IN INDONESIA : Role of
the Religious Organisations
By C. S. Kuppuswamy
Muslim organizations are reluctant to admit that there is
indeed a problem that should be addressed.
They are reluctant to admit that there are certain
radical elements of Indonesian Muslims who are ready to use
terror in order to achieve their aims”.
Prof. Azyumardi Azra, State Islamic University, Indonesia
know that the terrorists that operate in Indonesia are
hiding behind the banner of Islam.
They often claim that any government effort to
discredit them will discredit Islam.
This circumstance has made it difficult for the
government to aggressively arrest, detain the radicals and
ban their organizations for fear of being labeled as
Ridarson Gallingging, lecturer, YarsiUniversity (The Jakarta
The above quotes give an
insight of the impact on the counter terrorism efforts of
the government by the religious organizations in the
religious organizations and institutions, if not abetting,
are providing a conducive
atmosphere for terrorism to thrive in this country,
some by their acts of commission and some by acts of
fundamentalism which was suppressed under the New Order
regime of Suharto, has resurfaced through the medium of
these various organizations and clerics who are acting like
true champions of Islam.
Indonesia is the
world’s most populous Muslim nation with 90 % Muslims and
the remainder 10 % consisting of Hindus, Christians and
country is often proud to indicate to the rest of the world
that the majority of the Muslims in the country are tolerant
moderates. It is
not an Islamic state and the constitution guarantees
religious freedom. However
some of the recent incidents, such as the attack in June 2005
on Ahmadiyahs, forced closure of some Christian places of
worship, attacks on bars and night clubs, threats to the
Liberal Islamic Network, and issuance of fatwas
against pluralism, secularism and liberal Islam,
indicate that the conservative and radical organizations are
in full cry and are pursuing their activities with impunity.
The government is overlooking, if not encouraging,
these radical elements by terming these as minor or stray
Leaders (Imam, Ulama, Ustaz etc.,)
The role of the
religious leaders or scholars is crucial in shaping the
public opinion and behaviour of the different Muslim
communities, keeping in mind the sensitivities of the other
religions or sects as well as the government policy.
Religious intolerance, misinterpretations of the
religious injunctions and apprehensions of a threat to Islam
from the western nations have become the main theme of their
Muhamad Ali, a lecturer
at the State Islamic University, Jakarta, writes that “In
Indonesia, generally speaking, the role of many Imams seems
to be more ritualistic, formalistic and often artificial.
Problems such as corruption, violence and terrorism,
social diseases caused by communal disintegration are often
ignored or only figure marginally in their sermons”.
While classifying them as good and bad he adds that
“good imams are those who promote peace and harmony, those
who encourage the use of reason while the bad Imams are
those who incite intolerance, hatred and violence, those who
demand absolutist obedience without reasoning, those who
discourage the followers from learning”.
Ansja’ad Mbai who
heads the anti terror desk at the office of the Chief
Security Minister said recently “50 % of Muslim clerics
preaching at Friday prayers had often encouraged hatred and
hostility against other religious groups” (Jakarta Post 24
The Imams are no longer
the last elections, in certain cases they had given their
preferences for the followers to abide by and also
expressing their opinion for voting against women
Schools (pesantren or
Indonesia has more than
14000 plus pesantrens,
the majority of which teach a moderate understanding of
Islam. Only five
closely linked to Jemaah Islamiah and teach a fundamental
interpretation of Islam. These are al-Mukmin in Ngruki,
Sukohardjo in Solo, Al-Multaquien in Jepara (central Java),
Dar-us-Syahadh in Boyolali (Central Java and al-Islam in
Lamongan in East Java (Sharif Shuja – Terrorism Monitor
April 2005 of The Jamestown Foundation).
Investigations of the
major terrorist incidents in Bali and Jakarta since 2002
have revealed that some of these pesantren
are “breeding extremists through radical interpretation of
of the men convicted for the Bali and Marriott Hotel attacks
have been students of the Al-Mukmin boarding school founded
by Abu Bakaar Bashir, the alleged head of Jemaah Islamiah.
Consequent to the second
Bali incident on October 1, 2005, Vice President Jusuf Kalla
announced that the government is planning to monitor the
activities of the pesantrens
in the country. This
has raised a hue and cry from the religious leaders.
They consider this as a direct interference in their
activities and an affront to the Islamic movements.
Former President Abdurrahman Wahid has also
criticized this move of the government and opined that it is
up to the people to evaluate such pesantren
suitable action against
such erring schools.
Sidney Jones, a
terrorism expert and Director of the International Crisis
Group, has said that there are18 Islamic schools affiliated
to the terror cell of Jemaah Islamiah in the country which
were used to train Jihadis.
She has also linked these schools with an university
in Surakarta, Central Java.
Ulema council (MUI). This
is Indonesia’s top clerical body.
This council comprises a broad range of Muslim groups
including the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah.
The MUI wants to counter balance the largely secular
In July 2005, the
council issued a few fatwas that banned liberal interpretations of Islam, declared
liberalism and pluralism as haram
(forbidden) and also condemned inter-faith prayers and
marriages between religions.
reflect the growing influence of two groups in particular
– the Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia, an organization
closely linked to the radical right and Committee for
International Solidarity, a hard line group founded in the
late 1980s during the Suharto regime”(Newsweek August 15,
In June 2005, President
Yudhoyono himself inaugurated the annual conference of the
MUI which shows the importance attached by the government to
these hard line groups and the council’s influence over
Ulama (NU). NU
is a traditional Muslim organization with a membership of
approximately 40 million. The NU runs mosques, schools and
medical clinics throughout the country.
