CONSERVATIVE ISLAM IN INDONESIA

CONSERVATIVE ISLAM IN INDONESIA

A small minority of Indonesians can be characterized in terms of what Australian scholar Greg Fealy calls radical Islam, although even mainstream Muslims sympathize with some aspects of their teachings, if not their practices. Among these radical groups in Indonesia are Darul Islam (House of Islam), Jemaah Islamiyah (internationally regarded as a terrorist organization), Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (Indonesian Islamic Warriors’ Council), and Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders’ Front). These groups share a sense that the West (that is, Christians and Jews) has used economic and military power to enfeeble Islam; their solution is to call for a return to the pure Islam of the righteous ancestors (assalaf as-salih), or Salafism. Varieties of Salafism include Wahhabism, the official form of Islam in Saudi Arabia. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Economist reported: “Just an hour's drive from Yogyakarta stands the religious school run by Abu Bakar Basyir, the alleged leader of Jemaah Islamiah, a shadowy group said to be the brains behind” the 2002 Bali bombing that killed 202 people and other terrorist attacks in Indonesia. “Mr Basyir certainly espouses an intolerant and bloodthirsty brand of Islam, more akin to Osama bin Laden's than to that of “Javanese traditionalists. “Mr Basyir, in turn, is only the most radical of a number of clerics who are striving to strip South-East Asian Islam of its pagan trappings and draw it into line with orthodox practice elsewhere. [Source: The Economist, May 29, 2003]

Conservative Muslims in Indonesia often dress completely in white. Import figures include Kijaji (“teachers”), and murid (“disciples”) that are organized in a hierarchy (See Islamic Schools). A scar or a bruise on the forehead is a sign of piety. It is caused by repeatedly banging one’s head on the ground or the stone floor of mosque during the five-times-a-day prayers.

Some Indonesians have been attracted to conservative Islam because it promises to address poverty, chaos and social problems that emerged after the fall of Suharto. Radical Islamic groups have won followers by establishing schools and clinics and offering social services in poor areas.

The Islam Defenders Front (FPI), a vigilante group which represents the views of a tiny minority, sometimes exert far more influence on the government's policies by using violence. However, surveys have shown that most Indonesians are observant Muslims who fast and obey the rules during Ramadan and try to go on the hajj. But even devout Muslims are turned off by Muslim extremism.About 200,000 Indonesians go on the Hajj every year. Many of these have been turned off by the corruption and fanaticism they saw in Saudi Arabia.

See Separate Articles on: 1) Islam and Politics under Government; 2) Islamic Law Under Justice System; 3) Islamic Schools Under Education; 4) Islamic Organizations and Political Parties Under Government ; and 5) Islamic Terrorist Groups Under Terrorism

History of Extreme Islam in Southeast Asia

According to The Economist: Muslims in Southeast Asia “are as varied in their behaviour and ideas as Christians in America or Hindus in India. But insofar as it is possible to generalise, the popular practice of Islam is becoming stricter and less syncretic. The change stems in part from increasing urbanisation, education and contact with the outside world, which has prompted a decline of rural folk religion. Foreign funding and preaching also play a part. But hamfisted political intervention in matters of the faith has hastened the trend and fuelled extremism. Given an open debate about the role of religion in society, South-East Asian Muslims would have little cause to abandon their moderate traditions. But, until recently, an open debate of that kind is something that most South-East Asian governments have strenuously avoided. [Source: The Economist, May 29, 2003 \*/]

“Efforts to purify South-East Asian Islam also have a long pedigree. The Muhammadiyah organisation was founded, in 1912, in order to spread a more conventional interpretation of the faith. Since then, the divide between santri, or orthodox Muslims, and abangan, the followers of folk religion, has dominated Muslim politics in Indonesia—which alone contains almost 90 percent of South-East Asia's Muslims. The Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the biggest group sympathetic to the abangan, still claims more members than Muhammadiyah (40m, compared with 30m). But the numbers of the santri have swelled as Indonesians move to the cities and lose contact with their rural traditions. \*/

“The Iranian revolution in 1979, and the worldwide Muslim revival that accompanied it, accelerated the trend. Attendance at mosques rose; many Muslim women began wearing headscarves, a relative rarity until then; and the numbers of pilgrims to Mecca soared. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, several thousand South-East Asian Muslims went to fight for the mujahideen. \*/

“There is nothing inherently alarming in a religious revival, of course. America went through one in the 1980s without any catastrophic fallout. In fact, many observers dismiss South-East Asia's new-found piety precisely because it seems to have more to do with fashion than conviction. As one well-to-do resident of Jakarta says of her cousin's decision to start wearing a headscarf, “I think she just did it because it's trendy. All her friends are doing it.”

Rise of Conservative Islam in Indonesia

Since the end of the Suharto era in the late 1990s participation in conservative Islam has risen in Indonesia. Muslim greetings that were once regarded as backward are now widely heard. Mosques that once stood empty and neglected are filled with the faithful on Friday prayers. Women who used to wear short skirts now cover their entire bodies and wear traditional headscarves. Wealthy urbanites that once seemed to be most interested in Western materialism that Islam are taking religious classes and fasting during Ramadan.

