‘Shame and humiliation’: Aceh’s Islamic law violates human rights

The part of Indonesia which belies its otherwise more moderate Islam:

Hendra, an academic in Indonesia’s semi-autonomous region of Aceh, vaguely remembers the first time he saw a public caning take place in his 20s. It was years ago and it didn’t faze him much.

The 35-year-old cannot even remember what the people were accused of – just that they were taken to a public square at a local mosque and flogged with a rattan cane in front of a crowd of onlookers.

But in recent years, Hendra, a lecturer in communications at Ar-Raniry University in Banda Aceh, has started to feel differently.

Now he avoids public canings. “I always think, ‘Imagine if that was a member of my family’,” he told Al Jazeera. “Do these people really deserve this?”

Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra, is one of Indonesia’s most religiously conservative areas, and is the only part of the archipelago to impose penalties on its residents under Islamic law.

Once one of the most powerful Islamic sultanates in Southeast Asia, the area had long used an informal kind of Islamic law mixed with local laws, known as “hukum adat”. But the legislation was enhanced when Aceh’s long-running separatist conflict ended in 2005. The laws have been gradually expanded to more offences, most recently in 2014.

Advising Brunei

“Sharia police monitor public behaviour and enforce the rules, including in relation to the clothing women choose to wear,” Usman Hamid, the executive director of Amnesty Indonesia, told Al Jazeera.

“People can be subjected to public canings for a range of offences, including gay sex, which carries a penalty of up to 100 lashes, sex before or outside marriage, gambling and the sale and consumption of alcohol.”

The practice had already caused shock among the international community, and after Brunei attracted global condemnation over its plan to step up punishments under Islamic law, attention also turned to Aceh.

Officials from Brunei had travelled to the area for advice on implementing the punishments. Initially, the plan was to impose the death penalty for gay sex, but Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Brunei’s absolute monarch, then announced that a moratorium on capital punishment would be extended.

Those who had picketed the sultan’s luxury hotels and called for a boycott of the country claimed the decision as a victory.

“Sharia law in Aceh is Aceh’s Islamic Criminal Code or the usage of corporal punishment upholding Islamic views in Aceh,” Amnesty’s Usman told Al Jazeera. “But in actuality, the many provisions of the law [are] a breach of international human rights law and standards that create serious barriers for women and girls to report rape or other forms of sexual violence.”

In 2016, the first full year when Islamic laws were implemented in Aceh, 339 people, including 39 women, were caned, according to Human Rights Watch.

‘Not my concern’

No one who had been whipped was prepared to talk about what had happened to him, even anonymously. Many choose to move elsewhere after the punishment – to a new village or town where they can start afresh – due to stigma.

Hamid says caning in public violates international law prohibiting torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment to which Indonesia is a state party.

He adds the punishment is severer than a “light tapping with a cane” as it is often described by its supporters.

Hendra, the academic, says that while there are people who oppose Islamic law punishments, few are willing to discuss the issue publicly.

“People are scared of speaking out to say they don’t support public canings,” he said. “They take the attitude that they see them, but that they don’t know anything about the cases or the law. ‘It’s not my concern’ is how many people view it.”

Sense of shame

Aryos Nivada, an activist and researcher based in Banda Aceh, said shame and humiliation was the main force behind Islamic law.

The shame factor is why the punishments take place in public, usually in front of a local mosque, where those watching take photos and videos of the event. Some are then uploaded to the internet.

“With the rise of social media,” Hendra added, “people can see your face within five minutes [of the punishment being carried out].”

Last year, the then Governor Irwandi Yusuf stopped the practice of public caning. But after he was arrested for corruption last July, the punishments resumed and the issue barely rated a mention in this year’s regional elections.

Yusuf became Aceh’s second governor to be convicted with economy and corruption topping people’s concerns.

Aryos said there was no chance punishments under Islamic law would be abandoned given the close links with traditional Acehnese culture. “Ten years in the future, Aceh will still have Sharia law,” he told Al Jazeera. “It’s part of the character of Aceh.”

Source: ‘Shame and humiliation’: Aceh’s Islamic law violates human rights

Is Islam an increasingly polarizing political cleavage in Indonesia?

Good overview:

Indonesia conducted its presidential election on April 17, the fourth direct presidential election since the country’s transition to democracy in 1998. The election pitted two long-term rivals against each other: incumbent President Joko Widodo (popularly known as “Jokowi”) and former Suharto-era General Prabowo Subianto. It was one of the most divisive elections in Indonesia’s 73-year old history as an independent nation. It also saw Islam being used as a tool to create divisions in the largest Muslim-majority country in the world—a political cleavage that could divide the fourth most populous country in the world for a generation or more.

Two distinct political camps have emerged from the election, largely based on different interpretations of Islamic political theology and regional identities. Jokowi, who is widely expected to win re-election according to preliminary returns, is supported by a coalition of moderate Muslims living in central and eastern Java, the most populous island in Indonesia. Many are members of Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization. Jokowi also enjoys wide support among Indonesia’s substantial non-Muslim minority. Meanwhile, Prabowo is supported by conservative and hardline Muslims living primarily in the western coast of Java, as well as in the islands of Sumatera and Sulawesi.

During the eight-month campaign period, hardline Islamists within the Prabowo camp have portrayed Jokowi as a leader who lacks strong Islamic credentials and who is planning to implement policies to repress deeply religious Muslims. In return, NU members who supported Jokowi have portrayed these hardliners as religious extremists who wish to turn Indonesia into an Islamic or caliphate-based state.

