Angel Rabasa of Rand Corporation wrote: “This convergence of the two pillars of moderate and progressive Islam in Indonesia is juxtaposed against a trend toward radicalism in other sectors of Indonesian Islam. These radical interpretations are associated with what moderate Islamic activist Ulil Abshar-Abdalla calls the “New Islamic Movement,” which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s as part of the worldwide wave of Islamization.5 These groups include Hizb ut-Tahrir and Jamaah Tarbiyah, which both support the establishment of a pan-Islamic caliphate, the Jamaah al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin Indonesia (Indonesian Muslim Brotherhood), and other extremist groups that emerged in the immediate post-Suharto period. [Source: Angel Rabasa, Senior Policy Analyst, Rand Corporation, September 12, 2005 ^|^]

“As in the rest of Southeast Asia, the influx of Saudi money and ideology in Indonesia has been an important engine of this radicalization. The Saudi religious affairs office in Jakarta finances the translation from Arabic to Bahasa Indonesia of about one million books a year. It also offers scholarships to Indonesian students for study in Saudi universities. Arab influences are also exerted through the Hadrami Diaspora in Southeast Asia. ^|^

“Islamic extremism in Indonesia is often associated with clerics of Arabic origin. For example, Ja’afar Umar Thalib, leader of the now disbanded Laskar Jihad; Abu Bakar Ba’asyir and the late Abdullah Sungkar, founders of Jemaah Islamiyah; Islam Defenders’ Front head Muhammad Habib Rizieq, and others.Some Islamic scholars attribute the moderate character of Indonesian Islam to their perception that Indonesia is the least “Arabized” of the major Muslim countries. ^|^

Islamist Schools

Most pesantren and madrassahs teach a fairly moderate curriculum, but not always. The schools have very little government oversight and some are run by charismatic extremist leaders who espouse militant Islam and anti-Americanism. Some don’t teach science out of concern that it may raise doubts about the existence of God. Instead they emphasize rote memorization of the Koran with some anti-American and anti-Semitic indoctrination thrown in. Graduates of these schools are often well versed in the Koran but ignorant about science and the outside world. They are often ill-prepared for a job in the modern economy and are fit only to be Islamic teachers, These days the government keeps a close eye on these schools as potential breeding grounds for terrorists.

Angel Rabasa of Rand Corporation wrote: “ In Indonesia and Malaysia, a small number of radical Islamic schools have served as incubators for the violent fringe of the Islamist movement in Southeast Asia, including the regional terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah and its political front, the Majlis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI). According to Southeast Asia terrorism expert Zachary Abuza, the Indonesian security services believe that presently 60-100 pesantren serve as centers of JI recruitment and ideological indoctrination. In this category of terrorist incubators are the Pondok al-Mukmin in Ngruki, Sukohardjo in Solo (Surakarta), Mutaqin in Jabarah, Dar us-Syahadah in Boyolali, all in Central Java; al-Islam in Lamongan, East Java; and the Hidayatullah network in East Kalimantan and Sulawesi. Jaafar Umar Thalib, the leader of the now disbanded Laskar Jihad, administers another pesantren, Ihya as-Sunnah in Yogyakarta.17 Although their number is relatively small in a universe with thousands of schools, these radical pesantren have had a disproportionate influence in shaping and propagating radical Islam in Southeast Asia. [Source: Angel Rabasa, Senior Policy Analyst, Rand Corporation, September 12, 2005 ^|^]

“An important component of the broader jihadist network in Indonesia is centered on the island of Sulawesi. This is the Makassar-based organization Komite Pengerak Syariat Islam (Committee for Upholding Islamic Law—KPSI), previously known as the Preparatory Committee for the Upholding of Islamic Law (KPPSI). The armed wing of the KPSI, the Laskar Jundullah, is responsible for a great deal of sectarian violence in the Moluccas and Sulawesi.The KPSI is linked to the MMI and JI through Agus Dwikarna, the head of the Laskar Jundullah and a member of the MMI executive committee. (Dwikarna was arrested at the Manila airport in March 2002 and charged with carrying explosive materials.) According to the International Crisis Group, the head of the KPSI, Abdul Aziz Qahhar Muzzakar, also runs a pesantren in Makassar that serves as the local branch of the so-called “Hiyadatullah network,” named after the militant Islamic magazine Hiyadatullah. ^|^

The Hidayatullah schools are a group of 120 pesantren in Kalimantan known for extremism. In the theology classes students are taught that defending Islam from infidels, Jews and Christian involves jihad and violence. Television is banned and computer access is limited. The schools were founded in the 1970s by a man who was concerned that money from timber and mining interests was undermining the moral values of young people in Kalimantan. The school became more extremist after the founder died.

