muslim organization initially formed to oppose Chinese competition in the batik industry.

Organizational difficulties and intraparty divisions led to the demise of the original association, and Sarekat Islam was formed in 1912 under the leadership of H. O. S. Tjokroaminoto.

A variety of factors was responsible for the rapid expansion of the organization during the second decade of the twentieth century. Economically, it was oriented toward anticapitalist views and more particularly against the economic power of the local Chinese community. It also built its early strength on Javanese nationalism, which interacted with its campaigns against the Chinese and Dutch colonialism. Central to Sarekat Islam’s appeal to Indonesians was its emphasis on the unity of all Muslims in the Indies. Islam and demands for economic and social reform were also interlocked, as the party represented Islam as the solution to all the people’s basic problems. It further attempted to speak for the Muslims of the Indies in international Pan-Islamic movements and organizations.

Although Sarekat Islam’s leadership tended to reflect Islamic socialist and modernist views, the organization was never strongly centralized, and its various branches often reflected diverse patterns of economic, social, political, and religious interests. This diversity aided its expansion by drawing a wide range of members into the party. It was also a hindrance, since the radical statements and actions of some branches antagonized the Dutch colonial administration, and far-left elements contested with the religious socialist leadership for control of the party. In particular, Sarekat Islam became locked in a crippling struggle for dominance of the nationalist movement with the newly formed Communist Party of Indonesia, which controlled some Sarekat Islam branches.

Sarekat Islam reached its height in the years immediately after World War I, when it was the largest nationalist movement in the Indies. It had its own newspapers, national congresses, and membership in the colonial legislature, and was the target of Dutch colonial administrators who feared its influence and religious views. However, it declined throughout the 1920s because of internal divisions, poor organization, secular competition, and Dutch repression. It first changed its name to the Partai Sarekat Islam, then in 1929 to the Partai Sarekat Islam Indonesia to emphasize its move toward a more nationalist and less Muslim platform. By that time, however, it had only 1 percent of its former membership and was overshadowed by other nationalist and religious organizations.

The party became moribund only to be reinvigorated after World War II, but in the 1955 national elections it received only 2.9 percent of the vote. It continued to be active in Muslim politics as a splinter party. In the 1970s, when the Suharto government consolidated all Muslim parties into one coalition (the PPP or Partai Persatuan Pembangunan), it became a charter member of that organization.

[See also Indonesia; Partai Persatuan Pembangunan j


Blumberger, J. Th. Petrus. De Nationalistische Bewegung in Nederlandische-Indie. Haarlem, 1931.

Kuntowijoyo. “Islam in Politics: The Local Sarekat Islam Movements in Madura, 1913-1920.” In Islam and Society in Southeast Asia, edited by Taufik Abdullah and Sharon Siddique, pp. 108-135. Singapore, 1986.

von der Mehden, Fred R. Religion and Nationalism in Southeast Asia. Madison, Wis., 1963.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/sarekat-islam/

  • writerPosted On: July 22, 2017
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