Many of Prabowo’s Islamist supporters were former participants of 2016-17 Defending Islam movement (Aksi Bela Islam)—a movement to remove former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (popularly known as “Ahok”), who was a former Jokowi ally. A Christian of Chinese descent, Ahok was accused of committing religious blasphemy after he misspoke in a campaign rally.

Up to one million Muslims participated in the rallies sponsored by the Defending Islam movement. They ranged from members of hardline groups like Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and Islamic Community Forum (FUI) to those affiliated with Muhammadiyah—Indonesia’s second largest Islamic organization, which tends to be moderate theologically but is less inclined to support Jokowi’s policies (compared to NU). These rallies resulted in Ahok’s re-election defeat and subsequent conviction for religious blasphemy, for which he served two years in prison.

Emboldened by their success, former Defending Islam activists—now calling themselves “Alumni 212”—set their next political target: President Jokowi himself. They aligned themselves with Prabowo long before the presidential election campaign started in August 2018 by forming groups like #2019ChangePresident (#2019GantiPresiden), which staged mass rallies and protests against Jokowi between March and September 2018.

The president feared the #2019ChangePresident group so much that he ordered law enforcement officers to disband its rallies and brought criminal charges against some of the group’s leading figures, including NGO activist Ratna Sarumpaet and singer Ahmad Dhani. These resulted in a growing concern that Jokowi is responding to the challenge from hardline Islamists by using authoritarian measures.

Once the formal campaign period began, Alumni 212 aligned themselves with Islamic parties like the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the National Mandate Party (PAN) to support Prabowo’s presidential bid. It formally endorsed Prabowo in September 2018, even though Prabowo reneged on his promise to pick an Islamic cleric (ulama) as his running mate. Prabowo selected billionaire Sandiaga Uno as his vice-presidential candidate instead.

Under pressure to increase his Islamic credentials, Jokowi chose Indonesia’s most senior Islamic cleric: Ma’ruf Amin, head of the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI), who was also NU’s supreme leader. It was done despite concerns from pro-democracy and human rights advocates regarding Amin’s track record on religious and other minorities. As long-term head of MUI’s religious edicts (fatwa) commission, Amin was thought to be responsible for the issuance of fatwas condemning Ahmadi Muslim minorities (2005) and LGBT people (2012), which resulted in increased number of communal violence and persecutions against the two groups in the last decade.

However, Amin’s selection as Jokowi’s vice-presidential nominee solidified the NU leadership’s support for Jokowi. He received endorsement from its leaders and leading clerics, who also campaigned heavily for his re-election.

Meanwhile, in addition to Alumni 212, PKS, and PAN, Prabowo also received endorsements from Indonesia’s leading popular ulama—such as Abdul Somad, Abdullah Gymnastiar, and Adi Hidayat. These ulama are active internet users to propagate their teachings and have millions of social media followers, particularly among young Muslims between the ages of 20 and 35.

The mobilization of mainstream Islamic groups like NU in Jokowi’s camp and Alumni 212 and other hardline groups in Prabowo’s camp caused this year’s presidential campaign to take an ugly turn. The hardliners painted Jokowi as a “non-devout Muslim” and an “anti-Islamic” leader who plans to impose new restrictions against Muslims’ religious freedom. Meanwhile, NU clerics have accused Prabowo of siding with radical Islamists, claiming he plans to turn Indonesia into a caliphate state.

Research by the Indonesia Program of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in battleground provinces like Central Java, East Java, West Java, and South Sulawesi clearly shows that mobilization efforts done by hardline supporters of Prabowo were responsible for increasing Prabowo’s support among religious voters within these provinces. However, NU leaders’ portrayal these groups as radical Islamists with an extremist agenda also mobilized its followers—who mainly live in Central and East Java—to support Jokowi as well.

The polarized rhetoric used by both sides during this campaign might have contributed to the record voter turnout: estimated to be around 80 percent. It is now feared that the religiously-based polarization strategies used during the election might have long-term repercussions in Indonesian politics and society. Alumni 212 is now planning a new series of mass rallies to challenge the election results. Tough statements issued by Indonesian Armed Forces Chief Hadi Tjahjanto and National Police Chief Tito Karnavian in response to this plan indicated that Jokowi might be considering additional crackdown measures against these Islamists, in an effort to further marginalize them from Indonesia’s public sphere.

To conclude, a new axis of Islam and politics is emerging in Indonesia today. Hardline Islamists will continue to challenge Jokowi during his final five-year term as Indonesia’s president. However, if he decides to crack down against them, it might result in further deconsolidation of Indonesia’s democracy, which will be a setback in Indonesia’s trajectory as a Muslim-majority democratic nation.

Source: Is Islam an increasingly polarizing political cleavage in Indonesia?

A choice for Indonesia’s voters: tolerance … or Islamic statehood

Good in-depth read about the upcoming elections and the tensions between moderates and fundamentalists:

When Indonesians head to the polls next Wednesday for what is expected to be the world’s biggest direct presidential election, 70 per cent of its 193 million registered voters are expected to cast their ballots in a single day.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, wears its hard-fought democracy with ease. I witnessed this during each of its previous three presidential elections – in 2004, 2009 and 2014 – and again in recent weeks as I journeyed across rural and urban Java – the country’s main island – to speak to voters, understand their views, and gauge what their choices might be, come election day.

