Adat, Islam, and the Idea of Religion in Colonial Indonesia

Mufdil Tuhri, Samsul Maarif, Rikardo Simarmata


Based on some early anthropological accounts, people understand adat as any traditional practice: including visiting graves and forest, belief in supernatural powers, and other rituals and ceremonies. Practically speaking, people have not differentiated between the term adat and the encompassing traditions, customs, laws, and others. However, the discourse of religion has influenced the comprehensiveness of the idea of adat. This paper describes the construction of adat through the colonial period, a time dominantly influenced by the discourse of religion. I argue that the colonial construction of adat has strongly impacted religion in Indonesia. Adat which became a contested term and used by the rulers has declined the religious dimension of adat. The construction of adat and the disposition of adat from religion was influenced by various factors including colonial policies. This paper identified three dominant discourse of adat as political construction in colonial Indonesia: firstly, adat as animism was considered as the practices which are not religious, uncivilized and primitive; secondly, the mainstream of adat law has concerned on the secular aspect of adat while neglected the religious dimension of adat; thirdly, the construction of adat as not religion subsequently strengthened the Islamic identity and stressed the adat as opposed to Islam.


Colonialism; Adat; Religion; Islam

Full Text:



Abdullah, T. (1966). Adat and Islam: An Examination of Conflict in Minangkabau. Indonesia, 2, 1–24.

-----, (1970). Schools and Politics: The Kaum Muda Movement in (1927-1933) (Doctoral Dissertation). Cornell University.

Aragon, L. (2003). Missions and omissions of the supernatural: Indigenous cosmologies and the legitimisation of religion’ in Indonesia. Anthropological Forum, 13(2), 131–140.

Asad, T. (1993). Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Benda-Beckmann, F. Von, & Benda-beckmann, K. Von. (2013). Political and Legal Transformations of an Indonesia Polity: The Nagari from Colonisation to Decentralisation. St Ives plc: Cambridge University Press.

Benda, H. J. (1958a). Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje and the Foundations of Dutch Islamic Policy in Indonesia. The Journal of Modern History, 30(4), 338–347.

-------, (1958b). The Crescent and The Rising Sun. The Hague: W. van Hoeve Ltd.

Berg, L. W. C. Van Den. (1892). De afwijkingen van het mohammedaansche familie- en erfrecht op Java en Madoera. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Bowen, J. (2003). Islam, Law and Equality in Indonesia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bowen, J. R., & Bowen, J. R. (1988). The Transformation of an Indonesian Property System: "Adat, "Islam, and Social Change in the Gayo Highlands. American Ethnologist, 15(2), 274–293. Retrieved from the transformation

Bräuchler, B. (2010). Integration and exclusion: Islam adat in Central Moluccas. Indonesia and the Malay World, 38(110), 65–93.

Budiwanti, E. (2013). Adat, Islam, and Dakwah Movement in Bayan, North Lombok. Heritage of Nusantara, 2(1), 73–92.

Burns, P. (1989). The Myth of adat. Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law, 21(28), 1–127.

Crawfurd, J. (1820). History of the Indian Archipelago: Containing an Account of the Manners, Arts, Languages, Religions, Institutions, and Commerce of Its Inhabitants (Vol. II). Edinburgh: George Ramsay & Co.

Dijck, C. van. (1984). Islam and Socio-Political Conflicts in Indonesian History. Social Compass, 31(1), 5–25.

Dobbin, C. (1977). Economic Change in Minangkabau as a Factor in the Rise of Padri Movement, 1784-1830. Indonesia, 23, 1–38.

Feillard, A. (2011). The Constrained place of local tradition: the discourse of Indonesian Traditionalist Ulama in the 1930s. In The Politics of Religion in Indonesia: Syncretism, Orthodoxy, and Religious Contentions in Java and Bali. New York: Routledge.

Furnivall, J. S. (1944). Netherlands India: A Study of Plural Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gouda, F. (1995). Dutch Culture Overseas: Colonial Practice in the Netherland Indies, 1900-1942. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Gouda, F., & Zaalberg, T. B. (2002). American Visions of the Netherlands East Indies/Indonesia: US Foreign Policy and Indonesian Nationalism, 1920-1949. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Haar, B. Ter. (1962). Adat Law in Indonesia. Djakarta: Bhratara.

Hanami, M. (2002). Gender in a Rural Malay Community: Between Adat and Islam (Doctoral Dissertation). University of California.

Hefner, R. W. (1997). Islam in an Era of Nation-States: Politics and Religious Renewal in Muslim Southeast Asia. In R. W. Hefner & P. Horvatich (Eds.), Islam in an Era of Nation-States: Politics and Religious Renewal in Muslim Southeast Asia (pp. 3–42). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Jones, T. (2013). Culture, Power and Authoritarianism in the Indonesian State: Cultural Policy across the Twentieth Century to the Reform Era. Leiden: Koninklijke.

