Indonesia: The ‘Niqab Squad’ Wants Women to be Seen Differently

Of note. More on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, albeit peaceful:

Only the rider’s eyes were visible from behind her black face veil. With a bow in her left hand and an arrow in her right, she cantered her horse toward a target, aimed quickly and let fly. The arrow struck home with a resounding pop.

The rider, Idhanur, who like many Indonesians uses one name, is a 31-year-old teacher at an Islamic school in East Java who says that firing arrows from horseback while wearing her conservative veil, or niqab, improves her chances of going to heaven.

Ms. Idhanur is part of a growing, peaceful movement of Muslim women who believe they can receive rewards from God through Islamic activities like wearing a niqab and practicing sports that the Prophet Muhammad is thought to have enjoyed.

Many also say it offers protection from prying eyes and harassment by men in a country where unwanted sexual advances are common.

Ms. Idhanur, who teaches at Al Fatah Islamic Boarding School of Temboro, part of the revivalist Tablighi Jamaat movement, has an answer for Indonesians who fear that conservative Islamic dress is a troubling step toward extremism and the marginalization of women.

“Even though we are wearing a niqab like this, it doesn’t mean that we become weak Muslim women,” Ms. Idhanur said after dismounting. “We can become strong Muslim women by participating in archery and horseback riding.”

Indonesia, a democracy that has the world’s largest Muslim population, is officially secular and has long been known for tolerance. But in the 22 years since the dictator Suharto was ousted, the country has turned increasingly toward a more conservative Islam.

Conservative clerics, such as Indonesia’s vice president, Ma’ruf Amin, have gained a more prominent role in public life. And local governments have enacted more than 600 measures imposing elements of Shariah, or Islamic law, including requiring women to wear hijabs — a catchall for head scarves — to hide their hair.

A small minority of Muslims have embraced extremist views and some have carried out deadly bombings, including the 2018 Surabaya church attack that killed a dozen bystanders. One suicide bomber was a woman, prompting many Indonesians to be wary of women who wear niqabs, a more conservative face veil where the only opening is a slit for the eyes.

Concern that the niqab is associated with terrorism prompted Indonesia’s religious affairs minister, Fachrul Razi, a former army general, to call for a ban on employees’ and visitors’ wearing niqabs in government buildings.

He fears that some government workers are being attracted to extremist thought and sees the niqab as a sign of radicalization. His regulation has yet to be adopted. A 2018 ban on niqabs at a university in Central Java lasted only a week before opposition compelled the university to rescind it.

But Sidney Jones, a leading expert on terrorism in Southeast Asia, said it was important to distinguish between radical Islamists who pose a threat and followers of conservative Islamic groups who promote a traditional Islamic lifestyle, such as the proselytizing Tablighi Jamaat sect.

Source: The ‘Niqab Squad’ Wants Women to Be Seen DifferentlyThe ‘Niqab Squad’ Wants Women to Be Seen DifferentlyA movement of Indonesian women promotes the niqab veil as a way to get closer to heaven and avoid sexual harassment. Others fear it reflects growing extremism.A movement of Indonesian women promotes the niqab veil as a way to get closer to heaven and avoid sexual harassment. Others fear it reflects growing extremism.

‘Feminism is not for Indonesia’: Conservative Muslims’ recipe for women’s empowerment – The Jakarta Post

Always interesting to follow Indonesian debates:

Maimon Herawati is an accomplished woman who believes in equal opportunity for women. She finished her Master’s degree at Abertay University in the United Kingdom in 2003, securing tenure as a lecturer of mass communication science in West Java’s Padjadjaran University and then juggling her family life with her social and political activities.

She has participated in various activities in her community, including a “Free Palestine” movement.

Maimon is one of many empowered women who has been politically active but has worked against the feminist movement in Indonesia, including by protesting against a bill that is intended to eradicate sexual violence. Such women have been in a cultural clash against Indonesian feminists on several other issues, like the Pornography Law and, most recently, the family resilience bill.

The two warring groups both have highly educated women as members who express their opinions with confidence, are politically active and have made achievements in their lives. However, at some point, these empowered women who fight for women’s empowerment have parted ways.

Antifeminist groups claim the sexual violence bill is “pro-adultery” since it only criminalizes nonconsensual sex. They said the bill should instead prohibit all extramarital sex, consensual or not.

Objections by the antifeminist group have halted deliberations over the bill, triggering protests from women’s rights activists. The bill’s supporters said they believe that since it defines more types of sexual violence than the prevailing Criminal Code, it would end impunity for sexual violence perpetrators and provide more help to survivors.