Direct presidential elections were first held in 2004, six years after student protests and mass riots in several cities ended the 32-year rule of Indonesia’s authoritarian leader Suharto.

Until this year, polling for local councils, regional assemblies and the national parliament were held three months before the presidential election.

Generally, I have emerged largely optimistic from my on-the-ground, straw-poll research expeditions.

Indonesians cherish the opportunity to vote; it’s something they would not readily sacrifice. Whether in east, central or west Java, an island with a population of more than 140 million, I have met people eager to discuss the merits or failings of their leaders, and conscious of the responsibility they have to register their hopes and concerns at the ballot box.

Yet, over time, I have noticed that competitive politics increasingly divides the country socially, though not so obviously along class lines, as in Europe. In Indonesia the electoral divide is, alarmingly, along religious lines – between Muslims and non-Muslims.

The story of Indonesia’s 2019 election is one of two countries. In one, an aspiring, mostly urban middle class worries about the erosion of tolerance and diversity; in the other, growing numbers of pious and conservative Muslims, many of them educated in rural religious schools, want laws that put Indonesia on the road to Islamic statehood.

These divergent visions sit uneasily alongside each other, and when Indonesians go to the polls this time round, those fearing the erosion of tolerance will largely vote for the incumbent Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, a former city mayor with a common touch and an unthreatening manner; those who want the country to veer towards Islamic statehood will vote for Prabowo Subianto, a gruff former special forces commander who fought and almost won the election against Jokowi in 2014.

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I saw these two Indonesians two weeks before the election in the west Java capital of Bandung, where a gathering of nervous middle-class millennials at a modern sculpture park worried about the decay of diversity; and at an Islamic teaching complex not far away, where the conviction of disciplined faith had thousands of devotees hanging on to every word of charismatic preacher Abdullah Gymnastiar. After the preaching was over, AA Gym, as he is known, sat patiently on an elevated office chair while the faithful lined up for selfies or to kiss his hand.

Such an unquestioning and disciplined following presents an obvious opportunity to politicians in search of votes. Prabowo doesn’t come from a devout Muslim background: his mother was a Catholic, his brother, Hasyim Djojohadikusumo, established a charismatic Protestant church. Yet Prabowo presents himself as a champion of conservative Islam.

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“They call me a radical,” Prabowo told thousands of supporters at a rally in the west Java town of Ciamis on April 6. “Yet I believe in Islam as a religion of peace that tolerates other religions.”

But that’s not what the conservative Islamic lobby supporting him wants.

At a religious school on the outskirts of the west Java town of Purwakarta, the head of security punched the air and claimed himself to be the only person with the guts to support the incumbent president.

“Everyone around here supports Prabowo because they believe he’ll promote their religious agenda of a caliphate,” said Asep, a wiry man who practises a Sundanese martial art.

Outside, a large poster for the Prabowo campaign portrayed the candidate and his running mate, Sandiaga Uno, against the image of hardline Islamist Rizieq Shihab who lives in exile in Saudi Arabia to avoid facing criminal charges under the Anti-Pornography Act (Rizieq is accused of sending explicit WhatsApp messages to a woman who is not his wife).

To enhance his appeal to the conservative Islamic groups, Prabowo promises to bring Rizieq home, and presumably the charges will go away too.

“They believe Prabowo will bring [Rizieq] back, but they don’t understand the law in the country,” said Asep waving towards Al Artoq school, which he claims has 4,000 followers from around the area.

THE MUSLIM LOBBY

Equally alarming is President Widodo’s response, which has been to try to win support from the conservative Muslim quarters by choosing a conservative Muslim cleric as his running mate.

My findings in west Java suggest this strategy has not worked. Prabowo still draws strong support from the devout Muslim population of west Java, where he won over 40 per cent more votes than Jokowi in 2014.

What is worrying, though, since Jokowi is likely to win the election at the national level, is how much leverage the Muslim lobby will now have on the president during his second term.

This makes many Indonesians who support Jokowi feel uneasy.

“Why do state schools and offices need to have mosques?” asked a Muslim mother who claims that her Buddhist son was denied promotion because he wasn’t a Muslim. She was attending a discussion for millennials led by the Minister of Religion Lukman Hakim at a modern sculpture gallery in a swanky north Bandung neighbourhood. Lukman’s response, to explain that the constitution and a battery of laws guarantee religious freedom, did not sound convincing.

“What about the recent incident in Bantul? Where Muslim residents refused to accept that non-Muslims could live among them?” asked another member of the audience.

The flustered minister shrugged off the incident, arguing that dialogue helped to repair these “misunderstandings”.

It is hard to misunderstand the signals that Prabowo’s supporters are sending. At the rally in Ciamis, a group of young men mounted the stage shortly before the candidate arrived. “We are the ‘Two-One-Two mujahideen’,” one of them cried. “Under our command, God willing, we will pursue our goal of the caliphate,” one of the young men shouted. Two-One-Two refers to the broad coalition of conservative Islamic groups who mounted mass rallies at the end of 2017, forcing Jokowi’s concession to demands to prosecute his former deputy on a charge of blasphemy.

In what many Indonesians consider a turning point for the country’s respect for religious diversity, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, was accused of blasphemy after a doctored video was submitted as evidence that he was insulting the Koran. A court later sentenced him to two years in jail.

