Gendering Islamic and Islamist Movements in Contemporary Indonesia: KUPI Gender-just Ulama and Hijrah Movements

Eva F Nisa

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, it is not difficult to find voices expressing the agenda of feminism, Muslim women’s identity and gender activism. They engage with their religion to articulate their understandings of gender orders using diverse Islamic and Islamist orientations. On one hand, we can see women’s movements taking ‘modernist’ and ‘moderate’ orientations. On the other hand, some purportedly women’s or even gender movements can be seen taking Islamist orientations, focusing on efforts to return to the foundational texts of Islam and critiquing those opposing them.

Indonesia is renowned for its moderate Islam, emphasising wasatiyya—middle-path or centrist Islam—that advocates tolerance and humanitarian perspectives, showcasing a progressive vision of Islam. Moderate and progressive Muslims believe that gender justice is part of this vision (Nisa 2019). The middle-path rhetoric, however, has also been used by conservatives and Islamists who claim that their understandings and practices of Islam are also the manifestation of wasatiyya Islam. This then leaves us to question, what does ‘moderate Islam’ or ‘moderate Muslim’ mean? Wasatiyya Islam is vital to the discussion of gender orders and norms in Indonesia: gender-just perspectives advocated by Muslim gender activists are born from the voices of moderate modernist Muslims from different Muslim-majority countries (Schlehe and Nisa 2016: 7).

Moderation brought by modernist-cum-reformist thinkers has been influential in Indonesia. This includes Egyptians Rifā’ah Rāfi’ al-Tahtāwī (1801–1873), an Azhari modernist of nineteenth-century Egypt who was known as an advocate of women’s economic empowerment; his disciple Muḥammad ‘Abduh (1849–1905), known as the founder of modernism and for his call for the abolition of polygamy (Nisa 2021: 157); and ‘Abduh’s disciple, Qāsim Amīn (1863–1908), celebrated as the most important male writer to contemporary free and modernised women (Nisa 2022). In addition to the modernists in Egypt, the Ottoman Tanzimat (1839–1876) was crucial to overcoming gender inequalities in education by establishing the first secondary school for girls in 1858. Following this, later generations of male progressive thinkers have also contributed to the discussion of gender equality in Islam and Muslim women’s empowerment, especially Fazlur Rahman (1919–1988), Mohammad Arkoun (1928–2010), Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (1943–2010), Muhammad Shahrour (1938–2019), Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari (b. 1936), Abdulkarim Soroush (b. 1945), Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im (b. 1946), and Khaled Abou el-Fadl (b. 1963) (Nisa 2021: 157).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGender Equality and Diversity in Indonesia
Subtitle of host publicationIdentifying Progress and Challenges
EditorsAngie Bexley, Sarah Xue Dong, Diahhadi Setyonaluri
Place of PublicationSingapore
PublisherISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute
Number of pages215
ISBN (Electronic)9789815104561, 9789815104745
ISBN (Print)9789815104547, 9789815104554
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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