Being Mohammad in Brussels

A few months into my first year in Brussels, I met for lunch with a young Taiwanese academic who was spending some months in the city to research EU-China relations. His wife who had recently joined him from Taipei had come along as well. As we took a post-lunch stroll in the streets that criss-crossed…
More

Indonesia’s Rain makers

Babey’s face is gnarled, yet implacable, like an aged banyan tree. He smokes compulsively through a wracking cough, putting down his cigarette only occasionally to wipe the sweat off his brow. When we met, the heat was stifling. The rains were late this year, a fact that weighed on paunchy, 65-year-old Babey’s mind even more…
More

Contradictions of Islamic Schooling

The mosque’s brick-like silhouette was blurred in the downpour. The rain in East Java is heavy, which gives the land its sparkling, paddy-green hue and fills the villages with the scent of moist-earth. It was the hour of the maghrib prayer and all 4,000 of the students at Pondok Modern Darussalam Gontor were gathered inside…
More

Madrassas of Moderation:

GONTOR, Indonesia — The silhouette of the large mosque, brick-like but for a bulbous dome, looked blurry in the downpour. The rain of East Java is heavy, lending a sparkle to the green paddies and the scent of moist earth to the air. As the evening prayer ended, hundreds of boys rushed out of the…
More

Indonesia Falls for an Indian TV remake of the Mahabharta: Love of God

ON A SATURDAY AFTERNOON in late September, gaggles of hijab-clad women, many with young children in tow, swarmed outside the closed gates of an auditorium in Taman Mini, a popular recreational park in east Jakarta. A brawny, black-maned figure wielding a bow and arrow pouted suggestively from a phalanx of promotional banners that lined the…
More

Forget China, India Should Look to Indonesia

Indians rarely agree on much, but they do tend towards an uncommon consensus about the belief in Indian exceptionalism. Rightists, Leftists and Opportunists find themselves on the same page in espousing the idea that as a country and civilization, India is uniquely diverse, contradictory, large, tolerant, and complex. Having been educated into a strong emotional…
More

Islam in China

THE MUEZZIN sounds the evening call to prayer. White skullcaps glint in the fading brightness of the setting sun as the faithful make their way into the mosque. The shush of whispered Salaam Alaikums, fills the hall. Outside, the mosque's minarets stretch up into the sky; a single crescent moon decorates the top of the…
More