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Radical Islamism and Jihad ( 21 Dec 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Muslim Nation vs Jihad: Indonesia’s syncretic Islam is under threat

from those who would convert it into the austere Saudi version

By Manoj Joshi


THE BIG story in Indonesia in the short while I was there last week was the execution last Sunday of Imam Samudra, Amrozi and Mukhlas by a firing squad for their involvement in the 2002 bombings which killed more than 202 people, including 88 Australians, on the island of Bali. The three had been executed after an extended legal process. They had been arrested in 2003 and sentenced to death, but for five years they had delayed the process through legal efforts. However, they refused to submit a plea for clemency.


Hardline Islamist groups in Indonesia railed against the authorities and the President and Vice President and other officials even received threats. As in the case of Dhananjoy Chatterji in 2004, the Indonesian media turned the people who had little remorse in killing more than 200 people into heroes. There was also a powerful current of religious zealotry in the world’s largest Muslim state.


Some of the “martyr” complex came from NGOs which oppose the death penalty. Given this atmosphere, the government handled the executions with great care, announcing the event after the deed had been done. They went through with it when it became clear that hardline groups had actually been emboldened by the prolonged public campaign in favour of the convicts by extremist elements.


Indonesia’s mainstream Muslim organisations like the Nahdatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah publicly declared that there should be no sympathy for the executed bombers. They called on the media to desist from glorifying them and said that they should be branded as terrorists and not martyrs or mujahids. They said that glorification of such murderers would only inspire other Muslims to follow their “unIslamic” ways and they called on Muslims to note that violence carried out in the name of religion would not give them a “ticket to heaven.” Indeed, they said that such actions had actually earned Islam a bad name.


The leader of orthodox NU Masdar F Masudi, an Islamic jurisprudence expert, declared that the execution of the convicts could be seen as the implementation of the Koranic doctrine of qisas, where a soul must be paid for by a soul. Din Shyamsuddin, the head of Muhammadiyah, was categorical that Muslims need to reject violence and terrorism.


I was unable to meet Mr. Shyamsuddin, whom I had met earlier in 2002, because he was traveling. The Muhammadiyah is the world’s second largest Islamic organisation after the NU, with 29 million members. It is a reformist socio-religious movement that believes in ijtihad or individual interpretation of the Koran and the Sunnah, rather than what is laid down by the ulema.


Indonesia’s syncretic Islam is under threat from those who would convert it into the austere Saudi version. For the present, Indonesia remains a vibrant, open and tolerant nation.


THOUGH the vast Indonesian archipelago is a neighbour of India, the world’s largest Muslim state does not register in Indian minds. Yet, there is no problem from the Indonesian side.


India is included in the list of some 40 countries whose citizens can get a visa on arrival in Indonesia. It takes a minute and $ 10 to have the visa pasted on. No questions asked. That is what tourism promotion is all about. What did however drive home Indonesia’s enormous advantage over surly India was the good natured politeness of the people and their tolerant ways.

December 22, 2008





Islam in Indonesia: Where “soft Islam” is on the march


Jan 10th 2008 | JAKARTA

From The Economist print edition


Indonesia has some worrying radicals but it seems to be following Turkey, with Islamists moderating as they get closer to power




IS INDONESIA, the most populous Muslim-majority country, undergoing creeping Islamisation? It is not hard to assemble enough recent evidence to give Western Islamophobes goosebumps. In late December a mob attacked and burned a prayer house in West Java belonging to Ahmadiyah, a sect deemed heretical by some mainstream Islamic scholars. Earlier in the month the country's Christian leaders complained that Muslim radicals, helped by local officials, had carried out a string of attacks on churches. Ten Muslim militants were jailed for attacks on Christians on Sulawesi island, including the beheading of three schoolgirls. In late November the religious-affairs ministry barred a liberal Egyptian scholar, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (who calls the Koran a “cultural product”), from public speaking in Indonesia.


Behind many recent incidents is a vigilante group, the Islam Defenders' Front (FPI), which in September assaulted bars, cafés and hotels in Bogor, near Jakarta, accusing them of violating Ramadan. Another rising radical force is the Indonesian chapter of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which wants a caliphate to rule the whole Muslim world. Last August it gathered perhaps 90,000 supporters in a Jakarta stadium. Its leaders condemned democracy on the basis that sovereignty lies in God's hands, not the people's. A not dissimilar attack on pluralism was made in a hardline fatwa issued in 2005 by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). This same semi-official body recently demanded the banning of the liberal Egyptian scholar.