The trend began in 1979 with the Iranian revolution when there was a revival of interest in Orthodox Islamic across the Muslim world and Muslims began going to mosques and women started covering themselves, a rarity before that time. Ironically, the atmosphere of openness that resulted from ousting fo Suharto also resulted in a shift towards conservatism. Modernity has also played a part. As Indonesia has become more urbanized and educated people have lost contact with their rural folk traditions.

The younger generation and those who have suffered as a result of Indonesia's economic problems have been attracted to conservative Islam. Some Indonesians would like to see the introduction of Islamic law. Islam is also experiencing a rebirth aim at the middle class who have been seeking spiritual guidance and have been caught off guard by the speed in which the world and society is changing.

The implementation of sharia ( syariah in Bahasa Indonesia) in the Special Region of Aceh began in 2000 and has caused intense debate since then. During the 2009 elections, Golkar Party candidates attempted to make the wearing of the jilbab (Muslim woman’s head covering) a political issue, in which the vast majority of Indonesians seemed to show no real interest. Polri (the Indonesian National Police) announced a plan on August 21, 2009, to monitor sermons given at mosques and public gatherings, presumably for their potential to incite hatred or violence. There was, however, a strong public outcry, and the order was quickly rescinded.

Conservative Islam’s Rise in the late 1990s and Early 2000s

According to The Economist: “In the 1990s Suharto, the country's long-standing dictator, began promoting public religiosity, while continuing his long-standing practice of fiercely repressing any Islamist political opposition. Since Mr Suharto's fall in 1998, and the introduction of multi-party democracy, former dissidents like Mr Basyir now enjoy a certain radical chic. Indeed, the memory of political repression in Indonesia is so strong that few public figures dare declare any views that go beyond the pale. [Source: The Economist, May 29, 2003 /*\]

“That reticence has allowed extremists to dominate the news and intimidate more moderate Muslims. A newspaper editor describes how a mob of militants threatened to destroy his offices unless he retracted an article critical of radical Islam.The police were no help, he says, so he did as the protesters demanded. Under similar pressure, television stations have withdrawn supposedly “unIslamic” programmes and even, on one occasion, agreed to change the name of a character in a soap opera deemed insulting to Islam. /*\

“Nor are humbler folk immune from such intimidation. University students often complain that Islamic zealots patrol campuses to harass anyone caught canoodling in public. Other radicals have burned down mosques used by members of the Ahmadiya sect, whom they consider heretics.The Islam Defenders Front (FPI), a vigilante group, trashes sinful bars and brothels. Another militant organisation, Laskar Jihad, has recruited and trained a militia to fight sectarian battles with Christians in Indonesia's outlying provinces. Some reports even suggest that rogue elements in the security services helped to set up these groups. At any rate, they did nothing to stop them. Nor did anyone rein in a certain Muhklas, who this week admitted his involvement in the Bali bombing, when he attempted to burn down an abangan shrine in his home village in Java. /*\

During her first year in office, Megawati Sukarnoputri, Indonesia's president, seemed maddeningly oblivious to all this. Although her mother was a Balinese Hindu and she herself shows abangan instincts, Miss Megawati refused to curtail or even condemn the extremists. But just before the Bali bombings, ironically enough, she finally succumbed to foreign remonstrations and launched a crackdown. The authorities arrested and tried several members of FPI, as well as Jaafar Umar Thalib, the leader of Laskar Jihad (who was later acquitted). After the bombing, the police arrested Mr Basyir, a step they had rejected until then. Laskar Jihad, sensing which way the wind was blowing, either disbanded or went underground.” /*\

Conservative Islam in Aceh

The most sensational relatively recent development on the conservative Islamic front occurred in mid-September 2009, when the Aceh legislative council introduced new Islamic criminal bylaws ( qanun jinayat), calling for, among other things, adulterers (both Muslim and non- Muslim) to be stoned to death. The bylaws, introduced before the recently elected, more moderate legislature could officially be seated, drew condemnation from many sources, including, in early October, a council of 80 Muslim clerics, who said such laws were foreign and called for a presidential review. Other legal experts suggested, however, that the bylaws were reasonable, in that they reflected Indonesia’s effort to recognize diversity in legal sanctions. Under pressure from civil society and both foreign and indigenous human-rights groups, the provisions had not yet been fully enacted and signed by the provincial governor as of mid-2010. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Department of Home Affairs announced its intention of requesting a Supreme Court review of Aceh’s Islamic criminal code but had not yet done so, and the law remained officially in a suspended state. In the meantime, however, Aceh’s syariah police appear to have been emboldened, enforcing conservative standards of women’s dress and, in several instances, carrying out public and brutal punishments for suspected moral crimes such as having premarital sex, intrusions the majority of Acehnese appear to resent. The struggle between religious conservatism and more moderate ideas and the search for a less-tense relationship between Aceh’s autonomy—extended in 2006 as part of the settlement of the armed conflict there—and the requirements of the Indonesian state and constitution seem likely to continue for some time. Another controversial legal issue also attracted widespread attention. The controversy concerned Indonesia’s 1965 Blasphemy Law, a section of the Criminal Code that prohibits both expression of hostility toward or contempt of the recognized religions and the advocacy of unorthodox interpretations of those religions. *