The crucible of this vision of Indonesia under Islamic law can be found a few kilometres down the road from Ciamis. Set in verdant rice fields, the Miftahul Huda school is the largest of its kind in west Java. More than 4,000 students come here to study the Koran. After surrendering my ID I was permitted to drive up to the executive office, where after a while a pair of surly youths dressed in black invited me to sit on the floor.

“Who are you and where are you from?” the younger man asked suspiciously.

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The conversation was sparse. No, they do not engage in politics; students are not even allowed outside the school perimeter without special permission. Yet it was from here in 2017 that the first march on Jakarta was organised to demand Ahok’s arrest.

Back in Bandung, I caught up with Jalaluddin Rakhmat, a member of parliament for Jokowi’s main party platform, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP).

“Both Prabowo and his Muslim supporters suffer from delusions,” he said in his humble home situated just north of the regional capital. “Prabowo thinks if he wins he can dump the Muslims. The Muslims in turn are using Prabowo to come to power.”

It’s a bit like the way Christian evangelicals think they are using US President Donald Trump.

Jalaluddin, who is from the small Shiite minority, is among those who fear the erosion of tolerance for diversity. “We Muslims who are with Jokowi stand for a different Islam: we don’t want to take Islam as the basis of the state.” For people like us, he said, “if we go to Prabowo we will find monsters”.

EROSION OF TOLERANCE

The problem for Jalaluddin, and like-minded Indonesians anxious to shore up pluralism, is that Jokowi is widely regarded as having failed to deliver as a moderate. He has been soft on human rights and has pandered to the Islamic right. Many young people living in the Indonesia of tolerance and pluralism are too scared to vote for Prabowo but dislike Jokowi. They might spoil their ballots, or not vote at all.

Is there a way to reconcile these two Indonesias? While canvassing views I came across an interesting experiment in social development. A group of Muslim activists at Salman Mosque, which sits next door to Bandung’s Institute of Technology, were looking for ways to harness Islamic teaching to progressive change.

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“We’re looking for local champions,” said Salim Rusli, who runs Al Wakaf, an NGO attached to the mosque, which has a long history of student activism. These can be local ulamawho use Islamic teaching to promote innovative thinking about mundane issues such as marketing vegetables or who foster constructive communication with local government.

This kind of grass-roots societal approach could also begin to build bridges across the religious divide that has opened in Indonesian society. But it will require political leaders like Prabowo to stop using Islam as a political weapon, or Jokowi to strengthen his leadership by framing a national narrative that more actively and effectively defends the tolerance of minorities.

Source: A choice for Indonesia’s voters: tolerance … or Islamic statehood

Indonesia’s largest Islamic group says non-Muslims shouldn’t be called ‘kafir’

Positive step:

Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, has issued a call to end the usage of the term “kafir”, or infidel, to refer to non-Muslims in state or citizenship matters, a move that may be aimed at calming religious tensions ahead of the presidential election.

Nahdlatul Ulama, with around 140 million members, said at its recent National Conference that non-Muslims shouldn’t be referred to as “kafir” as they have equal standing in state affairs.

The conference concluded non-Muslims should be referred to as “muwathin,” or citizens with the same rights and obligations as Muslim Indonesians, according to Ahmad Muntaha, secretary of Nahdlatul Ulama’s East Java Ulama Assembly.

Muntaha said in a statement published on the group’s website on Friday that a Muslim shouldn’t address non-Muslims as “kafir” in any social context.

The conference also emphasised that as a state, Indonesia wasn’t established by Muslims only, the statement said.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s recommendation comes as citizens of the world’s largest Muslim-majority country prepare for a presidential poll on Apr 17.

Religious issues have fueled divisions between supporters of incumbent President Joko Widodo and rival Prabowo Subianto.

Widodo, known as Jokowi, has faced protests from some Muslim groups that allege he has treated some Islamic clerics unfairly.

The president’s running partner for the poll, Ma’ruf Amin, is an Islamic scholar and head of a nationwide council of Muslim religious leaders, as well as chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama’s advisory council.

Jokowi has dismissed the claims against him as baseless.

Source: Indonesia’s largest Islamic group says non-Muslims shouldn’t be called ‘kafir’

Countering the rise of radicalism in private Islamic schools in Indonesia – Opinion – The Jakarta Post

More on increased radicalization in Indonesia and the influence of Islamic schools, with a useful breakdown of the different types:

A series of terrorist acts has rocked Indonesia in the past week. Starting from a clash in a detention centre at the Police Mobile Brigade headquarters in Depok, West Java, last week, attackers then bombed three churches in Surabaya, East Java, last Sunday, followed by another terrorist bombing at Surabaya Police Headquarters. Dozens were killed and wounded.

In response, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has reiterated the government’s commitment to exterminate terrorism down to its roots.

We must appreciate Jokowi’s statement. However, terrorism is a complex issue because there is no single factor that can explain why a person becomes a terrorist.

The importance of schools to prevent radicalism

One of the strategies that the government can use to stop terrorism in Indonesia is to take preventive steps using educational institutions to promote tolerance, which can eventually stop the spread of radical thoughts.

But what is happening in Indonesia is the opposite. Many schools in Indonesia have become fertile ground for radicalism.

The latest surveys from the Wahid Institute, Pusat Pengkajian Islam Masyarakat and the Centre for Study of Islam and Society (PPIM) and Setara Institute have indicated the spread of intolerance and radical values in educational institutions in Indonesia.

