A painting of the Padri-Adat Wars
In early nineteenth century a group of Indonesian Muslim clerics went to Arabia to perform Hajj. At the time of the Wahhabi raids in 1802 and 1803, they were in Arabia, and they became inspired by Wahhabi doctrine and political methods. When they returned to Indonesia, they formed the Padri movement which aimed to implement Islamic law after eradicating polytheism, and cultural distortions like gambling and consumption of liquor and tobacco.
According to one Muslim scholar of that period, “They looted and robbed the wealth of the people and insulted the orang kaya (important people). They killed the ulama and the orang yang credik (Brahmin priests). They captured married women, wedded them to their men, and made their women captives concubines. Still they called their actions ‘actions made to perfect religion.’” (God’s Terrorists, by Charles Allen; Chapter 3: “The False Dawn of the Imam Mahdi”)
Led by the Minangkabau royal family and the traditional chiefs, Hindu and Buddhist communities (the Adat), tried to defend their culture from the Padris. The two sides fought for almost two decades but neither side was capable of winning a decisive victory. In 1821, the Minangkabau royal family asked the Dutch for their help in overcoming the Padris. The Dutch were trying to cement their own power but they agreed to fight alongside the Adat.
The war between the two sides went on till 1837, when the Padris were defeated, and their leader Tuanku Imam Bonjol (also known as Muhammad Syahab, who is now Indonesia’s national hero) was forced to go exile.
The Adat had won the military victory but they still lost the religious and cultural contest. By teaming up with the Dutch, the Adat had made a mistake—they lost support in the country because the masses blamed them for the corruption and plunder of the Dutch. The Padris continued to operate at the social level and they continued to use coercive tactics to get the Hindus and Buddhists to give up their own religion and accept Islam.
By the end of the nineteenth century, most islands of Indonesia were overwhelmingly Islamic. There is a lot that the Hindus of India can learn from Indonesia’s history.