The law can be used to hand down sentences of up to five years’ imprisonment, and to disband any group deemed unorthodox or heretical. In October 2009, a group of prominent Muslim intellectuals (including former President Abdurrahman Wahid), human-rights activists, and civic leaders requested that the Constitutional Court review the Blasphemy Law, suggesting that it violates guarantees of freedom of religion and threatens the tolerance and pluralism fundamental to maintaining a democratic Indonesia. In April 2010, after several months of public debate and demonstrations, the court refused to conduct a full judicial review of the law, thereby upholding it. An eight-to-one decision by the court argued that, without anything to immediately replace it, the law is necessary in order to maintain social order and prevent religious conflicts. Conservative Muslims, who feared among other things that more liberal interpretations of Islam might be encouraged, were heartened by the decision, but an array of opponents feared that religious freedom, especially of minority groups, would be further threatened. While the Constitutional Court’s ruling suggests that legislative review and modification of the law might be pertinent, it seems unlikely that lawmakers will accept such a sensitive undertaking anytime in the near future. *

Conservative Islam as a Fashion

Conservative Islam has become a kind of fashion in Indonesia, with pop stars going on th hajj; schools girls opting for Muslim clothes because they like the look; and people exchanging Koranic verses on their cell phones. The movement is led by urban high school and university students who in the past regarded religion as backward and primitive. At Indonesian universities there are variety of conservative Islamic clubs that mix outings and activities with ideological indoctrination and missionary trips.

The Economist reported: “Nowadays, public displays of piety have become something of a fad. Titiek Puspa, one of Indonesia's most famous pop stars, recently went on pilgrimage to Mecca. Television executives say there is ever increasing demand for Islamic programming. Abdullah Gymnastiar, a wildly popular Muslim televangelist-cum-management-guru, is setting up a service called al-Quran Seluler, which allows devotees to receive his analysis of Koranic verses by text message or voicemail. According to Bahtiar Effendy, an Indonesian academic, this trend is all the more remarkable for being spearheaded by the urban elite, who as recently as the 1960s tended to dismiss religion as outmoded and primitive. “Today, the only way to be socially accepted is through Islam,” he says. [Source: The Economist,May 29, 2003 /*\]

“Schools and university campuses are at the centre of the revival. Rico Marbun, a student leader at the University of Indonesia, explains how some of his peers in high school persuaded him to convert from Protestantism to Islam. He then joined a Muslim missionary club that visited other schools and universities to spread the faith. He says there are hundreds of such clubs at all universities around the country, which blend the propagation of santri Islam with everything from singing to mountain-climbing. Other students tell the same tale: how they had been raised as abangan by their parents, but adopted a more stringent version of Islam under the influence of their classmates. As the number of university students has grown over the decades throughout the region, so has the number of South-East Asians exposed to this form of Islam.” /*\

Extreme Islam, Politics and Fashion in Southeast Asia

According to The Economist: “A clear majority of Indonesian Muslims still vote for secular parties, just as their Malaysian brethren still prefer the mild Muslim nationalism of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) to the more doctrinaire Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS). When a motion seeking to enshrine Islamic law in the constitution came before Indonesia's parliament last year, even most of the religious parties voted against it. Around the same time, the minister of religion, Aqil al-Munawar, publicly revealed that he consulted soothsayers—an abangan practice. Over Christmas and New Year, Islamic groups organised patrols to defend churchgoers and revellers against extremist attacks. [Source: The Economist, May 29, 2003 \*/]

“Salahuddin Wahid, a senior member of NU, tends to play down the region's religious revival as a natural reaction to breakneck social and economic change. In times of flux, he argues, people crave the reassurance of religion. Since South-East Asia was the world's fastest-growing region throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, it was particularly susceptible to an Islamic renaissance. By the same logic, the Asian crash of 1997 caused further tumult and an even more widespread resort to the comforting certainties of Islam. Should Indonesia ever regain stability, Mr Wahid predicts, the religious fad will fade. \*/

“Other analysts attribute the region's religious revival—or at least the most extreme form of it—to the increasing influence of foreign Muslims. For decades, rich Gulf Arabs have paid for South-East Asian students to study Islam in its Arab heartland. They have also funded the construction of mosques and the operations of Islamic schools and charities. Some of these are clearly involved in the dissemination of radical ideas. Filipino police say Muhammad Khalifa, a relative of Mr bin Laden, used an Islamic charity as cover for his funding of Muslim separatists and terrorists when he lived in the country in the early 1990s. In a report issued early in January, Singapore blamed the spread of radicalism among its Muslims on militant Arab foundations that run schools and mosques in the city-state.\*/

“Almost all of Indonesia's best-known Muslim militants studied overseas at some point, including Mr Basyir, and many of them fought in Afghanistan. Most of the latter, it turns out, were persuaded to join the jihad only after they had arrived at Islamic boarding schools in Pakistan or the Middle East. When they returned to South-East Asia, they set up schools of their own with similar agendas. Several of the suspects in the Bali bombing attended such a school run by Mr Basyir in Malaysia, where they acquired their radical ideas—and, perhaps, their terrorist directives. \*/