Neng Dara Afifah, the author of Muslimah Feminis: Penjelajahan Multi Identitas(Muslim Feminists: Multi-Identity Exploration), said the antifeminist movement had become counterproductive to gender mainstreaming efforts.

“What they are doing is a form of betrayal of feminism, which has allowed them to access the public sphere and eventually express their ideas,” said the Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University lecturer.

Maimon disagreed. She said she could be active politically because Islam allowed women to be so. Islam, she said, introduced gender equality some 14 centuries ago, long before feminism did.

Islam, which emerged from Arabian society during the so-called Age of Ignorance, had elevated women’s dignity from being considered merely as property to having the right to inherit and secure their own property, Maimon said. She said she refused to be associated with feminism because “the idea came from the Western world, which is antithetical to Islamic values”.

Maimon said that one of the basic principles of feminism that collides with Islamic principles is the notion of “my body is mine”, meaning women possess full authority over their own bodies, no one else has the right to control them and they can wear whatever they want over their bodies in public. However, in Islam it does not work that way, Maimon explained.

“My body is not mine. It’s a mandate from God, so I cannot just do what I please on my body,” she said.

Another prominent figure among conservative Muslims is Euis Sunarti, a professor of family studies at the Bogor Agricultural Institute. Euis said feminism was problematic for Indonesia because its “liberal” values conflicted with the values of Islam, which were adopted by a majority of Indonesian citizens.

Feminism, she claimed, does not recognize the “division of roles” between men and women, husbands and wives. If a husband works and earns a certain amount of money, the wife should also do the same to achieve the goal of equality, Euis said.

“In fact, it does not have to be that way. If a married couple is committed to building a family and have children, then who should focus more on raising the kids?” Euis asked. She suggested mothers as the ones giving birth should take more responsibility in child-rearing but added that that did not mean mothers could not “actualize” themselves by participating in public affairs.

Women’s rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana clarified that feminism did not put money or power above all, but instead “fights for equal rights between men and women, inside and outside their homes”.

Instead of applying gender stereotypes to domestic roles, Nursyahbani said, feminism actually promoted “cooperation within households” by which both parties were encouraged to play active roles in taking care of domestic affairs, “unlike the rigid role of husbands and wives as stipulated in the 1974 Marriage Law”.

Article 31 of the law regulates that “husbands are the heads of the households and wives are homemakers”. Article 34 further states that husbands are obliged to fulfill the family’s needs, while the responsibility of wives is to properly manage domestic affairs.

“We want to eliminate the rigid legal norms because they’re inconsistent with the social reality, where many women actually act as breadwinners in their respective families,” said the founder of the Indonesian Women’s Coalition and the Legal Aid Foundation of Indonesian Women Association for Justice.

Source: ‘Feminism is not for Indonesia’: Conservative Muslims’ recipe for women’s empowerment – The Jakarta Post

Peculiar Case of Viktor Orban’s Visit to Indonesia

Interesting take:

“We don’t see these people as Muslim refugees. We consider them Muslim invaders,” Viktor Orban, Hungarian Prime Minister.

If the aforementioned interview quote from Bild was well-known among Indonesians and wide-spread among bapak-bapak‘s Whatsapp groups, Viktor Orban would have been welcomed differently in his latest three days visit to Indonesia.

The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been in Indonesia conducting his diplomatic tour in Asia, including his visit to Jakarta and Yogyakarta. This is not his first time landing on Indonesia’s soil as previously he was welcomed by President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) in 2016.

His latest visit to Indonesia is officially stated to strengthen 65 years standing bilateral ties between the two countries, especially by deepening cooperation on economic, infrastructure, trade, health, and people-to-people contact. Orban also attended CDI (Centrist Democrat International), an international centrist and Christian democratic party alliance, Executive Meeting hosted by Muhaimin Iskandar’s National Awakening Party (PKB) in Yogyakarta.

Orban himself is the Vice-President of CDI. Jokowi looked happy with his Hungarian counterpart’s visit as Orban pledged attractive investment and diplomatic commitments. Muhaimin Iskandar also seemed to be pretty much enjoying Orban’s visit, judging from his multiple Instagram stories.

It appeared that nobody really cares about Victor Orban’s erratic political footprints, especially on contentious issues such as multiculturalism, refugees, and Islam. Orban is widely known as the beacon of European populism, a poster boy of the rise of right-wing movements in the West as he staunchly criticizes the European Union’s Immigration policies, refuses refugees, and denounces multiculturalism.