In 2006 a poll found that one in ten Indonesians supported terrorist attacks like the 2002 Bali bombings if intended to “protect the faith”. Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the terror group behind the Bali attacks, is still running several dozen pesantren (boarding schools), putting who knows what into impressionable teenage heads. The Bali bombers are due to be executed in the next few weeks, possibly triggering a backlash by radicals.


This all sounds worrying. But Indonesia is a huge, varied and complex place, and the radicals—even though some have a semi-official platform—are a small and not very influential minority. Contrary evidence abounds: liberals as well as radicals are making inroads. They have won a big battle over a “pornography” law that Islamists proposed in 2006. It would have banned bikinis and short skirts, for non-Muslim women too, and prohibited the Hindu minority's traditional dances. But a public outcry forced lawmakers to strike out all the controversial bits—and it still has not passed in parliament. Two new anti-terrorist police squads have made much progress in arresting and breaking up JI's leadership. There have been no attacks on foreign targets for two years.


As Indonesia democratised after the fall of the (secular) Suharto regime in 1998, local authorities gained autonomy and became directly elected. Many seized the opportunity to pass Sharia-based laws, stoking fears of Islamisation. However, Greg Fealy, an Australian expert on Indonesian Islam, says these laws, though successful in winning votes for the local politicians pushing them, have usually had little practical impact. He recently revisited one such district, Tasikmalaya, where he found “there were more schoolgirls wearing the headscarf but just as much gambling, prostitution and drinking as before.”


The formerly separatist region of Aceh was allowed, under a peace pact with the rebels, to introduce strict sharia. The move was popular at first, says Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, but there was widespread revulsion when the authorities started publicly whipping miscreants. As a result the religious police were drastically reined in. Overall, Indonesians seem to prefer the idea of living under “God's law” to the practice of it. Indonesian Islam has always been distinct from the Middle Eastern kind, infusing influences from Hinduism and other religions. This will make it hard for fundamentalists to get far, says Muhammad Hikam, a political consultant.



Whereas a relatively small number of fiery militants and fundamentalists get most attention, Mr Hikam says that liberal Islamic scholars have successfully broken the link between religious piety and political Islam. Indonesians seeking a more overt expression of their faith, as many do nowadays, can still believe in separation of mosque and state. As the 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections approach, secular parties have been attracting voters by creating Islamic—but not Islamist—wings. The in-phrase, says Mr Fealy, is Islam Lunak, “soft Islam”. Pollsters are telling politicians that it helps to add a mild religious tinge to speeches about social justice and anti-corruption. But radical stuff, like preaching an Islamic state, is a turn-off.


Indonesia's two biggest Muslim organisations are Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)—whose long-time leader, Abdurrahman Wahid was president of Indonesia in 1999-2001—and Muhammadiyah, which together claim around 70m members. They indeed used to call for an Islamic state. Nowadays Masdar Farid Mas'udi, a senior NU figure, says all they mean by an “Islamic” state is a just and prosperous one. In some ways the two bodies have come to resemble Europe's mainstream Christian churches: “Catholic” NU stresses traditional rites and the authority of religious leaders, whereas “Protestant” Muhammadiyah stresses the primacy of scripture. As with Catholics and Protestants it is family tradition, rather than theology, that usually determines which group one belongs to. Both now accept Indonesia's secular founding creed, pancasila, which preaches religious tolerance (though you are supposed to believe in God).


Moderate success

Several of the country's political parties began life as the political wings of religious movements such as NU and Muhammidiyah. But the parties and their parent bodies have drifted apart, even as all have mellowed. In recent elections a more religiously conservative group, Prosperous Justice (PKS), has gained votes—but polls now show its support slumping. One reason is that it backed the pornography law and has suffered in the backlash against it.