A student tolerance survey from Setara Institute in 2016 revealed that 35.7% of the students showed a tendency to intolerance in their minds, 2.4% were involved in acts of intolerance, and 0.3% had the potential to become terrorists. The survey was based on 760 respondents who enrolled in public high schools in Jakarta and Bandung, West Java.

Surveys from the Wahid Institute and PPIM have shown the same worrying trend.

The characteristics of schools prone to radicalism

In 2017, I was involved in research on efforts to respond to radicalism at 20 private Islamic schools in Central Java. The research involved academics from Monash University in Australia, Walisongo State Islamic University in Semarang, Central Java, and Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta with funding support from the Australia-Indonesia Centre.

We managed to identify three types of schools that are prone to radicalism. In accordance with confidentiality principles, we will not publish the schools’ names in this article.

These three types of schools are:

1. Closed schools

Instead of embracing changes, this type of school offers students a narrow perspective and tends to shut them off from foreign ideas.

We interviewed one of the headmasters from these schools. He explained the importance of Islamic civilisation to protect students against Western values.

Aside from see Islam and the West as being in conflict, closed schools also stress the importance of practising their version of Islamic teachings and reject the moderate Islam that most Muslims adhere to in Indonesia.

2. Separated schools

These schools can be identified from their teacher recruitment system and their limited participation in social activities.

The teacher recruitment process in these schools is very strict, especially the recruitment of religion teachers. In addition, these schools do not want to participate in social activities that they deem to be against their values.

This type of school is very different from other Islamic schools that are affiliated with the country’s more traditional Muslim organisations such as Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) or Muhammadiyah. Whereas separated schools recruit religion teachers from their own groups only and will use their networks to recruit alumni who share the same Islamic values, NU and Muhammadiyah schools will not consider differences in their teachings as an issue. For example, one of the headmasters from a NU-affiliated school stated that his school also recruited teachers from Muhammadiyah.

NU and Muhammadiyah schools are also active in social activities, including interfaith activities. Separated schools are not.

3. Schools with pure Islamic identity

The third type can be identified by the way they create students’ Islamic identity. The schools that are prone to radicalism tend to build in a student a single Islamic identity, refusing other identities.

This understanding is different from other Islamic schools, which tend to consider that a person’s identity as a Muslim is not against his/her other identity. Moderate Islamic schools do not see a conflict between their students’ identity as Muslims and as Indonesian citizens.

When a school builds this single Muslim identity, that school will also foster radical attitudes among students as they only believe in a single Islamic interpretation that is in line with their values.

Headmasters from this type of school usually order their students to follow all religious rituals at schools, despite the students’ different religious background.

A headmaster told us that his students with a NU background must abandon their prayer ritual in the morning called qunut when they are enrolled in his schools.

This policy is different from other schools that allow flexibility for their students in their religious practices.

In addition, the rejection of other identities creates a “we versus them” attitude not only between different religions but also within the larger Islamic community itself.

What we can do

These three types of schools contribute to the growth of intolerance as well as radicalism at schools, which can lead to terrorist acts.

Therefore, we believe that the recent terrorist attacks should give momentum to the government to plan preventive measures to promote diversity, social integrity and diverse identities in various schools across the country.

The government’s campaign on tolerance should reach different educational institutions via the Culture and Education Ministry as well as Religious Affairs Ministry.

The government must also provide platforms and programs to promote tolerance. Apart from that, related government institutions in the regions must develop the capacity to identify schools that are prone to radicalism and apply persuasive approaches to prevent the spread of radicalism in those schools.

via Countering the rise of radicalism in private Islamic schools in Indonesia – Opinion – The Jakarta Post

How political Islam is gaining ground in Southeast Asia despite the fall of Islamic State | South China Morning Post

More on Southeast Asia and the risks of political Islam:

The religious insurgency in the southern Philippines, which saw the capture of Marawi by fighters aligned to Islamic State last year, revealed the violent power of political religiosity. Given that Southeast Asia is home to a large proportion of the global Muslim population, transregional alliances formed between Southeast Asian terror groups and IS represent the possibility of religious warfare in the Middle East spilling over into Southeast Asia. The battlefield defeat of IS should not lull anyone into complacency. As a guerilla group, its scattered warriors remain a threat to nations, particularly the home states to which they are expected to return.

The growth of political Islam is undermining the very vocabulary of the public sphere in Southeast Asia

What unites the different manifestations of political Islam, ranging from electoral participation and street politics to outright terrorist war, is the idea of the capture of state power and its use to implement religious law. If there is a tussle, it is between the parliamentary and insurrectionary paths to power. However, the political outcome would be similar in both cases: the establishment of confessional states that could be expected to disenfranchise not only non-Muslims but also Muslims who owe national allegiance to secular democratic polities.

Indeed, what is frightening is how the growth of political Islam is undermining the very vocabulary of the public sphere in Southeast Asia. Words such as “liberalism”, “pluralism” and “democracy” have become suspect among even mainstream politicians, to say nothing of “secularism” or “socialism”. Liberals, pluralists and democrats are finding themselves in the defensive position of having to work their way delicately around the discursive space that the religious right has captured.

The rise of political Islam has generated countervailing forces in other religions. The popularity of a Thai Buddhist monk is a case in point. He rose to prominence after urging Buddhists across Thailand to burn down a mosque as punishment for every monk killed in the insurgency in the country’s south. He has made common cause with a monk in Myanmar famous for his anti-Muslim views. Given the violent dispossession of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya population last year, the potential of religious intolerance to dismantle the known order is immense.