“But authorities in the region cannot prevent their citizens coming into contact with radical ideas from abroad. The only sure way to counter such ideas is to foster an open debate about Islam, in the hope that most people will eschew its more militant forms. Until recently, however, the two biggest Muslim countries in South-East Asia have done just the opposite. In both Indonesia and Malaysia, authoritarian rulers tried to outflank Islamist opposition by adopting a policy of “Islamisation” even as they cracked down on its most radical proponents. The result was a double failure: they ended up advancing the religious revival that had nurtured the opposition in the first place, while also stirring resentment at their heavy-handed tactics. “ \*/

“This climate has helped to promote a vigorous debate about the proper role of Islam in both countries. Indonesian newspapers accord theological arguments between clerics the sort of coverage reserved for feuding pop stars in the West. Sisters in Islam, a Muslim women's organisation, is leading a campaign against two Malaysian state governments' plans to adopt full-blown Islamic law. The liberal Mr Abdalla pops up all the time on Indonesian television and radio shows. As long as the moderates keep on getting their fair share of air time, there is every hope that the extremists will fail. \*/

Religious Abuse Involving Hard-Line Islamists

There have been reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Many incidents of societal violence occurred along sectarian lines, but were the result of both religious and secular causes. Through coordinated attacks, intimidation, coercion of--and sometimes in collaboration with--government actors, religious hard-line groups such as Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), as well as local branches of the [Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), often succeeded in restricting the rights of religious minorities. Mobs of people not clearly affiliated with any group also engaged in acts of violence and discrimination on the basis of religion. Between January and June 2012, the Setara Institute reported 111 cases in which non-state actors abused or discriminated against religious minority groups. According to the report, the two provinces most affected by religious communal violence were West Java and East Java. Setara also noted an increase in its societal data collection over the previous year, such as surveying six additional provinces. [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, Indonesia, U.S. Department of State <>]

Hard-line groups, including the FPI, continued their attacks against Ahmadi Muslims and individuals or groups they deemed deviant. The FPI also pressured the government to act in accordance with the FPI’s desires. In May, just ahead of a planned June 3 concert by pop singer Lady Gaga, FPI members called for the cancellation of the concert. The FPI said that the concert was immoral and that it was seeking to protect Indonesian society from sinfulness. In the lead-up to the event, photos of masked FPI members with concert tickets surfaced on the Internet along with thinly veiled threats of violence if the concert were held. Citing security concerns, police refused to grant the concert a permit, and the show was cancelled. Minister of Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali noted that he believed the cancellation would benefit the country. <>

Civil rights activists asserted that Sharia-based regulations violate the constitution and called on the government to exercise its constitutional jurisdiction to revoke or review these regulations. In the village of Woyla in West Aceh, the MUI (known locally as the MPU) successfully pressured the regent to ban a foreign-funded NGO from operating in the area. The NGO had worked in Aceh since 2004 and was focused on livelihood programs for men and women and life skills programs for children. In September the MUI pressured the group to cease its operations. When the group refused, the MUI accused it of proselytizing in the local newspaper. These accusations, which the NGO stated were unfounded, resulted in an investigation by local authorities and the issuance of a ban by the regent. In carrying out its efforts against the NGO, the MUI employed a messaging campaign using both traditional and social media. At year’s end, the NGO remained closed. Other sectarian conflict during the year included violence against Shia communities in East Java, including violence in August that left two dead and more than 40 homes destroyed. <>

Joe Cochrane wrote in the New York Times, There has been “an increasing number of instances of persecution connected to freedom of religion in Indonesia in recent years. Although Indonesia has influential Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities, every year there have been hundreds of episodes, including violent attacks, targeting religious minorities like Christians and Shiite and Ahmadiyah Muslims, as well as dozens of arrests over blasphemy against Islam. Numerous churches have been closed for lacking proper permits. According to human rights organizations and various surveys, religious intolerance is on the rise in Indonesia, at least partly because of the growing influence of radical Islamic groups that use street protests and acts of violence to support their aims. [Source: Joe Cochrane, New York Times, May 3, 2014 <^>]

“Christian groups and religious and human rights advocates say that rising religious intolerance is also linked to the efforts to promote regional autonomy in Indonesia in 1999 as part of the country’s transition to democracy after three decades of highly centralized, authoritarian rule under President Suharto. More than half of Indonesia’s 491 provincial districts have enacted various bylaws inspired by Islamic law, or Shariah, in recent years. “So much power was given to local authorities, and in many cases — in particular in regions where Muslim organizations dominated — there were violations against religious freedom, and freedom, for example, for someone to say they are an atheist,” said Theophilus Bela, secretary general of the Indonesian Conference on Religions for Peace, a nongovernmental organization focused on interfaith dialogue. <^>

Indonesian Muslims Banned from Practicing Yoga

In 2009, Indonesia’s top Islamic body issued a fatwa banning Muslim in Indonesia from practicing yoga because it contains Hindu rituals like chanting. Robin McDowell of Associated Press wrote: “Though not legally binding, most devout Muslims will likely adhere to the ruling because ignoring a fatwa, or religious decree, is considered a sin. Cleric Ma'ruf Amin said the Ulema Council issued its ruling after investigators visited gyms and private yoga classes across the sprawling nation. Amir said those performing yoga purely for health or sport reasons will not be affected. [Source: Robin McDowell, Associated Press, January 26, 2009 ><]

