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Indonesian moderate Islam on the brink against radicals

Publication Date : 25-06-2012


Who is supposedly responsible for keeping radical teachings at bay? That is a question few can answer, despite growing radicalism and intolerance plaguing the world's most populous Muslim majority nation.

With no clear measures to protect moderate Muslims against the proliferation of radical groups, Indonesia’s war against terrorism may be hitting the wall.

The Religious Affairs Ministry, which is supposed to spearhead the fight against radicalism, has no specific measures or budget for this despite the country’s history of major terrorist attacks in the last 10 years.

The ministry, which was recently rocked by a graft allegation in the procurement of Korans worth millions of dollars, has allocated less than 1 per cent of its 28 trillion rupiah (US$2.97 billion) budget this year for fighting radical movements.

And when it comes to specific measures put in place, few ministry officials are aware of any.

“Our division has no specific program to tackle radicalism,” said the ministry’s director for Islamic development, Ahmad Jauhari. His division is under the Directorate General of Muslim Society Development, and is responsible for preventing Islamic teachings from deviating into radicalism that may lead to violence.

Jauhari said that division officials responsible for de-radicalisation merely advised avoidance of radical teachings during workshops and social activities. “We usually hold internal workshops to educate our staff and religious advisors to prevent radicalism, hoping they will transfer their knowledge to local religious offices and communities,” said Jauhari.

His directorate employs about 83,000 religious advisors, locally known as penyuluh, to oversee 239,497 registered mosques in Indonesia as of 2010. The ministry’s officials and volunteers are traditionally affiliated with moderate Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).

Mosques, Islamic boarding schools, universities and high schools are thought to be hot beds for the proliferation of radical groups.

According to the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), there is a growing trend in which radicals take over a mosque’s management from followers of the NU and fellow moderate Muslim group Muhammadiyah — the country’s largest and second-largest Muslim organisations, respectively. People are usually lured into radicalism by listening to radical preachers during Friday sermons before being encouraged to join smaller preaching groups as leeway for the forming of terrorist cells.

The Indonesian Mosque Council (DMI), which has branches across the archipelago to make sure mosques operate within the mainstream of moderate Islam, also has no specific measures in place.

“The council is not specifically responsible for the management of the mosques,” said DMI secretary-general Imam Addaruqutni. “But we are willing to cooperate with the government to conduct workshops, talks and sermons to address radicalism issues.”

The nation’s spearhead against the radical movement relies on the programs arranged by the NU and the Muhammadiyah. NU vice chairman for the supreme council Masdar Farid Mas’udi, however, said the organisation had no specific anti-radicalism program in place, but acknowledged the BNPT’s warning.

He said the organisation only had an internal institution that oversaw its mosques. “The NU has been carrying out intensive discussions about de-radicalisation within the organisation. We instill in our followers a tolerance for other religious groups,” said Farid.

Unlike the NU, the Muhammadiyah seems more prepared. Muhammadiyah secretary Abdul Mukti said his organisation had made terrorism its main focus long before Indonesia saw an increase in terrorist attacks.

However, he said that the organisation objected to the term “radical” and instead preferred “extremist”.

“Moderate Muslims can be radicals when it comes to what they believe in, but it doesn’t mean that they will resort to violence. Those who use violence are extremists,” he said.

To address extremism issues, Mukti said, the organisation had published guidance books about the basic principles of the organisation, Indonesian politics, pluralism and tolerance. These books are distributed to Muhammadiyah members all over the country and are available at bookstores. He also said the Muhammadiyah had conducted three internal workshops on anti-extremism.

“We are fully aware that some extremists are trying to infiltrate our mosques. That’s why we have been heightening the intensity of our programs,” Mukti said.


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