Democratic, Islamic values aligned in Indonesia, webinar hears

Marchio Irfan Gorbiano

The Jakarta Post

Democratic and Islamic values are intrinsically aligned in Muslim-majority Indonesia, experts and activists have said, amid growing concerns about a rise in religious conservatism that seeks to undermine the country’s democratic institutions. Muhammadiyah secretary-general Abdul Mu’ti said during a webinar over the weekend that he viewed democracy not only as a political system but also as a system of values, in which “prosperities” could be built upon. To wit, he identified three core values of democracy – emancipation, meritocracy and pluralism – and said they were aligned with Islamic values. “Emancipation puts emphasis on egalitarianism and humanism, while meritocracy also allows democracy to give room to appreciate achievements and ensure fairness [among people], and pluralism guarantees mutual responsibility, coexistence and collaboration,” said Abdul. “I can say that democratic values can implicitly be found in the teachings of Islam and are part of the reason why a good Muslim will also support a true democracy.” The statement from Abdul, who is part of the country’s second largest Muslim grassroots group, comes against the backdrop of rising religious conservatism in Indonesia, a phenomenon that many analysts have noted appeared after the large-scale rallies of the 212 Movement in 2016.


The government, meanwhile, banned Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), an Islamist organization seeking to establish a caliphate in the country, in 2017, deeming its values contradictory to the 1945 Constitution and its presence a threat to public order. The move, however, also prompted concern among human rights activists about threats to freedom of association and expression. Last year, a joint-decree signed by 11 ministries and state bodies was also issued to regulate the kind of content that civil servants are allowed to post on social media. The decree stipulates that civil servants must not express opinions containing “hate speech” against the state ideology Pancasila, the 1945 Constitution, the national motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), or the government itself. The policy was issued amid growing concerns that many civil servants have been exposed to religious extremism.


According to a 2019 survey conducted by Jakarta-based pollster Alvara institute, 16.9 percent of 1,567 respondents in the survey believed that an Islamic caliphate was the “right” mode of government for Indonesia. A committee member for the Indonesian Anti-Slander Society (Mafindo), Anita Wahid, said there was a growing narrative of advocating for the “purity” of Islam that justified discrimination against other groups based on a strict interpretation of religious texts. “By using religious [texts] as a point of reference that pits Islam against democracy, it’s as if Islam is not aligned with democracy. We have to respond with a counternarrative that highlights democratic and just values in Islam,” Anita said during the same webinar hosted by the AE Priyono Democracy Forum. Meanwhile, women’s rights activist Lies Marcoes Natsir said the current wave of growing religious conservatism could be viewed as a result of measures taken by the New Order regime in the past to suppress such groups, which resulted in a lack of opportunities for dialogue.


“The New Order pressured them in such a way that we never got to discuss […] why they rejected birth control or agreed with child marriage,” Lies said. “After [the reform era], we only became aware that [religious conservative groups] had surfaced and were challenging ideas that we previously thought were settled, like gender and reproductive rights.” Islamic scholar Budhy Munawar Rachman pointed out that previous works of Muslim intellectuals such as the late Nurcholish “Cak Nur” Madjid and late president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid had paved the way for an interpretation of Islam that had inherently democratic values. “We are thankful that we already have Islamic arguments in favor of democracy so it became something that is inherent in our [religion],” said Budhy. “The works of Cak Nur and Gus Dur have helped society, particularly in the post-reform era, to be accepting of democracy.”

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Countering the rise of radicalism in private Islamic schools in Indonesia

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.


Essay: Minang wisdom and radicalism

In a recent conference attended by around 100 clerics and scholars from different countries to discuss promoting the concept of moderate Islam in Bogor, West Java, the grand imam of Al Azhar University, Syekh Ahmed Ath-Thayyeb, said differences and conflicts between Islamic groups had weakened the Muslim community.

In Indonesia, such differences and conflicts have metamorphosed into terror acts by those who had manipulated and hijacked the peaceful teachings of Islam.

For Indonesians, fighting terrorism should entertain a local approach since the “think globally, engage locally” principle is the key to figuring out radicalism finding its foothold in different regions.

In the context of the archipelago, however, a lot has to do with the region’s cultural characteristics. Customs, traditions and local wisdoms might play a pivotal role in combating terrorism in this country.

Local wisdoms, for instance, might contribute in an attempt to fight terrorism in Indonesia — case in point: the culture of Minang.

First of all, Minang culture accentuates inclusivity. The adages of dima bumi dipijak, disinan langik dijunjuang (the sky will be held high no matter the ground you stand on) and lain lubuak lain ikannyo lain ladang lain belalangnyo (each grassland is home to its own kind of locust and each pond is home to its own kind of fish) suggest that we must observe local customs since each place has its own customs and culture. Thus, we should not measure others by our own yardstick.

Such strong emphasis on inclusivity makes it easier for Minang people to interact with people of different backgrounds and cultures. That is why there is no “Padang town”, unlike China towns or Javanese villages, which are easily found across the archipelago. They believe that being exclusive is not simply detrimental to their social transformation but also opens the door to conflict.

Concerning terrorism as a part of radical teachings, there is a strong tendency for terrorists to appear on an exclusive social stage; intermingling with their own people instead if assimilating with others, undermining their non-group members and viewing their values as superior to the locals’ moral standards. They believe themselves to be saviors with unquestionable claims of truth and salvation.

Considering the terrorists’ exclusive treats, the government might team up with Minang intellectuals, ulema and traditional leaders to restore those involved in terrorist circles through an educational approach such as dialogue and field trips. Cushioned by strong Islamic values within the Minang culture, it is hopeful that those recruited by terrorist groups will be rehabilitated into friendly Muslims.