Another, admits Zulkieflimansyah, a senior PKS parliamentarian, is that it has joined the (secular) coalition of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Its popularity has suffered because of tough policies such as cutting fuel subsidies. Mr Zulkieflimansyah sees his party as undergoing a desirable process of moderation as it “encounters reality”. PKS—like longer-established Muslim parties before it—is now having to ditch the fire and brimstone to transcend minority appeal. Rising younger figures in the party, like him, are more comfortable with this than its older generation, who studied in the Middle East. In general, the country's larger Muslim parties are echoing Turkey's ruling AK party—ditching Islamism while still appealing to the pious. Smaller ones still holding to a hard line may fare badly in 2009: Mr Fealy reckons that in 200 regional elections in the past two-and-a-half years not a single “sectarian” Muslim candidate has won.


Indonesia is, overall, edging away from radical Islamism. But the trend is not irreversible, and the authorities must avoid fostering fundamentalists by pandering to them. The MUI (the council of mullahs) and the FPI (the vigilantes) provide a lesson: both were created, for temporary reasons of expediency, by the Suharto regime but both have lingered to haunt its democratic successors. Mr Yudhoyono now seems to be trying to channel the MUI's radical enthusiasm into issuing fatwas against “deviant” Islamic sects like Ahmadiyah. But this only encourages the FPI to take up its cudgels.


Other, more important ways to make sure Indonesia stays on the path to democratic pluralism are to keep the economy growing and to boost sluggish efforts at reforming graft-ridden public institutions. High unemployment provides recruits for communal violence like that in Sulawesi—whether or not religion is the spark that ignites the tinder. Poverty, combined with disgust at corrupt officialdom, push some people towards the Utopian promises of groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir. In Indonesia, unlike most Muslim countries, the ideological struggle between various forms of Islam is being fought largely by democratic means. The violent and the intolerant are still at the margins and, while the country's steady progress persists, look likely to stay there.



Friday, 25 October, 2002, 02:11 GMT 03:11 UK

Islam in Indonesia: The majority of Indonesia's Muslims are moderate

By Mark Duff

BBC religious affairs reporter


The devastating nightclub bombing on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali has again focused attention on the political power of Islam to motivate people to acts of extreme violence.

It has also raised questions about the specific characteristics of Islam in the world's most populous Muslim country.


A quick glance at a map of Indonesia suggests the key to its special blend of Islam. It is huge - the world's biggest island chain.


 Radical Muslims do not command wide support

It is at the crossroads of the Pacific and Indian oceans. And it has been on trading routes for as long as mankind has sailed the seven seas.

Geography, history and trade - those three factors have combined over the centuries to create a brand of Islam that is unique to Indonesia.


It is a brand that acknowledges the great tradition of religious belief out of which Islam emerged. And it is one that is enshrined in the country's constitution.




Indonesia's sheer size - it spans 5,000 kilometres - means there are significant variations within Islam from one part of the country to another.


Muslim traders from the Arabian cradle of Islam brought their faith to Indonesia. But Islam was not always treading on virgin territory - and the Indonesian Islam of today reflects that historical and demographic reality.



Radicals are unhappy with a female president

The earliest Indonesians were animists. They practised ancestor and spirit worship. Then, for about 1,500 years after Christ, the Hindu and Buddhist faiths spread from the Indian sub-continent to the western part of Indonesia.

Some pockets of Indonesia remain predominantly Hindu - most notably Bali. But the Hindu kingdoms never reached the eastern islands.


Islam reached Indonesia from India. It was the mainstream Sunni variant of Islam that was found originally in Arabia and is today the faith of about one billion believers worldwide.


But the Islam of Indonesia was also influenced by Sufi holy men - devout Muslim mystics renowned for the beauty of their music and poetry, and for internalising the focus of their spiritual odyssey rather than seeking to impose their faith on the external political realities around them.


That influence, too, was a force for moderation.


In time, Islam spread throughout the archipelago and up into the southern Philippines. For the most part, it was a peaceful conversion - unlike the Arab and Turkish conversions made at the point of a sword.


Its final form in any place depended on the inherited tradition. Where Islam overlay Hinduism, or the ancient belief systems that pre-dated it, as in the west of the archipelago, it differed from the form that emerged further east, which had been untouched by Hinduism.


But the same geography that helped foster moderation and tolerance now has more sinister connotations. An archipelago of thousands of islands is ideal territory for guerrilla groups: hunting them is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.