In a far cry from the notion of Southeast Asia being a mosaic of religious identities, the chief threat to the region today comes not from foreign predators or new global ideological wars, but from the agency that religious dissension is gaining as a marker in regional relations.

Religions do not pass, but their violent politicisation can. Southeast Asian Muslims must understand that, while they belong legitimately to the global Islamic community or the ummah, they exist as well among other communities. China to the north and India to the west – both largely non-Muslim-majority countries – constitute a major segment of the world’s population. Europe and the Americas are largely non-Muslim as well. It is only the Middle East, Central Asia and a small part of South Asia which are demographic partners of Muslim Southeast Asia.

That partnership cannot challenge the economic, military and ideational heft of the rest of the world. Even if the non-Muslim sphere were to be riven by conflict between its two foremost players – the United States and China – it would pull together to resist any encroachment into its religio-political identity.
Support for Islamic State? In Indonesia, there’s an app for that

Equally, however, global powers cannot wish political Islam and its extremes away. The ability of terrorist groups to disrupt everyday life reiterates an old truth: it is not superiority of numbers and power that matters but what even a handful of people can do to disrupt peaceful political processes and change. After all, the essentially guerilla tactics employed by al-Qaeda and IS drew out nothing less than the concerted efforts of much more powerful states.

A moment of hiatus has appeared in the tired militarisation of global affairs. That moment will not last long. Political Islam’s Manichean division of the world into the spheres of believers and infidels is being felt keenly in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia, home to the largest number of Muslims on Earth, will be the test case of how that division plays out. A violent showdown will be avoided if most Indonesian Muslims subscribe to the idea that they can be faithful to their religion while owing political allegiance to a non-religious state. If the Indonesian state gives way to the demands of the PKS, the stage will be set for more intensive great-power intervention in Southeast Asia.

Unlike economic systems, which promise salvation in the present, religions do so in a hereafter that can destroy the present on the way to its fulfilment.

Political Islam is a danger.

via How political Islam is gaining ground in Southeast Asia despite the fall of Islamic State | South China Morning Post

Can Canadians learn from world’s largest Muslim country? Douglas Todd

Todd reflects on his recent visit to Indonesia and possible implications for Canada (one could argue that there may be similar risks with regard to more fundamentalist Christians, whether immigrants or not):

When Canadians think about the Islamic world, they tend to focus on quasi-dictatorships in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran.

But the world’s most populous Muslim nation is actually Indonesia.

This equatorial Southeast Asian country is home to 260 million people, 87 per cent of whom are Sunni Muslims.

It’s been a democracy for two decades, a rarity among Muslim-majority countries.

Canada is a much different country, obviously. Our nation is predominantly Christian, increasingly non-religious, and has been a democracy for at least 150 years.

Indonesia, nevertheless, has surprising similarities to Canada, particularly in the way its moderate Muslim community leaders express commitment to values such as pluralism.

Surprisingly, the Muslim-majority country’s centuries-old motto is: “Unity in diversity,” which sounds a lot like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s go-to slogan: “Diversity is our strength.”

I recently attended a conference of the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) in Jakarta, the world’s second-largest metropolitan region.

I was struck by how many times journalists, professors, top Muslim leaders and politicians used words like tolerance, diversity, multiculturalism and interfaith dialogue.

They do so for a reason: Indonesia is at a crossroads.

Its young democracy is increasingly fragile, threatened by rising intolerance and Muslim extremists, particularly those from the authoritarian Middle East.

I lost count of how many times speakers at the conference referred, in an almost casual way, to Indonesian “riots,” largely organized by Muslim radicals, some of which led to killings.

Indonesian journalists who write about religion repeatedly talked about being harassed, threatened, ostracized and having to deal with Muslim-led boycotts.

Journalists from other Muslim-majority countries, like Pakistan and Malaysia, also described backlashes when they tried to write stories about their countries’ laws, which forbid criticizing Islam and treat sodomy as a crime.

The most recent case of mushrooming extremism in Indonesia centres on the once-popular former governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese Christian.

Purnama is now in jail after his political opponents’ trumped-up a charge that he blasphemed Islam, merely by saying the Qur’an allows people to vote for non-Muslims.

With moderate politicians living in trepidation of such illiberal Islamists, the latter are taking advantage of democratic freedoms to magnify their power.

Islamists have successfully brought in sharia law in regions of Indonesia, influenced in part by ultra-conservative Muslims from the Middle East.

Scores of drug dealers are being shot on sight. Hardliners in some regions have totally prohibited alcohol, restricted women’s dress, and are punishing homosexuals, adulterers and those who date outside marriage, with whippings.

As these grim examples illustrate, compared to Canada, the stakes are much higher for moderates in countries like Indonesia when they profess a commitment to such things as diversity and pluralism.

Canadians could learn from the courageous Indonesians willing to defend such values, including democracy and cultural sovereignty, from outside religious forces.

Most Canadians take democratic freedoms for granted — in contrast to moderates in Indonesia, like Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi.

She told the IARJ conference: “For a diverse country like Indonesia, harmony is a must, otherwise it cannot survive.”

The increasing power of extremists, external and internal, has also led the leader of the moderate Muslim socio-religious group, Muhammadiyah, which has 30 million members, to call on Indonesians to wake up.

“Moderate Muslims are too quiet. We have to become radical moderates,” Abdul Mu’ti, Muhammadiyah’s secretary-general, told conference delegates. “Moderate Muslims have been sleeping. We have kept silent. We have become lazy tolerant.”