Kahin, A. (Ed.). (1985). Regional dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: unity from diversity. In Regional dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: unity from diversity. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press.

Kato, T. (1982). Matriliny and Migration: Evolving Minangkabau Traditions in Indonesia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Kodoth, P. (2002). Framing Custom, Directing Practices: Authority, Property and Matriliny Under Colonial Law in Nineteenth Century Malabar. Working Paper.

Kruyt, A. (1906). Het Animisme in de Indische Archipel. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Lev, D. S. (1985). Colonial Law and the Genesis of the Indonesian State. Indonesia, 40(40), 57–74.

Maarif, S. (2012). Dimensions of Religious Practice: The Ammatoans of Sulawesi, Indonesia (Doctoral Dissertation). Arizona State University.

------, (2017a). Meninjau Ulang Definisi Agama, Agama Dunia, dan Agama Leluhur. In I. Ali-Fauzi, Z. A. Bagir, & I. Rafsadi (Eds.), Kebebasan, Toleransi dan Terorisme (pp. 13–47). Jakarta: PUSAD Paramadina.

Maarif, S. (2017b). Pasang Surut Rekognisi Agama Leluhur dalam Politik Agama di Indonesia. Yogyakarta: CRCS UGM.

Marsden, W. (1811). History of Sumatra (II). London: Thomas Payne and Son.

Niel, R. Van. (1960). The Emergence of the Modern Indonesian Elite. The Hague: W. van Hoeve Ltd.

Noer, D. (1982). Gerakan Moderen Islam di Indonesia 1900-1942. Jakarta: LP3ES.

Pati, R., & Ma'arif, S. (2016). Revealing the Mystery of Death in Adat: A Factual Study of Sudden Death in Kedang. Al-Albab, 5(1), 141 - 150. doi:

Pires, T. (1944). Suma Oriental. London: Printed for the Hakluyt Society.

Prins, J. (1951). Adatlaw and Muslim Religious Law in Modern Indonesia: An Introduction. Die Welt Des Islams, 1(4), 283–300.


R. Supomo. (1982). Sejarah Politik Hukum Adat (Vol. I). Jakarta Pusat: P.T. Pradnya Paramita.

Rachman, N. F. (2011). The Resurgence of Land Reform Policy and Agrarian Movements in Indonesia (Doctoral Dissertation). University of California, Berkeley.

Raffles, S. T. S. (1830). The History of Java. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street.

Richard King. (2001). Orientalism and Religion. London and New York: Routledge.

Ricklefs. (2012). Islamization and Its Opponents in Java: A Political, Social, Cultural and Religious History, C. 1930 to the Present. PU: University of Hawaii Press.

Risa, A. (2014). Rulers, Adat and Religion: The Impact of Dutch Rule on Ideas regarding Religion among the Toraja People. The Memoirs of the Toyo Bunko, 72, 161–177.

Ropi, I. (2017). Religion and Regulation in Indonesia. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan.

Schrauwers, A. (2000). Colonial ’Reformation’in the Highlands of Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, 1892-1995. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Shihab, A. (1998). Membendung Arus: Respons Gerakan Muhammadiyah terhadap Penetrasi Misi Kristen di Indonesia. Bandung: Mizan.

Smith, W. C. (1962). The Meaning and the End of the Religion. London: Mentor Books.

Soekanto, & Soekanto, S. (1981). Meninjau Hukum Adat Indonesia: Suatu Pengantar Untuk Mempelajari Hukum Adat. Jakarta: Rajawali Press.

Srimulyani, E. (2010). Islam, Adat, and the State : Matrifocality in Aceh Revisited. Al-Jami’ah, 48(2), 321–342.

Stibbe, D. (1919). Encyclopaedia van Nederlandsch-Indie. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff.

Sudiyat, I. (1985). Asas-Asas Hukum Adat. Yogyakarta: Liberty.

Tylor, E. B. (1871). Primitive Culture. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street.

Vollenhoven, C. Van. (1918). Orientatie in et adatrecht van Nederlandsch-Indie/Orientasi Dalam Hukum Adat Indonesia. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Wiranata, I. G. A. . (2005). Hukum Adat Indonesia: Perkembangannya dari Masa ke Masa. Citra Aditya Bakti.

Yakin, A. U. (2014). Dialectic Between Islamic Law and Adat Law in the Nusantara: A Reinterpretation of the Terengganu Inscription in the 14th Century. Heritage of Nusantara, 3(2), 293–312.

Yamin, A., Abdullah, I., Nurmandi, A., Jubba, H., & Qodir, Z. (2019). Being Minority in Papua: Religious and Political Identity Struggle of the Dani Muslims. Al-Albab, 8(1), 101 - 118. doi:

Article Metrics

Abstract views: 657 PDF views: 480