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Putting Habib Abdurrahim in His Place: Genealogy, Scale, and Islamization in Seunagan, Indonesia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 March 2015

Daniel Andrew Birchok*
Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan


In this paper I argue that the ways in which a genealogical idiom brings together multiple scales of space and time is as important to its social, political, or religious efficacy as the particular people, places, and events it incorporates. To illustrate this point, I turn to the unusual patrilineal genealogy of Habib Abdurrahim, a nineteenth-century descendant of the Prophet Muhammad buried in the Indonesian region of Seunagan. Since the late 1950s, Habib Abdurrahim's descendants have cultivated a version of his patriline emphasizing five prominent figures. This constellation of figures, together with the relationships Muslims in Seunagan foster with each of the five, produce configurations of spatial-temporal scale through which local Muslims inscribe themselves as participants in several Islamic pasts: the establishment of Seunagan's customary practice, the Islamization of the Indonesian nation, and Islam's cosmic history. Narrative, social, and ritual practices surrounding Habib Abdurahim's patriline link Muslims in Seunagan to the multiple scales that inhere in the genealogy, encouraging them to see themselves as actors within entwined and unfolding histories of Islamization.

Research Article
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2015 

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