Fidesz, his political party, is associated with anti-Islam and anti-Semitism narratives in Hungary and Central Europe. He repeatedly mentions the danger of multiculturalism and liberalism to Hungarian Culture by referring to the “Muslim refugees invasion” in “mass scale” as an example.

Given his political stance and discourse, it is intriguing to observe how Orban, the proponent of so-called “Christian and Illiberal Democracy”, engages in closer diplomatic partnership with the biggest Muslim nation in the world.

This is not to mention his partnership with PKB, the biggest Islamic party in Indonesia, under the CDI platform. Lest we forget that PKB is strongly popular with its multiculturalism and pluralism notions inherited by Abdurrahman Wahid’s thoughts.

Indeed, strategic and material considerations play profound roles as the main driver of Orban’s intention visiting Indonesia. In 2011, he launched Opening to the East Policy to diversify Hungarian economic ties by paying more attention to Russia and Asian countries.

Although it has been navigated since nine years ago, this ambitious foreign policy direction has not managed to be meaningful as Orban has not fully utilized Hungarian engagement to Asian countries. Visiting Indonesia, then, would be pivotal to spur Hungary’s footing in Southeast Asia.

Under his administration, the central European country has been enjoying the relatively enviable economic performance with an average 4.5 percent gross domestic product growth in the last three years, surpassing most of its neighbors in Europe.

Hungarian industries, infrastructure developments and services have been quite vibrant. It massively provides opportunities for Indonesia to be a strategic partner in trade and investment. Hungary also has advanced and sophisticated water management shown in Budapest and across the Danube river — an important know-how for future Indonesia’s new Capital city plan.

This is aligned with Jokowi’s vision to attract more foreign investment to Indonesia.

Getting closer to Hungary also means that Indonesia might open a new perspective export market to central and eastern Europe. Those regions are not only posed as alternative markets needed for Indonesian economic diplomacy. They also are increasingly pivotal in the geopolitical landscape in Europe.

However, Orban’s negative discourse on Islam and multiculturalism should not be left unnoticed. Orban’s negative discourse has, directly and indirectly, inspired Islamophobic notions in Europe.

Hence, Jokowi must not only take merely on Hungary’s economic and political variables into his account. These increasingly closer ties with Hungary should be used as a means to overcome xenophobia and anti-Islamic sentiment rooted in Hungary and Orban’s mind. Jokowi must follow up on Orban’s diplomatic commitment with efforts to promote interfaith understanding.

Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs shall offer people-to-people diplomacy emphasizing multiculturalism, pluralism, and interfaith dialogues embedded in bilateral economic and political cooperation with Hungary.

The exchange of political and religious leaders is desperately needed to gradually foster a better understanding of Islam and multiculturalism in Hungary. This must be followed by Indonesian Fidesz counterpart, PKB to delve into deeper communication with Hungary.

PKB should have more moral responsibility and be the first loudest voice to speak up against anti-pluralism and Islamophobic to Fidesz through direct contact or using the CDI platform. It is not enough to take Instagram stories and only be a nice host for CDI’s event.

PKB can elevate its level and quality by being the biggest proponent against Islamophobia and anti-multiculturalism, not only in Indonesia but also in the heart of anti-Islamic sentiment. Indonesia rightfully has the legitimacy and credibility to communicate that democracy, pluralism, and religious values are possible to harmonize.

These values are not counter-intuitive with each other as believed by Orban and his party. These, in fact, are proven to be the source of a nation’s strength as demonstrated by Indonesia and it should be demonstrated to Hungary.

Because bilateral cooperation built upon solely on material benefits would not last sustainably, diplomacy must be developed perpetually upon constructive values. There must be efforts to ensure both countries embarking on the right side of history against hatred and xenophobia.

Both Indonesia and Hungary can work together on these constructive values while enjoying better economic cooperation, for the good of both regions, for the welfare of both nations, in the present and the future.

Source: Peculiar Case of Viktor Orban’s Visit to Indonesia

Ground shifts in Indonesia’s economy as conservative Islam takes root

Of note:

Arie Untung, a former video jockey for the Indonesian offshoot of MTV, says he used to drink alcohol regularly and – back then – was a jeans-clad, spiky-haired rocker who was only a nominal Muslim.

But he says his religious fervor was rekindled by online preachers promoting more conservative interpretations of Islam, which are gaining ground in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country and bringing profound changes in its economy.

