In various works on Islam in Indonesia, the existence of female religious leaders or ulama are rarely uncovered. This is partly due to the paradigm used in these studies, which only concentrate on the formal or official religious public domain. This discriminates an informal public [religious] domain or a space of unofficial, private politics (Bourdieu, 1977; Nelson, 1974) that women used to be part of it. The research is a study of female ulama, locally known in Aceh as teungku inong, and their unique relations with other women, particularly in the rural setting, through majelis taklim (regular religious meetings) and dayah (traditional educational institutions).
This ethnographical research is carried out in present-day Aceh where shari’a has been formally part of the public life since 2002, and where the presence of gender issues increased particularly in the post- conflict and post-tsunami period; these issues have been contested and to some extent even (re) negotiated. In this context, the roles of female ulama deserve to be studied and recognised. The research is aimed to explore the roles and agency of Muslim women, and to show a variety of women’s engagements in public religious sphere in a non-Middle East the context, and to examine how local culture and specific socio-political contexts influence the agency, power and authority of female ulama