Arab Indonesians

Arab Indonesians
Orang Arab-Indonesia
عرب إندونيسيا
Hadhrami immigrants in Surabaya, 1920s
Total population
  • 5,000,000 (2005) Indonesians of Arab ancestry[1][2]
Regions with significant populations
Aceh, North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Jakarta, West Java, Central Java, East Java, South Kalimantan, South Sulawesi
Indonesian, Arabic, Indonesian regional languages
mostly Sunni Islam with small Shia minority
Related ethnic groups
Hadhramis, Arab Singaporeans, Arab Malaysians, Arab diaspora

Arab Indonesians (Arabic: عرب إندونيسي), or Hadharem (حضارم; sing., Hadhrami, حضرمي), informally known as Jama'ah,[3] are citizens of Indonesia of Arab, mainly Hadhrami, descent. The group also includes those of Arab descent from other Middle Eastern Arabic speaking nations. Restricted under Dutch East Indies' law until 1919, the community elites later gained economic power through real estate investment and trading. Currently found mainly in Java, especially West Java, they are almost all Muslims.


Indonesia has had contact with the Arab world for hundreds of years, prior to the emergence of Islam in Indonesia as well as since pre-Islamic times. The earliest Arabians to arrive into South East Asia were traders came from Southern Arabia and other Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Most of the earliest Arabians were Christian Arabs, Sabeans and other Pagan religions before the coming of Islam.. Nevertheless, strong facts show that the Arab presence mostly begun only in early Islamic era.[4] These traders helped to connect the spice and silk markets of South East Asia and far east Asia with the Arabian kingdoms, Persian Empire and the Roman Empire. Most contact was with spice traders, but the first Arab settlements in the archipelago may date from the fifth century. Some later founded dynasties, including the Sultanate of Pontianak, while others intermingled with existing kingdoms. These early communities adopted much of the local culture, and some disappeared entirely while others formed ethnically distinct communities.[5]

More Arabs visited Malay Archipelago when Islam began to spread. Islam was brought to the region directly from Arabia (as well as Persia and Gujarat), first to Aceh.[6] One of travelers who had visited Indonesia was the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta who visited Samudra Pasai in 1345-1346 CE. According to Muslim Chinese writer Ma Huan who visited north coast of Java in 1413–15, he noted three kinds of people there: Chinese, local people and Muslims from foreign kingdoms in the West (Mideast) who have migrated to the country as merchants.[4]

Modern Arab Indonesians are generally descended of Hadhrami immigrants,[7] although there are also communities coming from Arabs of Egypt, Sudan, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Arab States of the Persian Gulf area as well as non-Arab Muslims from Turkey or Iran. They are generally from upper strata and classified as "foreign orientals" (Vreemde Oosterlingen) along with Chinese Indonesians by the Dutch colonists, which led to them being unable to attend certain schools and restricted from travelling, and having to settle in special Arab districts, or Kampung Arab. These laws were repealed in 1919.[8] As liaison and to lead the community, the Dutch government appointed some Kapitan Arabs in the districts.

The community elites began to build economic power through trade and real estate acquisition, buying large amounts of real estate in Batavia (modern-day Jakarta), Singapore and other parts of the archipelago. Through charity work and "conspicuous consumption", they built and protected their social capital; eventually, some Arab Indonesians joined the Volksraad, the people's council of the Dutch East Indies.[9]

During the Indonesian National Awakening, an Indonesian nationalistic movement, Persatoean Arab Indonesia, was founded by Abdurrahman Baswedan in 1934, to be more integrated as a citizen of where they lived. To unite with the native in war against the imperialist, To forbids self isolation, to fulfill their responsibility as a citizen. Eventually leading to a "cultural reorientation".[10]


First generation immigrants are referred to as wulayātī or totok. They are a small minority of the Arab Indonesian population. The majority, muwallad, were born in Indonesia and may be of mixed heritage.[11]