Second, democracy constitutes an essential value in Minang culture. When people pay Istano Basa Pagaruyung a visit — a palace without a king, rebuilt after the suppression of the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia (PRRI) movement in 1958 in West Sumatra — they will not find a throne in it. Why? Because Minang culture adheres to the notion of duduak samo randah tagak samo tinggi (when sitting down, we are equally low; when standing up, we are equally tall). Social castes and discrimination have been long culturally blocked in favor of open-mindedness within the Minang culture.

Underpinned by the principle of duduak samo randah tagak samo tinggi, Minang people never look up to someone to the point of reverence.

In this perspective, the Minang culture could be instrumental in taming the tendency of idolizing and worshipping any particular leader preaching radical thoughts.

Together with historians, the government could launch a massive campaign against terrorism through biographical studies of Minang figures as to the connection between their democratic way of life and Minang culture.

This attempt would expose the very nature of Hatta, Sjahrir, Agus Salim, Hamka, M. Yamin, Natsir and Tan Malaka. In spite of their ideological distinctions, they are considered great individuals who managed to escape the entrapment of radical acts often used by others to justify their means. The biographical studies would later conform to the fact that their greatness is inseparably linked to their Minang background.

Third, Minang culture pays much attention to the power of traditional networking. In terms of leadership, Minang wisdom highlights the significance of networking.

In Minang terms, the success of leadership is rooted in the balance of three pillars – known as the tigo tungku sajarangan (the three stoves at the hearth). They are niniak mamak (head of the clans), alim ulama (religious scholars) and cadiak pandai (experienced and enlightened elders).

In practice, West Sumatra’s unique form of administration is useful in coping with various social problems, like gambling and adultery. Central to their success in tackling assorted social illness is a regular forum involving the three pillars.

Former Solok regent Syamsu Rahim, for example, does well to push down crime rates, social illnesses and crisis of legitimacy at the level of nagari, an administrative system equal to the kelurahan (village) in other provinces, for his breakthrough in involving niniak mamakalim ulama, and cadiak pandai across his regency.

Syamsu’s success story reminds us of the necessity of traditional networking system in response to assorted social pathologies, including terrorism. It is often the case that traditional leaders have more penetrating powers into untouchable areas.

Similar approaches may prove to be effective in eradicating the spread of radicalism, especially considering the likely accessibility of traditional leaders’ toward radical kingpins.


The writer, a lecturer at the School of Cultural Sciences at Andalas University, Padang in West Sumatra, is pursuing a doctorate at Deakin University, Australia.



Radicalism emerges from thoughts about heaven: Kalla

Panca Nugraha

The Jakarta Post

Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara | Sun, November 26, 2017 | 11:53 am

Vice President Jusuf Kalla has said radicalism is driven by groups that focus on how to instantly enter heaven.

“Radicalism exists because of thoughts on the promise of heaven. Why are they [radicalized individuals] willing to commit suicide? It is because they want to instantly enter heaven. So please avoid suggesting that we can enter heaven through simple ways [such as suicide bombing] that encourages radicalism,” said Kalla.

He was speaking during the closing ceremony of the national meeting of Indonesia’s biggest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, on Saturday.

Kalla said radicalism had become a major challenge in Islam and Indonesia. Moreover, the rapid growth of information and communications technology has made it easier for radical ideologies to spread via social media and the internet.

“Most people who have been radicalized think about that [the instant ways to enter heaven]. We should prevent radicalism using a science-based approach and through peaceful means. This is our challenge.”

The Vice President said technology and modernization were beneficial for Indonesian people. Nationally, there are around 39,000 Islamic missionary programs aired on 15 national and 300 local TV stations.

“They are an effective proselytization tool of Islamic teachings for Indonesian people,” said Kalla.

However, preventive measures must be taken as the younger generation absorbed information largely from the internet via mobile devices. (ebf)


More Than 7 Percent of Indonesian Muslims Support Radicalism: Survey

The article was originally posted on The Jakarta Globe.

Bogor, West Java. A survey released Monday (01/08) revealed 7.7 percent of Indonesian Muslims are prone to radicalism — a statistic equalling 11.5 million people.

The survey, conducted by the Wahid Foundation and Indonesia Survey Institute (LSI), was conducted March 30 to April 9 and involved 1,530 Muslim respondents across 34 provinces. The survey used a random sampling method and has a margin of error of 2.6 percent.

The results found 72 percent of Indonesian Muslims do not tolerate and refuse to participate in radical acts, such as attacking houses of worship belonging to other religions, protests or conducting “unauthorized sweeping” on venues not complying with Shariah law.

While 7.7 percent of respondents said they are willing to perform radical acts, 0.4 percent said they had participated in acts already, the survey found.

“The figure is worrying us. With 150 million Muslims in the country, it means 11.5 million people are prone to radical acts meanwhile 600,000 other have done such things. Although it is not a factual number, we must pay more attention to this,” Wahid Foundation research manager Aryo Adi Nugroho said during the press briefing in Bogor, West Java.

The survey also included recommendations to the government, lawmakers and local administrations.

Wahid Foundation director, Yenny Wahid, urged the government to develop learning modules on tolerance, peace and citizenship in more creative way in schools and universities.

The group also demanded the National Police probe and prosecute persons responsible for intolerant acts, including forms of hate speech and discrimination.

Yenny, the daughter of former president Abdurahman Wahid, said local government must stop supporting intolerant and radical groups by providing funding or use of government buildings.

However, the survey also showed irrefutable support of democracy and the 1945 Constitution.

The majority of respondents — 74.5 percent — said democracy is still the best option for Indonesia. When asked about the state ideology of Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution, more than 82 percent agreed the two remain the best foundation and ideology.