“But yoga practitioners immediately criticized the decision. "They shouldn't be worrying about this," said Jamilah Konny Fransiska, a yoga teacher on the northern island of Batam, adding that all of her students perform yoga solely to strengthen their bodies and minds. "There is little or no spiritual element to it," she said. "The clerics should be focusing only on purely religious matters, not this." ><

Yoga —a blend of physical and mental exercises aimed at integrating mind, body and spirit —has become so popular in the United States that many public schools have started offering it as part of their physical education programs. But there, too, yoga has come under fire, with some Christian fundamentalists arguing its Hindu roots conflict with their own teachings. A few secular parents are also opposed, saying its spiritual elements could violate rules demanding separation of church and state. ><

“The Ulema Council decided to investigate the need for a yoga ban after religious authorities in neighboring Malaysia issued their own fatwa in 2008. Many people there protested, insisting they had been performing yoga for years without losing their faith. Eventually, even Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had to step in, assuring Malaysians they could continue with the exercises as long as they didn't chant. Amir, the cleric, said the same rule applied to Muslims here. "We only prohibit activities that can corrupt Islamic values," he said. ><

Atheist Imprisoned in Indonesia

In 2012, a 30-year-old Indonesian was imprisoned for expressing his belief in atheism online. Joe Cochrane wrote in the New York Times, “Growing up in a conservative Muslim household in rural West Sumatra, Alexander Aan hid a dark secret beginning at age 9: He did not believe in God. His feelings only hardened as he got older and he faked his way through daily prayers, Islamic holidays and the fasting month of Ramadan. He stopped praying in 2008, when he was 26, and he finally told his parents and three younger siblings that he was an atheist — a rare revelation in a country like Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. They responded with disappointment and expressions of hope that he would return to Islam. [Source: Joe Cochrane, New York Times, May 3, 2014 <^>]

“But Mr. Aan neither returned to Islam nor confined his secret to his family, and he ended up in prison after running afoul of a 2008 law restricting electronic communications. He had joined an atheist Facebook group started by Indonesians living in the Netherlands, and in 2011 he began posting commentaries outlining why he did not think God existed. “When I saw, with my own eyes, poor people, people on television caught up in war, people who were hungry or ill, it made me uncomfortable,” Mr. Aan, now 32, said in an interview. “What is the meaning of this? As a Muslim, I had questioned God — what is the meaning of God?” He was released on parole on Jan. 27 after serving more than 19 months on a charge of inciting religious hatred. Indonesia’s state ideology, Pancasila, enshrines monotheism, and blasphemy is illegal. However, the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and speech, and the country is 16 years into a transition from authoritarianism to democracy.<^>

“His case very much ties in with that whole trend,” said Benedict Rogers, the East Asia team leader for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human rights organization founded in Britain. The group released a report in February warning that religious intolerance in Indonesia was spreading beyond traditionally conservative Muslim bases like West Java Province. “Of course there would be religious people who would take offense about someone publicly expressing this view” about atheism, Mr. Rogers said. “But I think if it weren’t for this growing Islamism and extremism, Alexander’s case probably wouldn’t have happened.” <^>

“Mr. Aan’s troubles began in January 2012 when a mob in the Dharmasraya district of West Sumatra showed up looking for him at a government planning office where he worked as a data analyst. “They wanted me to stop saying there is no God,” he said. “I told them that it was my right to express my beliefs.” Police officers were called to prevent any violence, and they instead escorted Mr. Aan to the local police station, where he found himself being interrogated and, within hours, charged with disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred. The next day, he was charged with blasphemy and inciting others to embrace atheism. A court in Padang, the capital of West Sumatra Province, threw out the blasphemy and atheism charges, but it convicted Mr. Aan in June 2012 of trying to incite religious hatred under the electronic information law and sentenced him to two and a half years in prison. “What I posted was for discussion, not to incite hatred,” he said. My case was a religious issue and a human rights issue, both because Indonesia is a Muslim country and because it’s a developing country and new democracy. I was just searching for the truth, and everything I felt, I expressed.” <^>

Mr. Aan’s case was among several controversial prosecutions over comments made on the Internet in Indonesia, where Twitter and Facebook are extremely popular. A homemaker was jailed and charged with defamation in 2009 after complaining about what she said was an incorrect hospital diagnosis in a private email that found its way online. In February, a Twitter user was sentenced to a year’s probation for “libelous tweets” against a former national lawmaker who had been convicted and sent to prison for corruption. “It’s funny — we say we have freedom of expression, but it’s only up to a certain point,” said Enda Nasution, an Indonesian blogger. “I think we are absorbing all of these new norms, and with the Internet, we are experimenting with what we can and can’t do. Atheism is a no-no, it seems.” <^>