Likewise, a founder of The Wahid Institute for democracy, Yenny Wahid (daughter of Indonesia’s former president), urged Muslims to stop ignoring religious extremists, since acquiescence has given them a bigger platform.

“You have to fight back. You have to defend your own boundaries,” Wahid said.

The immense political power held by religious organizations in Indonesia is largely unfamiliar to Canadians.

English-speaking Canada’s once-predominant mainline Protestants have given up a lot of their influence, particularly in the past 50 years.

Noted religion historian Mark Noll says when Canada’s Protestants, and to some extent Catholics, welcomed multiculturalism and pluralism in the 1970s, they eroded their own influence. These denominations are now minor players on the national scene.

And even though Canadian evangelicals tried, mostly through stealth, to shape federal policy during the heyday of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, they largely didn’t succeed.

Minority religions in Canada — Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus — are now growing faster than Christian denominations.

But they are still relatively small. Muslims make up eight per cent, for instance, of Toronto residents, while Sikhs comprise a roughly equal portion of Metro Vancouver’s population.

As SFU political scientist Sanjay Jeram makes clear, Canadian politicians constantly woo such urban religious groups. But, because they are not majorities, they don’t have the same broad power to sway politics as Muslim groups do in Indonesia.

There is a frank discussion to be had some day over whether hard-line religious organizations, strengthened by their separate schools, may ever really pose a risk to Canada’s democratic values.

There is little doubt many immigrants arrive with more patriarchal practices than domestic Canadians. Polls show religious immigrants generally have a higher aversion to intermarriage and are more critical of abortion and homosexuality.

But the more immediate threat to Canadian democracy, and Canadian values such as equality and fairness, currently has less to do with religion and much more to do with economics.

Witness the housing affordability crises in Metro Vancouver and Toronto. As a result of the globalization of capital and labour, and the anything-goes attitudes of Canadian politicians, locals in these major cities have been priced out of their own housing markets.

Are Canadians prepared to defend their democratic values, including the principle of economic justice? Are Canadians willing to take a stand to protect citizens from trans-national capital and property speculators, domestic and foreign?

Or, as Abdul Mu’ti warns Indonesians, are Canadians instead going to be passive in the face of such threats, the ultimate practitioners of “lazy tolerance”?

Source: Can Canadians learn from world’s largest Muslim country? | Vancouver Sun

Indonesia: Widodo’s battle with radical Islam hangs in balance- Nikkei Asian Review

Interesting analysis by Ken Ward of Indonesia’s efforts to combat fundamentalist political Islam:

Radical Muslim organizations alleging blasphemy against Jakarta’s Christian governor Basuki Purnama caught Indonesian President Joko Widodo off guard last year, and seemed for a while to threaten his presidency. Mass rallies over several months helped to inflict electoral defeat on Purnama, who was convicted in court and is now serving two years in prison.

Distancing himself from Purnama, a former political ally, Widodo has now begun to tackle the perceived threat from radical Islam. His approach looks like a two-pronged strategy. The first element is to curtail radical Muslim organizations’ freedom of action. The second is to reinforce the status and prestige of Pancasila, the tolerant and inclusive Indonesian state ideology.

In May, Widodo’s security minister, Wiranto, announced that the government would try to have Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, one of the radical Islamist organizations, banned by the courts. Then, fearing a possibly adverse reaction from Indonesia’s unpredictable justice system, the government changed tack and issued an emergency law (formally ‘a regulation in lieu of a law’) in July. This made a court verdict unnecessary. HTI in consequence lost its legal status, and was banned. The case against HTI was that it was opposed to Pancasila, and posed a threat to national unity. Ministers have warned that other organizations may suffer the same fate.

Some observers have expressed surprise that Widodo picked on HTI first, since it was not the most prominent of the groups that had campaigned against Purnama. But the choice of HTI is understandable. This organization has two characteristics that have usually been anathema to Indonesia’s security authorities. It is linked in a nontransparent way to an international movement, and it operates in some respects as a secret or clandestine organization. For example, it publishes neither membership statistics nor the names of its leading office-holders. A single spokesperson is its interface with the Indonesian public. Gaining access to HTI’s inner circles is very difficult.

Like other branches in the international Hizbut Tahrir network, HTI has as its long-term goal the fusing of the national state into a global Muslim caliphate. How this is to be achieved is enveloped in obscurity. Pancasila would presumably have no function. But whether this utopian project will appear sufficient cause for a ban in the eyes of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court, which is reviewing the edict, is hard to predict. The ban might instead be declared unconstitutional.

The campaign against Purnama was headed by the Islamic Defenders’ Front, known by its Indonesian initials as FPI. An early attempt to ban FPI would have taken few commentators by surprise. But successive Indonesian governments have had ambiguous connections with the group. It has sometimes, for example, conducted raids on private sex parties, either in connivance with the police or independently, but in both cases enjoying immunity from prosecution. Unlike HTI’s shadowy leaders, FPI figures seem to have been open to bribery or to manipulation in other ways. This may have saved the organization from being banned, at least for the time being, despite its frequently criminal and socially disruptive behavior.

Habib Rizieq, the longstanding FPI chair, is in temporary refuge in Saudi Arabia; he has been accused of holding a private sex party of his own in violation of the law against pornography. This involved inciting a female nongovernmental organization official to strip in front of a camera which, the police claim, transmitted the images to Rizieq’s smartphone. The FPI leader is said to have been parked outside the woman’s residence at the time of the alleged incident.