The NU version of Islam is more relaxed one building
on traditional values as much as on the Islamic scriptures.
Hasyim Muzadi is the leader of this organization.
Former President Andurrahman Wahid was earlier the
head of this organization and still exerts considerable
influence over its members.
established in 1912, is the second largest Muslim
organization with a membership of around 30 million.
Muhammadiyah is more modernistic with aim of
purifying Islam from local tradition (adat)
and return to the original source of Islam, the Quran and
the Hadith or the Sunnah.
Din Syamsuddin is the Chairman and he is also the
Deputy Chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council. Amien Rais,
a seasoned politician of Indonesia, was a former head of
Liberal Islam Network (Jaringan Islam Liberal – JIL).
JIL, a recently formed (four-year old) organization headed by Ulil Abshar
Abdalla, is located within the Centre for Studies on
Information Flows. This
network (a small group of Intellectuals) is challenging the
radicals’ narrow interpretation of Islam and wants to
protect the spirit of tolerance through its activism, radio
broadcasts and news paper articles.
JIL believes in ijtihad,
or the application of reason to interpreting Islamic texts.
Even a government committee had appreciated the
efforts of this network by proposing some revision to Muslim
Family Law such as polygamy.
While the efforts of
this network have been welcomed by the moderates, the
hardliners have opposed these views and activities of the
Indonesian Ulema Council had issued fatwas
against pluralism, secularism and liberalism and had also
issued threats to evict the Liberal Islam Network from its
offices by the beginning of the Islamic fasting month
and Terrorist Organizations
Jihad (LJ). The
LJ was established in 2000 in response to religious violence
in Maluku. It is
in fact the military wing of Forum Kommunikasi Ahlus Sunnah
wal Jammah (Communications Forum of the followers of Sunnah).
A few thousand volunteers were given military
training in Bogor and sent to Maluku in April 2000 and were
involved in creating communal violence.
It is more or less an established fact that LJ had
the backing of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI).
This outfit is reportedly disbanded though there is
no proof to this effect.
Pembela Islam (FPI – Islamic Defenders Front).
The FPI was formed in 1998 and it is reportedly
having branches in over 20 provinces of the country.
Habib Muhammad Riziek Syihab, a religious teacher of
Arab descent is its leader.
The FPI has been in the news for organizing raids on
bars, massage parlours and night clubs on the grounds that
the police is ineffective in upholding the laws on gambling
and prostitution and that these places of entertainment are
denigrating the values of Islam.
The police, perhaps with some vested interests, have
often overlooked or taken no action against such offenders
of the FPI.
Mujahidin Council (MMI).
The MMI is the country’s umbrella organization for
militant groups, headed by Abu Bakar Bashir.
The MMI is lobbying to convert Indonesia into an
Islamic state. The
Islamic movement in Indonesia plays its part both in the
political and militant activities.
Bashir is known to have established ties with most of
the paramilitary groups through the MMI.
A former vice president Hamza Haz, while in office,
had admitted openly that Bashir is his close friend and had
even planned to visit Bashir (while he was in jail).
Islamiah (JI). Jemaah
Islamiah means Islamic community.
The JI was founded in 1993-94 by Abdullah Sungkar who
was in exile in Malaysia.
The aim of JI is to have an Islamic state
encompassing Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and the
southern parts of Thailand and Philippines. JI has its roots
in Darul Islam which had strived for the establishment of an
Islamic state in Indonesia in the 1950s and 60s. Abu Bakar
Bashir is alleged to be the head of JI and he is currently
under detention for a not so serious offence though
connected to the Bali blast in October 2002.
Though some leaders of this organization have had
contacts with Al Qaeda there is little evidence to
substantiate that it is the SE Asian wing of Al Qaeda.
For more details on the
organization and other aspects of the JI, Paper
No.746 dated 28 July, 2003 tiled “Jemaah Islamiah
–The Indonesia based Terrorist Organization” of this
author posted on this site may be seen.
The JI is believed to
have been involved in all the four major bomb attacks –
Bali in October 2002 and 2005, at the Marriott Hotel,
Jakarta in 2003 and outside the Australian Embassy, Jakarta
While the US and UN have
listed JI as a terrorist
organization, making it illegal for people to provide
financial and other support to this group, the Indonesian
government is yet to ban this organization.
According to an AFP news report, Yusuf Kalla, the
Vice-President, told “if we have never recognized the
existence of the organization, how can we disband it?”
The Australian Strategic
Policy Institute in its report “Local Jihad : Radical
Islam and Terrorism in Indonesia” indicates that though
the JI has been weakened by the Indonesian crackdown on
terrorists and also by some divisions within the network,
the threat of terrorism
in this country has not reduced to any appreciable
If radical Islam has
grown stronger in Indonesia, Suharto is the first one to be
blamed, as he turned to the Islamic factions to support them
financially and politically, when he realized that he no
longer had the support of the military which had put him on
Sidney Jones of the
International Crisis Group has said that it is a mistake to
see Indonesian militancy as monolithic (Far Eastern economic
Review- June 17, 2004).
She has identified several other terrorist
organizations/groups other than Jemaah Islamiah such as