Discrimination Against Muslim Sects

There Have been cases of forced mass resettlement of members of a religious group resulting from a failure to manage social conflict and discrimination. Authorities resettled approximately 300 of Muluk’s followers to a sports complex in Sampang following an attack against them by Sunni hard-liners. Government spokespeople said that the resettlement was for the group’s own protection. In November members of the group called for help from the central government, as the local government had stopped providing free food and water to the internally displaced persons. At year’s end, 198 of Muluk’s followers were still living in the sports complex. Days after the resettlement of Muluk's followers, Minister of Religion Suryadharma Ali publicly expressed his belief that dialogue between the parties could lead the Shia to convert to “mainstream” Islam, thus removing the source of the conflict. [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, Indonesia, U.S. Department of State <>]

Government officials collaborated with hard-line Islamic groups against members of religious groups deemed “deviant.” For example, on July 8 police and local leaders in the village of Cisalopa, West Java, detained the leader of a fringe group of the At Tijaniyah sect of Islam and several of his followers. A group consisting of local government officials, police, military, members of the local conservative Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), and the hard-line group Islamic Reform Movement (GARIS) accused the leader, Sumarna, of presenting his followers with a deviant interpretation of Islam and encouraged the sect to return to mainstream Islam. On August 19, approximately 1,000 members of GARIS burned seven homes belonging to Sumarna and his followers. The attack followed the unsuccessful search for the missing GARIS leader, Ustad Edin Zainudin. Police responding to the scene discovered Zainudin’s body approximately 1,500 feet from Sumarna’s house and arrested Sumarna. According to reports by respected human rights groups, Zainuddin had frequently and vehemently criticized Sumarna and his group for their “deviant” teachings. At year’s end, the case against Sumarna was still pending. There were no arrests related to the attack on the sect members. <>

The government failed to take sufficient action with regard to continued discrimination, restrictions, and occasional attacks toward religious minorities. In June and August followers of jailed Shia cleric Tajul Muluk reportedly informed police that they had received death threats from members of an unknown Sunni group. On August 23, Muluk’s followers reported that a number of Sunni hard-liners had visited their section of Sampang, Madura and that the residents felt unsafe. Three days later, on August 26, a group of roughly 500 Sunni hard-liners descended on Sampang, wielding machetes, knives, and Molotov cocktails. Upon receiving reports regarding the mob, police reportedly dispatched five officers who witnessed the ensuing melee. The violence left two Shiites dead, dozens of homes burned, and 300 people displaced. Following the attack, a combined force of 700 security force personnel arrived to secure the area. Police later arrested eight of the hard-liners for their involvement in the unrest. Militant groups and mobs throughout the country attacked, vandalized, forced to close, or prevented from being established several houses of worship, religious schools, and homes of Muslim groups regarded as unorthodox. In several cases, police temporarily detained members of “deviant groups” who were victims of attacks, ostensibly to ensure their safety, but did not arrest attackers.

Indonesia Bans Muslim sect

In November 2007, Indonesia’s Coordinating Agency for the Supervision of Religious Faiths and Sects banned the al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah Muslim sect, accusing the group of deviant teachings after its leader claimed himself to be a prophet after Mohammed. "Attorney General Hendarman Supandji will immediately issue a ruling that will officially prohibit the sect's existence and the spreading of the sect's teachings throughout the country," Wisnu Subroto, junior attorney general for intelligence, was quoted as saying. [Source: DPA, November 8, 2007 +++]

DPA reported: “Subroto said once the ruling is issued, any al-Qiyadah followers attempting to spread the sect's teachings would be charged with religious blasphemy, an offence punishable by up to five years in prison. Two months earlier, the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, the country's highest authority on Islam, declared al-Qiyadah a "misguided" sect, arguing that the sect defied one of Islam's six pillars of faith and followed teachings that run counter to mainstream Islamic beliefs Local media reported that followers of the group do not have to pray five times a day and there was no requirement for the sect's members to go on a hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. +++

“Angry Muslims recently vandalized a building used by the sect for meditation in the hill town of Bogor near Jakarta while street protests demanding the disbanding of the sect have been held in several towns on the main island of Java. The incidents prompted the sect's leader, Ahmad Mushaddeq, and six of his followers to hand themselves over to Jakarta police. Mushaddeq, who declared himself the next prophet even though mainstream Islam declares Mohammed the last prophet, is to be charged with blasphemy for allegedly tarnishing the image of Islam. He remained in police custody and claimed the group has 40,000 followers.

Discrimination Against the Ahmadiyah Sect of Islam

In 2008 the Indonesian government issued a joint ministerial decree freezing certain activities of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Specifically, it bans both proselytizing by the Ahmadiyya community and vigilantism against the group. Violation of the proselytizing ban carries a maximum five-year prison sentence on charges of blasphemy. Authors of the decree say that it is a compromise designed to give the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community some protection as the minority group would otherwise be subject to a complete ban under the 1965 Blasphemy Law (below). The decree does not prohibit Ahmadi Muslims from worshipping or continuing to practice within their community. Hard-line groups and a government-appointed body, the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society, support an outright ban of the group. The minister for religious affairs and the attorney general also publicly support a ban on the Ahmadiyya community. A number of provincial and local laws further restrict practice by Ahmadi Muslims. [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, Indonesia, U.S. Department of State <>]

Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community refuse to accept the Prophet Mohammad as Islam’s final prophet, and say their founder is a prophet and messiah. An Ahmadi official told Reuters that the group has about 500,000 followers in Indonesia, mainly on Java and Lombok islands. AFP reported: “Members of the group, which says it promotes peace and tolerance, have often been the target of hardline anger in countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan, and now increasingly in Indonesia. Ahmadiyya is considered heretical by some Indonesians because followers say their founder is a prophet and messiah. Mainstream Muslims reject Ahmadiyya's claim that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the sect in the 19th century in India, is a prophet and say that Ahmadis must stop describing their religion as Islam, while hardliners have demanded an outright ban. The Ahmadis say that like all Muslims they pray five times a day, follow the Koran and go on the Haj, but the only difference is one of interpretation. [Source: AFP, June 18, 2008]

In June 2008, the Jakarta-based National Commission on Violence against Women said that Indonesian women and children who follow Ahmadiyya have faced discrimination and human rights abuses for many years. The commission, which compiled material from 2000, from Sukabumi district in West Java and from Lombok island, found that several Ahmadi women had given birth prematurely after their houses had been attacked by militant groups, and that Ahmadis were often prevented from marrying other Muslims. “There is no government effort to prevent discrimination against Ahmadis’ children,” Kamala Candrakirana, who heads the commission, told a press conference. She said Ahmadi children tend to be stigmatised at school, where some teachers highlight their faith in their school report cards. [Source: Reuters, June 12, 2008]

In 2012, a number of regional governments enforced decrees limiting or banning the free practice of Ahmadiyya Islam. These decrees were often vague in their language, which led to inconsistent enforcement by local authorities. For example, on October 25, members of the FPI in Bandung, West Java reported to local police that they had observed an Ahmadi Muslim congregation preparing for the ritual slaughter of animals that is part of the observance of the Eid-ul-Adha holiday. The FPI members and police returned to the Ahmadi mosque and arrested three members of the congregation. Police and the FPI reportedly worked together in an attempt to coerce the Ahmadi Muslims to sign admissions of guilt for violating a 2011 gubernatorial decree that limited their right to practice and defined “spreading the sect” as any public display of their faith. Upon the Ahmadi Muslims’ refusal to do so, the FPI members returned to the mosque and vandalized it. Provincial-level police then encouraged the previously detained Ahmadiyya congregation members to file criminal complaints against the FPI for damaging their property, resulting in the arrest of a local FPI leader.

Protests Against the Ahmadiyah Sect if Islam

In July 2008, thousands of Indonesians wearing white to show their religious piety rallied at the presidential palace to demand the banning of Ahmadiyah sect deemed “deviant” by top clerics. AFP reported: “More than 4,000 people from an array of mainstream Muslim political parties and fringe Islamist groups chanted slogans, shouted Allahu akbar (God is great) and waved banners condemning the Ahmadiyah sect. A speaker accused the sect of “staining Islam” and demanded President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issue a decree to make it an outlawed organisation. “We ask first that Ahmadiyah repent, return to Islam or make a new religion. If they don’t want to do that then they must be broken up,” said Mohammed Alwi, a student from an Islamic boarding school outside Jakarta. “Ahmadiyah is a criminal organisation,” said another protester. [Source: AFP, June 18, 2008]

“A small cordon of unarmed police was on hand to protect the palace but there was no sign of violence. The protest comes after the government earlier this month ordered the sect, which has peacefully practised its faith in Indonesia since the 1920s, to stop spreading its belief that Mohammed was not the last prophet. The ministerial decree stopped short of the ban demanded by Muslim leaders after the country’s top Islamic body issued a fatwa describing the sect as “deviant.” The case has raised questions over Indonesia’s image as a tolerant, secular democracy and sparked violent tensions between moderates and radical hardliners.” [Ibid]

A few days earlier Reuters reported: “Life for Indonesia's Ahmadis has taken a frightening turn. Their mosques and sympathisers have been attacked by violent militant groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), and they are under pressure to say they are not Muslim.Near one of their onion-domed mosques in Jakarta, a lone police patrol car provides protection for the sect, even though at a Jakarta rally earlier this month, FPI supporters beat up and injured participants as they called for tolerance for Ahmadiyya. "Of course, we are afraid and worried," said Deden Sudjana, who handles Ahmadiyya security. "It is very human if everybody is traumatised, especially children and women because they saw blood, how they trampled on the elderly, beat them and kicked them." [Source: Reuters, June 13, 2008 \=\]

“The government's resolve to defend freedom of belief has been put to the test over Ahmadiyya. Indonesia's top Muslim religious council has declared Ahmadiyya a deviant sect, and hardline groups want them banned. Earlier this week, vice president Jusuf Kalla said the government would not ban Ahmadiyya as long as its members do not preach or try to convert others. A ministerial decree issued this week stopped short of banning the sect but warned followers could face five years in jail for tarnishing religion. \=\

“Ahmadis are worried about a backlash from hardline groups, said Ahmadiyya spokesman Shamsir Ali, speaking in the mosque as he sat surrounded by books on Islam, pictures of the Ahmadis' founder, and their slogan, "Love for All, Hatred for None"."There is a lot of fear in villages. Radical groups have increased their pressure on us. Overnight people have marked Ahmadiyya homes in Sukabumi area so that they can be easily identified for an attack," Ali said. \=\