The leaders of the Hidayatullah schools say they receive no funding from abroad and rely on the $15 a month fees. Some schools have fancy mosques but for the most part the facilities are basic At Hidayatullah schools the boys and girls are kept separate. Ten boys sleep in one small room on linoleum-covered wooden bench without mattresses. The girls wear body-covering robes and headgear that covers everything but their face. They too sleep on a hard wooden surface but have bunk beds and nicer rooms. After they graduate, former students are encouraged to marry one another in mass weddings and start new schools.

Jemaah Islamiyah Schools

The terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah established a number of schools throughout Southeast Asia. These schools provided means for gaining new recruits, indoctrinating them with extremist ideology, training them and providing cover for terrorist activities. A number of boarding schools are affiliated with Abu Bakar Bashir, including his original Al-Mukmin boarding school in Solo, Indonesia. It now has dormitory facilities for about 2,000 students who pay $20 a month in fees and are only allowed to leave once a month. There is no television but there are signs in English and Arabic that read “Jihad is our way. death is the way of Allah.”

All the top leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah—including Bashir and Hambali—the primary figures in the Bali bombing—Imam Sanrudra, Amrozi and Mukhlas—all worked or taught at Luqmanul Hakiem Islamic School in Uli Tiram in Johor State, Malaysia. They came to Malaysia in the 1980s and 90s to escape crackdowns on Muslim activists in Indonesia under Suharto. The school at one pont had 300 students enrolled. Many of the people mentioned above were also students at Bashir-affiliated schools in Indonesia.

The Luqmanul Hakiem Islamic School was not registered with state religious authorities. Its curriculum was unknown but thought to be a mixture of traditional Koranic teaching mixed with extremist ideology. The schoo was shut down in the early 2000s. As of 2003, all the teachers and administrators once associated with th school were either in prison or on the run.

In 1989, a government official went to check out a Al Mukmin offshoot school in southern Sumatra and was hacked to death. The next day soldeirs landed in helicopters and killed 246 people at the school, including 94 who were under the age of 17.

Students at Jemaah Islamiyah Schools

Students at Jemaah-Islamiyah-linked schools were recruited to carry out terrorist activities. Parents were told that “Americans were the worst form of infidels” and encouraged to “donate part of their salaries to help Muslim fighters in the region and in Afghanistan to buy weapons to kill as many Americans as possible.’ Students were told that Muslim fighter who died fighting against Americans would not only receive a spot in heaven but would also get 70 spots for relatives and friends.

Some students carried pictures of Osama bin Landen and wore sandals with Israel and the USA printed on the soles (the feet are regarded as dirty and vile in Asian and Muslim cultures). Students considered potential terrorist material were reportedly invited to join special study groups and told it was their duty to defend Islam by attacking infidels.

Shefali Rekhi wrote in the Strait Times: “The brainwashing and recruitment campaign continues in open fields as well as in select Muslim boarding schools, known locally as pesantrens. Dr Zachary Abuza, the Boston-based author of Militant Islam In South-east Asia, says that Indonesian security forces believe a network of some 60 to 100 pesantrens could be JI recruitment centres. [Source: Shefali Rekhi, Strait Times, October 21, 2004]

As of 2004 about 1,800 students continue to study at Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir's Al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school in Ngruki, which has educated or hosted more than 30 accused and convicted JI operatives.

