The public politics of supplication in a time of disaster

Julian Millie, Dede Syarif

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


The research explores supplications – acts and utterances seeking divine relief – as responses to disaster in Muslim Indonesia, focussing specifically on the way these are facilitated in public communication at events held by political actors and holders of public office. Two contrasting Islamic perspectives on disaster responses are examined, namely the ritual practices observed by the elites and followers of the traditionalist Nahdlatul ‘Ulama civil society organisation, and the disaster relief NGO and associated theodicy established by the modernist organisation known as the Muhammadiyah. The article observes that collective supplications seeking divine relief – practices typical of traditionalist practice but objected to on doctrinal grounds by modernists – have become dominant in public events, even where the audience is plural in terms of its Islamic affiliation. In explaining the expanding dominance of traditional styles of supplication, we propose two reasons: first, that the modernist repertoire lacks techniques and ritual styles suitable for the collective supplications that audiences demand in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and second, that the styles of the traditionalist current, oriented to group supplication, are favoured by the political actors who mobilise Islamic messaging in political communication. Supplications are approached analytically not simply as requests seeking divine assistance, but also as genres of public communication that are influenced by the dynamic nexus of Islam and politics in Indonesia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-124
Number of pages14
Issue number113
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • Islam and politics
  • Muhammadiyah
  • Nahdlatul Ulama
  • religion and covid 19
  • religious communication
  • Islam in Indonesia

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