“Liberal Indonesians slammed the government decision to curb the Ahmadis, saying it had caved in to pressure from hardliners, who have vowed to continue their fight for a complete ban on the group. "The government does not follow the constitution but is instead trying to accommodate radical groups which are actually very small in number. It is dangerous for the future of religion freedom in our country," said Luthfi Assyaukanie, co-ordinator of Liberal Islam Network. "If they succeed with the Ahmadiyya case, they will start with other cases including trying to push certain teachings in Islam." "The government has to ensure Ahmadis can live properly as common citizens," said Syafi'i Anwar, director of the International Centre for Islam and Pluralism. "This really damages Indonesia's reputation as a moderate Muslim country." \=\

Protest over Islamic tomb turns violent in Jakarta

In April 2010, three people were killed and 156 wounded as hundreds of residents armed with machetes clashed with security forces using water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets in Jakarta over a plan to renovate an area containing an Islamic scholar's tomb. Olivia Rondonuwu and Crack Palinggi of Reuters reported: “The local hospital in Koja, north Jakarta, said it was treating 54 people following the fighting between about 2,000 public order officers and residents, the worst civil disturbances in several years in the Indonesian capital. Several vehicles, including buses and trucks, were set on fire and destroyed during the day-long clash that disrupted work in Indonesia's biggest port. A Reuters photographer saw the security forces use water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets. Local television footage showed protesters being beaten by public order officers. [Source: Olivia Rondonuwu and Crack Palinggi, Reuters, April 14, 2010]

Some of the protesters were supporters of the Islamic Defenders Front, a hardline Muslim group known for attacking bars and nightclubs. Several appeared to be teenagers. Metro TV said two people died in the unrest but did not cite a source.The protesters thought the city government was trying to remove the tomb of Habib Hasan, an Islamic scholar who died in the mid-1700s, on land owned by state-owned port company Pelindo II. The Jakarta local government denied it had plans to dismantle the tomb, saying it wanted to renovate it.

"The location (of the clash) is right in front of the main gate, so there is a disruption" of port activities, said Kiki Hikmat, a staff member of Pelindo II. "The container traffic is slower because there are crowds on the street." Tanjung Priok is famous in modern Indonesian history for the riots that took place in the area in 1984 when former President Suharto's security forces fired on Muslims, killing scores. Following the incident, Suharto launched a crackdown on militant Islam in the world's most populous Muslim country.

Pro-Palestinian and Anti-Danish Cartoon Protests

February 2006, Indonesian police fired warning shots to break up a protest in Surabaya, East Java, over Danish cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad. The Bbc reported: Protesters in Surabaya first attacked the Danish and then the US consulate. At least 200 protesters gathered outside the Danish consulate in Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city, before moving on to the US consulate. The warning shots were fired when the protesters tried to remove the US consulate's plaque, reports said. [Source: BBC, February 6, 2006]

“There were also protests outside the Danish embassy in Jakarta. The cartoons first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September, and have been reprinted in other European newspapers in the last few weeks. One of the cartoons shows Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. They have caused outrage among Muslims, as Islamic tradition explicitly prohibits images of Allah, Muhammad and all the major figures of the Christian and Jewish traditions.” [Ibid]

Tens of thousands of Indonesian Muslims packed the streets of the capital Sunday in a mass showing of support for the Hamas-led Palestinian government and demanded an end to the West's economic boycott of the beleaguered regime. Supporters of the conservative Justice and Welfare Party, including many families with children, waved Palestinian flags and banners and collected donations. "One man, one dollar for Palestine," read one sign while another demonstrator held a picture of US President George W. Bush with the caption: "Don't worry, he's just a monkey." Police estimated the crowd, which filled Jakarta's central roundabout, at tens of thousands. There were no reports of incidents. [Source: Jerusalem Post, May 7, 2006]

Resistance to Conservative Islam in Indonesia

Many Indonesians view conservative extremist Islam as an Arab phenomena and one that doesn’t fit with Indonesia’s traditions. Talikng about the Saudis in particular, one liberal Muslim leader told Vanity fair, “They come to the poor districts here and say that they will build a mosque as long as they are allowed to appoint the imam. And then they try to impose Wahhabi indoctrination.”

Various organization from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have established schools and clinics in Indonesia and provided money for charities and terrorist groups. There is a popular saying in some parts of Indonesia: “If you see an Arab and a snake together, kill the Arab first.

The Economist reported: A “row about the treatment of a controversial religious scholar illustrates the improving climate. Ulil Abshar Abdalla, the founder of a group called the Islamic Liberals Network, wrote an article in 2002 rejecting elements of Islamic law and decrying those who insist on a literal interpretation of the Koran. The newspapers then reported that a group of such literalists, called the Forum of Clerics of the Faithful of Indonesia (FUUI, by its Indonesian acronym), had issued a sentence of death against Mr Abdalla for blasphemy. Several respected clerics leapt to his defence, and FUUI, under pressure, denied that any such sentence had been issued. [Source: The Economist, May 29, 2003]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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