Untung has now reinvented his career by linking up with other celebrities to run a sharia (Islamic law)-friendly entertainment business in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, including hosting popular Muslim prayer festivals.They are part of a growing body of “born-again” Muslims driving social changes that are also having an economic impact, encouraging everything from Muslim-targeted housing to sharia banking.

“We have become some sort of like endorsers, the endorsers of Allah,” said Untung, who now sports a beard and a more restrained hair style, referring to his celebrity colleagues.

The celebrities, who jointly have over 20 million followers on Instagram and Twitter, are part of what has become known as the “hijrah” movement in Indonesia and, according to Untung, aim to make an Islamic economy more mainstream.

Hijrah, Arabic for migration, is used to refer to Prophet Mohammad’s journey from Mecca to Medina to escape persecution, and represents the beginning of the Muslim era.

Indonesia’s 215 million Muslims have traditionally been moderate and their beliefs often included elements of mysticism and local customs.

The number of conservatives is now growing and more companies have embraced Islamic branding and marketing, said Edy Setiadi, secretary general of the non-profit Shariah Economy Society.

Restaurants have raced to secure halal certification, which means they comply with Islamic law. There are now hospitals where drugs are halal compliant and shampoos claiming to be suitable for headscarf wearers. Japan’s Sharp sells refrigerators labeled halal.

“PEACE OF MIND”

Many born-again Muslims are young, earn regular salaries and prepared to go the extra mile to feel they are living an Islamic lifestyle, said Setiadi.

“They don’t think about how much they spend, they just want peace of mind,” he said in an interview at his office in Jakarta.

Conservative Islamic groups were largely repressed during the 32-year rule of strongman Suharto, but since his downfall in 1998, they have emerged as a growing force, although officially, Indonesia remains secular.

During April elections, President Joko Widodo, a moderate Muslim, picked elderly conservative cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate, a move seen as helping him secure more Muslim votes for his re-election.Amin, chairman of the Ulema Council of Indonesia, a group of clerics, has promoted laws for Islamic banking and mandatory halal certification and his vice presidency may usher in more incentives for the Islamic economy, analysts say.

A report by Thomson Reuters, the parent of Reuters News, estimated Indonesians spent more than $219 billion on halal food, tourism, fashion and cosmetics in 2017, compared to $193 billion in 2014.

Islamic banking assets were 486.9 trillion rupiah ($34.26 billion) by June 2019, representing more than 300% growth in the last nine years, even though they remain less than 6 percent of total banking assets at around $580 billion.

There has been particularly rapid growth in demand for halal food, modest fashion and Islamic travel, Dody Budi Waluyo, a deputy governor of Bank Indonesia (BI), told Reuters.

“BI sees a potential growth in the sharia economy amid demand for products certified halal and a halal lifestyle,” said Waluyo. He said the central bank and the government were trying to pin down the sharia economy’s share of GDP, and could not vouch for the accuracy of some estimates of the sector accounting for 40%.

MUSLIM HOUSING

Some housing developments now target Muslims, like the Az Zikra gated community near Jakarta, which offers 400 households “the chance to follow in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad.”

At its center is a mosque, built using a grant from late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and it hosts an archery range and horse riding, both pastimes regarded as favored in Islam.

In 2014, Indonesia adopted measures to make companies label whether products are halal, although the deadline was pushed from last year by as much as 7 years amid concerns from industry that the move could cause chaos and threaten supplies.

Still, marketing of halal products is becoming mainstream.

At a halal exhibition held in Jakarta last month, a foundation cream from Korean cosmetics line SOS Beauty was being offered to women in colorful headscarves.

“This doesn’t close your pores, so when you go to wudu, this will let the water come through,” said Lisa, a company representative, referring to the Islamic ritual washing of parts of the body, including the face, before prayers.

At Thamrin City, a popular 10-storey mall in central Jakarta, Muslim fashion stalls have taken over space in areas once occupied by sellers of traditional Indonesian batik.

Yesi, who runs a shop there called “Al-Fatih”, said her popular products were khimars, headscarves that go down to the stomach, and niqabs, veils that cover most of the face, at prices ranging from 20,000 rupiah to 200,000 rupiah ($1.40-$14).

Media Kernels Indonesia, a data consultancy, said its research showed words like “hijrah” and “halal” were mentioned on social media over 5,000 times in the past 30 days indicating Islamic phrases were being used more in product marketing.

“This wouldn’t happen without the demand or trend in society,” said company founder Ismail Fahmi.

Source: Ground shifts in Indonesia’s economy as conservative Islam takes root

‘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.

31 organisations urge Indonesians to abstain from voting in presidential polls

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