History and politics


Indonesian Islam came into its own politically with the battle against colonialism. In Sulawesi province, and later in Aceh, Islam became a rallying point for resistance to the Dutch colonialists. Militant Islam is nothing new in Indonesia.


Politically, too, though, Islam is part of a rich multi-cultural mix. The very symbol of Indonesia, the golden Garuda eagle, reflects this. It was originally a Hindu symbol.


Vice-President Hamzah Haz leads the largest Muslim party


The national motto is "unity in diversity".


The founding principles of Indonesia, the Pancasila, include a belief in God. But beyond this, religious tolerance is seen as the cornerstone of relations between different faiths - even though almost 90% of Indonesians are Muslim.


Moderation is therefore built into the country's constitutional framework.


This is not to overlook the impact of decades of repression during which the armed forces clamped down on Islamic militancy. The authoritarian rule of the military provided the stability on which economic growth took place. It provided security and relative peace.


But it also entailed severe restrictions on personal freedom of expression.


The advent of democracy, coupled with the impact of the South-East Asian economic collapse in 1997, and the arrival of a tough new breed of Middle Eastern Islamic preachers, sowed the seeds of the current challenge to Indonesia's traditionally moderate form of Islam.


Economic stress created an underclass of impoverished, alienated people. Democracy brought freedom of speech, and a new generation of Islamic politicians used their newfound freedom to tap into this rich seam of anger and resentment.


More radical, purist Islamic preachers started to arrive too, from the Middle East - their interpretation of Islam very different from that of most indigenous Muslims and their moderate politicians.


Megawati's challenge


Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri is walking a tightrope in the aftermath of the Bali bombing. How does she tackle the threat of a minority of radical Islamists, without alienating the overwhelming majority of moderate Muslims?


The scale of that challenge became clear when the country's two biggest moderate Muslim groups criticised the detention in hospital of Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, the radical cleric alleged to be the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI).


The US has branded JI a terrorist organisation. And while Indonesia has not named it as a suspect in the Bali bomb, it has admitted the group has links to al-Qaeda.


JI has an avowedly radical Islamist agenda - one which includes a vision of an Islamic theocracy across much of South-East Asia.


Since 11 September Indonesia has been under pressure to crack down on its home-grown Islamic militants.


The leaders of two groups - Laskar Jihad and the Islamic Defenders Front - have been detained and are facing trial. There have been small-scale protests by their supporters, but nothing - yet - to suggest there will be a popular backlash.


The Indonesian authorities say Mr Ba'asyir is a suspect in a series of bombings in December 2000, and alleged plots, including an assassination attempt on Megawati before she became president.


He is not being detained in connection with the Bali bombings.


But many Indonesians are sceptical. And while the vast majority of Indonesians are undoubtedly hostile to the radical agenda of some Islamists, analysts are warning that too harsh a crackdown could threaten those very values of free speech and tolerance that underpin Indonesian democracy.


And there is a more immediate political danger for Megawati - the risk that a crackdown could result in the break-up of her fragile coalition government, some members of which are sympathetic to the Islamic fundamentalist cause.


Islam in Indonesia


Islam was the dominant religion by far in Indonesia, with the greatest number of religious adherents: around 143 million people or 86.9 percent of the population in 1985, which when adjusted for 1992 estimates represents between 160 million and 170 million adherents. This high percentage of Muslims made Indonesia the largest Islamic country in the world in the early 1990s. Within the nation, most provinces and islands had majority populations of Islamic adherents (ranging from just above 50 percent in Kalimantan Barat and Maluku provinces to as much as 97.8 percent in the Special Region of Aceh).


According to orthodox practice, Islam is a strictly monotheistic religion in which God (Allah or Tuhan) is a pervasive, if somewhat distant, figure. The Prophet Muhammad is not deified, but is regarded as a human who was selected by God to spread the word to others through the Quran, Islam's holiest book, the revealed word of God. Islam is a religion based on high moral principles, and an important part of being a Muslim is commitment to these principles. Islamic law (sharia; in Indonesian, syariah) is based on the Quran; the sunna, Islamic tradition, which includes the hadith (hadis in Indonesian), the actions and sayings of Muhammad; ijma, the consensus of a local group of Islamic jurisprudents and, sometimes, the whole Muslim community; and qiyas or reasoning through analogy. Islam is universalist, and, in theory, there are no national, racial, or ethnic criteria for conversion. The major branches of Islam are those adhered to by the Sunni and Shia Muslims.


