Through ethnographic research conducted intensively since 2009, we found a deep interest from young Indonesians in a variety of popular global trends, where our young people tend to be more reflective and arguably more religious than their predecessors.
This sounds surprising, especially if we look at behavior in their daily lives, which is increasingly liberal and secular. However, behind it, they secretly seek spiritual meaning. In one of the interviews, a young gentleman between 20 and 25 years old had an interesting answer to the question, “What does cool mean to you?”
The answer was praying five times a day or being devoted to your parents. I was very surprised at first, then tried to drill deeper, suspicious that the answer was just camouflage, given because it was perceived as being socially desirable in terms of the research.
But apparently not. From one respondent to another, the data showed the same pattern and not just in one location, but in other parts of the city in different social classes.I found the same thing in another survey of more than 200 respondents that used open-ended questions.
The youths replied that cool was being simple, quiet and good. The word “good” turns out to have something to do with morality. In a world that is increasingly competitive and individualistic, Indonesian youth choose to be more sensitive to morality. How come?
This finding actually explains a lot, like, for example, the rejection of the Lady Gaga concert in Indonesia in 2012, which was closely associated with morality and religion rather than aesthetics. The singer is regarded as “satanic” and having a negative view of the world. On the other hand, we can also notice that young icons with everlasting quality always have two “faces or characters”: rebellious on the one side but kind on the other.
Another emerging phenomenon is a strong tendency from young people to explore their indigenous identity.
We find more and more youth communities based on local culture, such as a batik community or a community that sings hip-hop with lyrics using local ethnic languages. Psychology has an interesting explanation of this phenomenon, namely that in a very complicated situation and complex environment, individuals will tend to do cultural buffering, or in other words try to rationalize, to embody all the values, beliefs and cultural views that are deposited in the head.
This is needed to reach a state of psychological equilibrium or cognitive condition that is consonant. In the context of culture, if we turn to the history of Islamic propagation in Java, we will find the Wali Songo (nine Islamic saints), who spread Islamic teachings through wisdom and culture.
Their work has now become a powerful archetype in Indonesian society, which is a strong acculturation between Islam rituals and belief and the local traditions that were rooted in Hinduism and Buddhism.
This archetype now plays a big role in strengthening the foundation of Indonesian civilization from the onslaught of foreign teachings and cultural infiltration from overseas. Amid the economic, political and social turbulence facing Indonesia, not to mention acts of violence in many parts of the world such as the Middle East and the global economic crisis, youths in Indonesia are experiencing a very heavy psychological burden.
They are trying to find answers to the problems that exist both socially and individually. In an era when Islam endures stigma and stereotyping, one way out is psychological buffering through local cultures.
Wali Songo taught Indonesian Muslims to internalize Islamic teachings and values that could coexist with local cultures. Through acculturation I believe the young Muslim generation today can absorb and practice its religious norms not in the way of the radical groups in Middle East, but as a tolerant Islam that mingles with local traditions.
The task for anyone who wishes to work together or interact with young people is how to explore cultural values as psychological buffering. They may vary in different environmental settings because of the archipelagic state of the nation. As the intensity of local and international conflicts increases, we will see more Indonesian youths delve into local cultures, explore the local history and express their Islamic religiosity through various traditions.
Young Indonesian Muslims of the millennial age will be the most religious and communal ever. As the most populous Muslim country in the world, I believe the cultural phenomenon in Indonesia will spread to the region and around the globe. Hopefully, Young Indonesian Muslims will lead the world to tolerance, democracy and peace.
*Artikel Opini yang dimuat di Jakarta Post , 14 Juni 2015