Because of the lack of information, a few Indonesian scholars have mistaken the Arabs of Indonesia as Wahhabism agents, as Azyumardi Azra depicts Indonesians of Arab descent as wishing to purge Indonesian Islam of its indigenous religious elements. Indonesian critics of Arab influence in Indonesia point to the founding of the radical group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) and leadership of Laskar Jihad (LJ) and Front Pembela Islam by Indonesian Arabs.[12][13]


Many Arabs from Hadhramaut were Sayyids of the Ba 'Alawi sada family and Sharifs and most of them emigrated from Hadhramaut.[14] They had special status and privileges within the Hadhrami community. Other Muslims or a non-Sayyid usually could not marry the daughter of a Sayyid, while a Sayyid man could marry other women due to belief in strict Kafa'ah among Sayyids. In the past Arab Indonesians also practiced Taqbil as tradition they brought from Hadhramaut.


The majority of Arab Indonesians live in Java, primarily in West and East Java and Madura. A sizable minority live in Sumatra (primarily in Palembang, West Sumatra, North Sumatra and Aceh),[15] Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Ambon. The earliest census figures that indicate the number of Hadhramis living in Dutch East Indies date from 1859, when it was found that there were 4992 Arab Indonesians living in Java and Madura.[16] The census of 1870 recorded a total of 12412 Arab Indonesians (7495 living in Java and Madura and the rest in other islands). In 1900, total number of Arab population 27399, 44902 in 1920, and 71335 in 1930.[16]


Arab Indonesians are almost all Muslim; according to the 2000 census, 98.27 percent of Arab Indonesians are Muslim, compared to 88.22 percent of the general population. Historically, most have lived in so called kauman villages, in the areas around mosques, but this has changed in recent years.[17] The majority are Sunni, following the Shafi'i school of Islamic law with Ba 'Alawi sada families usually follow Ba 'Alawiyya tariqa.[18]

The Islam practiced by Arab Indonesians tends to be more orthodox than the local, indigenous-influenced forms like abangan who doesn't follow some of Islamic religious restriction. Children are generally sent to madrasahs,[19] but many later advanced their education to secular schools.



Gambus is a popular musical genre among Arab-Indonesians, usually during weddings or other special events. The music is played by a music ensemble consisting of Lute, violins, Marawis, Dumbuk, Bongo drum, Tambourine, Suling (Indonesian version of Ney),[20] and sometimes accompanied with Accordion, Electronic keyboard, Electric guitars, even drum kit. The Gambus player (Muthrib) usually sings while playing the Lute. The music is very similar to Yemeni music with lyrics mainly in Arabic, similar to Khaliji music, where the rhythm is categorized as either Dahife, Sarh or Zafin.[21] In the events, sometimes male-only dancers go to the middle in a group of two or three persons and each group takes turn in the middle of the song being played.


The influence of Hadhrami immigrants in the Indonesian cuisine can be seen in the presence Yemeni cuisine in Indonesia, such as Nasi kebuli, Mandi rice, Ka'ak cookie,[22] Murtabak, or lamb Maraq (lamb soup or stew).[23][24]


As common among Middle-eastern societies, genealogies are mainly patrilineal.[25] Patrilinearity is even stronger in Sayyid families, where an offspring of non-Hadhrami man and Hadhrami woman is not considered a Sayyid.[20] Many of the Hadhrami migrants came from places in Hadhramaut, such as Seiyun, Tarim, Mukalla, Shibam or other places in Hadhramaut.


Very few researches and DNA samples, if any, have been done on Arab-Indonesians. It has been guessed that the DNA haplogroups found among Arab Indonesians are J, L and R[26] with higher possibility of J-M267 traces.[27] Haplogroup G-PF3296 is also common, especially among descents of Sayyids of Hadhramaut.[28] It is predicted the presence of mtDNA R9 haplogroups among Arab Indonesians due to mixed marriage between Indonesians and Yemenis .

Arab Indonesians

See also



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