Pondok al-Mukmin

Angel Rabasa of Rand Corporation wrote: “The most notorious of these institutions is Pondok al-Mukmin, an educational institution that some have referred to as “the school of terrorists.” Pondok Al-Mukmin was established in 1971 by two radical Indonesian figures, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir and Abdullah Sungkar. In 1973 the pesantren moved to its current location in Ngruki, Central Java. From 1978 to 1982, Ba’asyir and Sungkar were imprisoned by the Suharto government on charges of subversion. After their release, the two fled to Malaysia to escape re-arrest. (According to a study done by the International Crisis Group, Ba’asyir and Sungkar portrayed their flight to Malaysia as a religiously inspired emigration to escape the enemies of Islam, in emulation of the Prophet Muhammad’s hijra from Mecca.) [Source: Angel Rabasa, Senior Policy Analyst, Rand Corporation, September 12, 2005 ^|^]

“In Malaysia, Ba’asyir and Sungkar, together with Abu Jibril (alias Fikiruddin, alias Mohamed Iqbal), an Indonesian veteran of the Afghan jihad, established the Tarbiyah Luqmanul Hakiem school in Ulu Tiram, Johor state, modeled on Al-Mukmin. During this Malaysian period, Ba’asyir and Sungkar joined forces with another Indonesian Afghan war veteran and former Ngruki student who was also a member of the al-Qaeda shura, Riduan Isamuddin, alias Hambali, to found the terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). ^|^

“Ba’asyir, Sungkar and several other exiles returned to Indonesia in 2000, after the downfall of Suharto and his government. Sungkar died soon thereafter of natural causes and Ba’asyir became the emir or spiritual leader of JI, as well as emir of the governing council of the JI’s political front, the MMI, which was formally launched in Yogyakarta in 2000. Ba’asyir was arrested following the Bali bombing of October 2002 and charged with treason. He was, however, convicted of lesser charges and sentenced to three years in prison—a sentence that the Supreme Court later reduced to eighteen months (amounting to time already served) in March 2004. Upon his release, Ba’asyir was re-arrested, tried and convicted in March 2005 of conspiracy charges—a crime that carries a maximum term of five years—and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. ^|^

“Pondok al-Mukmin’s reputation as a seedbed of terrorism is well deserved.The school produced dozens of convicted terrorists linked to three major bombings in Indonesia and at least two dozen smaller terrorist attacks. Noor Huda Ismail, a graduate of the school, reported that the school taught nothing but an extremist form of Islam. The only music blasting from the speakers was an Arab song about jihad. Printed Arabic calligraphy covered the dormitory walls. One of them read: “Die as a noble man or die as a martyr.” Inside the school’s walls, he says, anti-Semitism was rampant. In Thursday night public speaking classes, the most popular subject was the threats facing Islam. Speakers often quoted the verse in the Quran that reads: “the infidels and Jews will never stop fighting us until we follow their religion.” Ismail reported that days before his graduation the school’s faith teacher, Aburrohim (alias Abu Husna), invited him and five other students to join JI. Those who agreed to join received military training in Afghanistan (before the downfall of the Taliban) and at Camp Hudaibiyah in Mindanao. ^|^

“In Indonesia, however, Pondok Mukmin and other radical pesantren continue to operate. Until the Bali bombing, many radical and violent groups enjoyed the support of mainstream politicians, such as the former Vice President Hamza Haz, who visited Ba’asyir at his headquarters in the Al-Mukmin pesantren. After the Bali bombing in October 2002, the leaders of Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah mounted a joint campaign against terrorism—a welcome change from the passivity of moderates toward the threat of radicalism and violence in the name of Islam.” ^|^

Combating Terrorism at the Pesantren Level

Sugita Katyal and Adhityani Arga of Reuters wrote: “As a key ally in the so-called U.S.-led "war on terror", Indonesian authorities say they monitor pesantrens, but not in an intrusive manner. "As Vice President Jusuf Kalla once said, we have to monitor pesantrens, and we have done that since decades. But we are not doing it in 'Big Brother' style," said Basyuni. "We provide guidance and give directions to pesantrens. We also gave a helping hand in educating the resources and developing the facilities of many pesantrens." [Source: Sugita Katyal and Adhityani Arga, Reuters, August 5, 2007 +++]

“International aid agencies have begun funding pesantrens in a bid to make their curriculum more mainstream. But analysts say many unregistered pesantrens remain outside the reach of these programmes and continue to spread their rigid interpretation of Islamic teachings. Analysts also say the government cannot touch pesantrens for political reasons. "The government is reluctant to greatly interfere in the matters of pesantrens, even in those accused of teaching radical Islam," Sri Yunanto, an expert on radical Islam, told Reuters. "Clerics and pesantrens represent a massive voting power. Imagine what the voice of 1,000 clerics can do to your political career?” +++

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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, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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