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Radicalism extends roots, becoming institutionalized JAKARTA - There is no danger that Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, will be turned into an Islamic state. One reason for this is that most Indonesians practice a moderate strain of Islam and are tolerant of different religions. Another reason is that the nation's founding fathers, who included charismatic Muslim leaders and ulema, never wanted Indonesia to be an Islamic state.

Since independence, any political attempts by conservative groups to push for the enforcement of sharia, or Islamic law, have always ended in failure, with the proponents losing significant public support for their ambitious campaigns. However, the country cannot be called a secular state in the sense that the nation embraces "total secularism", or the complete separation of religion and state.

Religious -- Islamic -- doctrines and traditions often paint and influence Indonesian politics and community life, which has in turn encouraged radicalism, conservatism and fundamentalism among some members of the public. Now, radicalism and conservatism are putting down roots and even becoming institutionalized in Indonesia, with both Muslims and non-Muslims falling victims.

This deep-rooted fundamentalism is partly evidenced by attacks on dozens of churches and other Christian houses of worship in cities and towns across the country over the last year. In 2005, Muslim mobs damaged, destroyed or shut down at least 23 churches in West Java alone and intimidated church officials, according the Indonesian Communion of Churches.

Radicalism can also be said to be extending its roots when armed mobs attack fellow Muslims who worship in a slightly different manner, as happened in several incidents. Mobs, including members of the hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI), vandalized several mosques belonging to Ahmadiyah, a minority Islamic sect that does not recognize Muhammad as the last prophet, in several parts of the country.

Dozens of homes belonging to Ahmadiyah followers were also attacked, with the most recent incident taking place in Cianjur regency, West Java. Liberal Islamic groups that promote a tolerant brand of Islam, pluralism and secularism also found themselves being threatened in 2005. In September, hard-liners forced the Liberal Islam Network (JIL), made up mostly of young Muslim intellectuals and scholars, to shut down its base in Utan Kayu, East Jakarta. However, local officials came to the defense of the JIL, saying the group could not be evicted from Utan Kayu.

The extremists also branded JIL supporters and other liberal Muslim thinkers "infidels" or "apostates", a judgment that only God is entitled to make. The September jailing by East Java's Malang District Court of Muslim preacher Muhammad Yusman Roy for introducing Indonesian translations of Muslim prayers was another sign that freedom of religion was not being respected. In addition, Yusman was also forced from his home by local residents.

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the state's highest Islamic authority, was partly to blame for these attacks, particularly on the liberal groups and Ahmadiyah, because of a series of controversial fatwas, or religious edicts, it issued. Particularly troubling were the fatwas banning pluralism, secularism and liberalism. The fatwas also forbade marriage between people of different religions and interfaith prayers, unless a Muslim leads the prayers.

Militant Muslims used the controversial edicts to justify their attacks on Ahmadiyah and JIL, which drew protests from moderate scholars. The government must also share some responsibility for the attacks on the churches, which moderate Muslims say partly resulted from an outdated joint ministerial decree on the construction of places of worship.

The controversial decree, which was issued by the religious affairs minister and the home affairs minister three decades ago, requires anyone who wishes to establish a house of worship to obtain approval from the local government and the local community. This ruling has mostly harmed non-Muslims -- Christians in particular -- who are often unable to obtain the necessary approval to build new churches in predominantly Muslim areas. There have also been some reports of Muslims occasionally having trouble building mosques in regions such as Papua, Maluku and East Nusa Tenggara where Islam is not the dominant religion.

The controversial MUI fatwas and joint ministerial decree are signs that radicalism and conservatism are becoming institutionalized in the country. Sociologist Nur Syam of the Surabaya-based Sunan Ampel State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) says radical Islamic movements have penetrated state structures through political parties, government bureaucracy and other institutions, including the MUI.

Conservatism has even taken root in the country's two largest Islamic organizations -- Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah -- which have witnessed numerous scholastic clashes between moderate and more extreme clerics. However, the two are still generally viewed as moderate groups. More conservative NU and Muhammadiyah clerics supported the MUI fatwa against Ahmadiyah, despite the country's constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, while the moderates opposed it.

Security authorities were also slow to deal with religious violence, occasionally tolerating discrimination and intimidation. Prominent Muslim scholar Azyumardi Azra says the government appears reluctant to publicly defend minority groups because it fears being branded un-Islamic. This only encourages militancy, added the rector of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN). "Radicalism is already there, but sometimes it increases because of the failure of government to enforce law and order," Azyumardi said.

Further evidence of institutionalized extremism was a series of government policies, which included banning Ahmadiyah in support of the MUI fatwa that declared the minority group a heretical sect. The ban by the Jakarta administration on supermarkets and hypermarkets from selling certain types of alcoholic drinks is also part of this creeping intolerance. A similar ban also came into effect in Tangerang, Banten.

There are also examples of bylaws issued by other provinces and regencies prohibiting women from going out at night alone or ordering all female civil servants to wear headscarves at the office. At the village level, where many people are unfamiliar with religious discourse, radicalism has also infiltrated daily life. Clerics continue to preach against pluralism and religious differences.

There are numerous campaigns against "Christianization" among schoolchildren. The curriculums of many Islamic boarding schools (pesantren) portray Islamic history as bloody and cruel, with an emphasis on wars against "infidels". What many (if not most) Muslim students here understand about "infidels" is that they simply are non-Muslims. Such an understanding is dangerous because it further promotes radicalism and militancy.

A survey by JIL found at least 18 percent of the Muslim population supported hard-line groups, while 6.5 percent were actively involved in such groups. "Maybe that number might seem insignificant, but out of a population of over 200 million, it can be quite significant. It's enough to build their own country," said JIL executive Hamid Basyaib when announcing the results of the survey.

Moderate Muslims need to become more active to balance the views of hard-liners and foster interreligious harmony. As the country's two main Islamic groups, NU and Muhammadiyah must play major roles in countering militant and conservative ideas. Their continued inaction will only help ensure a catastrophic collision between the state, religion and society.

Muhammad Nafik

See also the forum topic about this subject

Posted in Religion @ 26 December 2005 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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