Reinforcing Pancasila

A stalemate has arisen between Rizieq and police officers, who want to have him put on trial. The government seems unable to dislodge him from his Saudi refuge by diplomatic or other means. Rizieq clearly fears being arrested should he return to Indonesia. He has chaired FPI for so long that his personal fate will have considerable impact on the group’s future. The government may decide that it is simply not worth trying to ban FPI, either because of the opposition that such a step would provoke or because it might be less potent without Rizieq in command. Police officers visited Rizieq in his Saudi sanctuary, extending a courtesy to him that Indonesian criminals rarely receive.

Reinforcing Pancasila as the state ideology is an equally important element of Widodo’s strategy. Pancasila includes monotheism as one of five principles, but does not grant special status to any religion. It runs counter, therefore, to the ideal of an Islamic state and to the imposition of Islamic law. It is a code-word for tolerance, not for faith.

Source: Ken Ward: Widodo’s battle with radical Islam hangs in balance- Nikkei Asian Review

ICYMI – After Ahok: Indonesia Grapples with the Rise of Political Islam | The Diplomat

Unfortunate trend:

Five months after its closure, the doors of the Al-Hidayah mosque were sealed with wooden planks and crisscrossed with yellow police tape, as if it some kind of grisly crime had taken place within. Barred from entering their house of worship by official order, four young men held their midday prayer in the heat outside, their bodies bent towards a large sign driven into the concrete by the local authorities. Its message was emblazoned in red: “Activities are banned.”

In February, police converged on this green-tiled mosque in Depok, 15 kilometers south of the Indonesian capital Jakarta, to enforce an order sealing off the building until further notice. The order followed a clamor from Islamic fundamentalists, who held protests calling for the expulsion of this small congregation of Ahmadi Muslims from the district. “We had a permit to build this mosque, so we have no idea why they sealed it,” said Abdul Gofur, 42, the caretaker of the site.

The unpretentious Al-Hidayah mosque, a box-like building lacking the otherworldly dome and minaret of many Muslim houses of worship, has a long history of run-ins with the local authorities. Gofur said the mosque had been “sealed” six times since 2011, and has survived a concerted campaign from hardline vigilante groups, including the notorious Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI, which sees Ahmadis as heretics and apostates.

On June 23, two nights before Idul Fitri (as Eid al-Fitr is known in Indonesia), the festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, Gofur said that white-robed militants pelted the building with eggs and paint, and strung up spray-painted banners calling for the expulsion of the Ahmadiyah. The 400-strong congregation has erected its own signs reading, “Love for All, Hatred for None.”

The Ahmadi minority numbers around 500,000 people scattered across this island nation of 260 million. The sect is not officially recognized in Indonesia, which acknowledges just six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. While most Ahmadiyah see themselves as Muslims, they cleave to unorthodox tenets: the sect has its own holy text, the Tadzkirah, and does not regard Muhammad as the final prophet – a belief that many Indonesians see as heresy. As a result, they have become both a subject of official discrimination, and a target for religious vigilantes.

Things got particularly bad after 2007, when a leading clerical body declared the Ahmadiyah a deviant sect; the following year, then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a decree banning Ahmadi Muslims from disseminating their faith. Following the decree, mosques were shuttered and burned, and members of the community were subject to violent attacks. In February 2011, west of Jakarta in Banten province, three Ahmadi men were beaten to death by a mob; the perpetrators received only light sentences. According to the Jakarta-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, which monitors religious freedom in Indonesia, there have been a total of 546 violent incidents against Ahmadi Muslims since 2007.

Source: After Ahok: Indonesia Grapples with the Rise of Political Islam | The Diplomat

As homelands devastated, Indonesian tribe turns to Islam – The Jakarta Post

Parallels with Canadian Indigenous peoples and Christianity?

Indonesian tribesman Muhammad Yusuf believes his conversion from animism to Islam in a government-supported program will eventually make his life easier.

“Thank God, the government now pays attention to us; before our conversion they didn’t care,” says Yusuf, the Islamic name he has adopted.

Yusuf is a member of the “Orang Rimba” tribe. His small community now gathers around a stilt-mounted wooden hut, while children inside wearing Islamic skullcaps and hijabs enthusiastically recite the Koran.

Not far away, other members of the tribe who remain faithful to the old ways stalk through palm oil trees in a desperate hunt for prey in an area that was once lush Sumatran rainforest.

Stick-thin and wearing only loincloths over their weather-beaten skin, they brandish homemade rifles as they search for their next meal.

Yusuf’s group converted to Islam, the predominant faith in Indonesia, and gave up their nomadic ways in January in a bid to improve livelihoods that have been devastated by the expansion of palm oil plantations and coal mines into their forest homelands.

Authorities insist the move is positive but critics say it amounts to a last throw of the dice for indigenous groups driven to desperation by the government’s failure to properly defend their rights against rapid commercial expansion.

Indonesia is home to an estimated 70 million tribespeople, more than a quarter of the total 255-million population, from the heavily tattooed Dayaks of Borneo island to the Mentawai who are famed for sharpening their teeth as they believe it makes them more beautiful.

But as a nomadic group, the Orang Rimba — whose name translates as “jungle people” — are a rarity.

Source: As homelands devastated, Indonesian tribe turns to Islam – National – The Jakarta Post