Fazlul Rahman (ICRS student batch 2012) doing his research on media and religiosity to complete his doctoral study. On his open defense (17/1), Fazlul briefly explained his dissertation entitle Contestation for Authority: Internet and Islam among Pandalungan Kiais. In his explanation, Fazlul stated that according to Menkominfo (Indonesian ministry of communication and information) there are around 82 million Internet users in 2014 and it is 132 million now in 2016 (or half of the total Indonesian people currently use the Internet). This then makes Indonesia the third Asian country with the highest number of internet users in the world. With regard to particular regions in East Java, there are at least 1,610,999 Internet users of a total 7,626,000 (21.12%) population in the area. Interestingly, according to the data released by the Indonesian Ministry of Religion, there are at least 4,404 pesantren in the same area. The intersection of those two facts: the huge number of Internet users and the existence of thousands of Pesantren in East Java, furthermore gives birth to some clear contestations in different layers of pesantrens and kiai’s life especially with regard to the notion of authority.
“The fact that Internet allows unfiltered, nonhierarchical flows of information, highly democratic world, consequently leads to relativism in authority. The Internet then becomes new ground for reinterpreting and representing authority. On the other side, the kiais, who considered as the representatives of God , holds a stable, clear, and absolute authority. In a larger context, nowadays we are not only living with media but in media life. The ubiquitous nature of media make people hardly imagined the life now without media. This happens also to those kiais, the santris, and even to Islam in general. Based on those considerations, this research sees one specific problem of how both the authority of religion and religious leaders have shaped and are changed by the media. Or, in the other words, how have they changed as mediatized realities?” Fazlul said in his presentation.
The case of particular kiai’s community in Pandalungan area, a region in the northern coastal areas in the eastern province of East Java with Javanese and Madurese-background majority people, reveals that the contestation for authority occurred in three different layers: micro (between Internet and kiai’s life), meso (between Internet and the kiai’s institution, the pesantren), and macro (between Internet and the existing concepts in society). Those contestations, at the end, result in critical consequences in each of the layers. In a micro level, for example, the contestation results in The rhizomatic fragmentation of kiai’s authority. (Before the coming of Internet, religious authority only belongs to one particular class, the ulama. The Internet comes and changes the picture of religious authority which is no more exclusively owned by the ulama class. Like the characteristics of a rhizome, it is now multiplied, connected, and heterogeneous.
“The relationship between Internet and Kiai will continue to develop in the future and that involves interplay between the two elements. Here, this research sees the coming of the i-Kiai as an inevitable consequence of the interplay between Internet and Pandalungan Kiai in the future. The i-Kiai (Internet-Kiai) is a product of the convergence of Internet’s advancing development and the rising of a new generation of Pandalungan Kiai, The Digital Native Pandalungan Kiai. This i-Kiai essentially born with two characteristics inside himself: the characteristics of Internet as a rhizome and the characteristics of the digital natives.” Fazlul added as a conclusion of his research.