To a significant degree, the striking variations in the practice and interpretation of Islam--in a much less austere form than that practiced in the Middle East--in various parts of Indonesia reflect its complex history. Introduced piecemeal by various traders and wandering mystics from India, Islam first gained a foothold between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries in coastal regions of Sumatra, northern Java, and Kalimantan. Islam probably came to these regions in the form of mystical Sufi tradition. Sufism easily gained local acceptance and became synthesized with local customs. The introduction of Islam to the islands was not always peaceful, however. As Islamized port towns undermined the waning power of the East Javanese HinduBuddhist Majapahit kingdom in the sixteenth century, Javanese elites fled to Bali, where over 2.5 million people kept their own version of Hinduism alive. Unlike coastal Sumatra, where Islam was adopted by elites and masses alike, partly as a way to counter the economic and political power of the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, in the interior of Java the elites only gradually accepted Islam, and then only as a formal legal and religious context for Javanese spiritual culture.


These historical processes gave rise to enduring tensions between orthodox Muslims and more syncretistic, locally based religion--tensions that were still visible in the early 1990s. On Java, for instance, this tension was expressed in a contrast between santri and abangan, an indigenous blend of native and Hindu-Buddhist beliefs with Islamic practices sometimes also called Javanism, kejawen, agama Jawa, or kebatinan. The terms and precise nature of this opposition were still in dispute in the early 1990s, but on Java santri not only referred to a person who was consciously and exclusively Muslim, santri also described persons who had removed themselves from the secular world to concentrate on devotional activities in Islamic schools called pesantren--literally the place of the santri.


In contrast to the Mecca-oriented philosophy of most santri, there was the current of kebatinan, which is an amalgam of animism, Hindu-Buddhist, and Islamic--especially Sufi--beliefs. This loosely organized current of thought and practice, was legitimized in the 1945 constitution and, in 1973, when it was recognized as one of the agama, President Suharto counted himself as one of its adherents. Kebatinan is generally characterized as mystical, and some varieties were concerned with spiritual self-control. Although there were many varieties circulating in 1992, kebatinan often implies pantheistic worship because it encourages sacrifices and devotions to local and ancestral spirits. These spirits are believed to inhabit natural objects, human beings, artifacts, and grave sites of important wali (Muslim saints). Illness and other misfortunes are traced to such spirits, and if sacrifices or pilgrimages fail to placate angry deities, the advice of a dukun or healer is sought. Kebatinan, while it connotes a turning away from the militant universalism of orthodox Islam, moves toward a more internalized universalism. In this way, kebatinan moves toward eliminating the distinction between the universal and the local, the communal and the individual.


Another important tension dividing Indonesian Muslims was the conflict between traditionalism and modernism. The nature of these differences was complex, confusing, and a matter of considerable debate in the early 1990s, but traditionalists generally rejected the modernists' interest in absorbing educational and organizational principles from the West. Specifically, traditionalists were suspicious of modernists' support of the urban madrasa, a reformist school that included the teaching of secular topics. The modernists' goal of taking Islam out of the pesantren and carrying it to the people was opposed by the traditionalists because it threatened to undermine the authority of the kyai (religious leaders). Traditionalists also sought, unsuccessfully, to add a clause to the first tenet of the Pancasila state ideology requiring that, in effect, all Muslims adhere to the sharia. On the other hand, modernists accused traditionalists of escapist unrealism in the face of change; some even hinted that santri harbored greater loyalty towards the ummah (congregation of believers) of Islam than to the secular Indonesian state.


Despite these differences, the traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama (literally, Revival of the Religious Scholars, also known as the Muslim Scholars' League), the progressive Consultative Council of Indonesian Muslims (Masyumi), and two other parties were forcibly streamlined into a single Islamic political party in 1973--the Unity Development Party (PPP). Such cleavages may have weakened Islam as an organized political entity, as demonstrated by the withdrawal of the Nahdlatul Ulama from active political competition, but as a popular religious force Islam showed signs of good health and a capacity to frame national debates in the 1990s.