Abdul Khalik , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 11/28/2008 7:19 AM | Headlines
With radicalism and conservatism appearing to take root across Indonesia without significant public opposition, scholars are questioning just how moderate the silent majority of Indonesian Muslims really is.
They said the recent passage of the pornography bill and the government’s ban on the Jamaah Ahmadiyah minority sect, coupled with the enactment of sharia-inspired bylaws in many regions, was evidence the of rising conservatism.
A discussion, hosted by the Maarif Institute on Thursday, concluded that conservatism is growing in Indonesia – widely considered a moderate Muslim nation – with many Muslims ranking their devotion to their religion higher than their commitment to their country.
Visiting political and Islamic expert Mark Woodward said a number of expanding radical Islamic groups had claimed there was nothing more they needed in their lives than Islam. “Members of the groups, who wear Pakistani dress, covering all their body, and even wear gloves, claim that they are wearing Islamic dress while in fact they are not,” said the professor of Arizona State University in the United States.
Maarif Institute executive director Raja Juli Antoni said the enactment of the pornography law and the ban on followers of Ahmadiyah, which many Muslim groups consider a heretical sect, from disseminating their religion, were evidence of the growing conservative sentiment.
The passing of the porn law and the Ahmadiyah ban received wide support from community members, including of Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah – the country’s two biggest Muslim organizations, both of which are considered moderate.
Raja said he was not convinced the most Indonesians were moderate as they had not voiced any opposition to the rising radicalism. Another scholar, Amali, who is studying for his PhD at New York University, said most observers had thought Indonesian Muslims embraced a moderate brand of Islam. “But now, we need to rethink the notion of whether it is true that the majority of Indonesians are moderate,” he told the same forum.
A recent survey by the Center for Islamic and Society Studies at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta found that most Islamic studies teachers in Java, which is a stronghold for the NU and Muhammadiyah, opposed pluralism, tending toward radicalism and conservatism. Some 68.6 percent of the teachers are opposed to non-Muslims becoming their school principal and 33.8 percent are opposed to having non-Muslims as teachers at their schools. Some 85.6 percent of the respondents forbid their students from celebrating big events perceived as Western traditions, while 87 percent ask their students not to learn about other religions.
Woodward said conservative Islam had not yet been adopted into politics, citing the low popularity of Islamic parties campaigning for Islamism. “Muslims are still very pragmatic in general elections. They will vote for parties they believe can bring prosperity. But we are yet to see whether conservatism can be translated into politics,” he said. Woodward said the Islamic-based political groups were playing a smart game by pushing conservative agendas.
“They managed to easily equate those who reject the porn bill as supporters of pornography, and those backing Ahmadiyah as supporters of heresy,” he said.