Sunday, January 13, 2008

Soft Islam in Indonesia

Islam in Indonesia
Where “soft Islam” is on the march
Jan 10th 2008 JAKARTA
From The Economist print edition

Moderator: The extremists - be it in Islam, Hinduism, Christianity or others are ruthlessly selfish. They just care about themselves and want to push their ideas on to others... without giving the others, the very same chance. It won't cut it. We have to fight extremism every place and have to work on seeing that these extremists see another point of view. If we just speak out loud and ask them to be just... things will change. Speak up, every chance you get.

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 Ulemas 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.

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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.