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Small steps mark big fight against Indonesia's growing radicalism

Publication Date : 25-06-2012


Clattering sounds resonated from inside a white building along Jl. Amat, Depok, West Java, Indonesia, where a pair of college students played table tennis, while several others gathered around waiting for a turn.

In another room located inside a mosque, several other students were occupied in front of their computers.

It was a typical Saturday afternoon scene, as students spent their time waiting for their next class at the Kulliyatul Qur’an Al-Hikam college and boarding house, which was founded by cleric Hasyim Muzadi, former chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) – the country’s largest Muslim organisation.

Although it appears like any other Islamic higher education institute, the Al-Hikam, established in 2011, shoulders a huge task in helping to turn the tide against rising trends of radicalism and religious intolerance.

Since August last year, the institute counted itself among the few that have pioneered a youth deradicalisation programme in cooperation with the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT).

BNPT chairman Insp. Gen. (ret.) Ansyaad Mbai said recently the agency was focusing on facilitating moderate Muslim groups, such as NU, to stand against radical supporters who would eventually spread the seeds of terrorism.

The agency focuses on providing financing and programmes for moderate groups, mosques, boarding schools and Islamic universities and colleges to keep radical teachings at bay.

Muzadi and the BNPT had agreed to organise deradicalisation workshops at Al-Hikam campuses for heads of Islamic boarding schools all over Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country.

Al-Hikam held five workshops between October and December. Each three-day workshop was attended by representatives from 75 boarding schools, and involved the participation of Al-Hikam’s students.

An additional workshop is scheduled to take place at Muzadi’s Al-Hikam college in Malang, East Java, in September. The college was built in 1991.

“During the workshops, we talk about the roots of radicalism, ways of recognizing radical movements and steps to prevent students from joining the [radical] groups,” said Al-Hikam lecturer M. Hilmi Ashiddiqi al-Aroki.

According to al-Aroki, Muzadi hopes to combine Islamic-based teachings with secular sciences.

He said that Al-Hikam also focused on fostering the students’ views on the importance of Indonesia’s unity and diversity through a special "nationality class”, held at least once a month.

Depok’s Al-Hikam campus currently has 40 students from all over the country, including Kholid al-Qodiri from Madura, East Java.

Kholid, 22, said he initially wanted to be a doctor, but had somehow taken a different path and ended up exploring Islam.

He said he had a deep interest in learning about religion as well as deradicalisation, given his own experience interacting with members of a radical group when he was living in Malang, East Java.

"My friends and I had a debate with them [members of a radical group] at their place. I was surprised to hear their views. They promoted the use of violence in practicing Islamic teachings,” said al-Qodiri.

"But in the end, we managed to convince them to follow the right path of Islam,” he said.

According to Yusron Sidqi, Muzadi’s youngest son, his father has designed the colleges’ curriculum to benefit society by producing a generation of smart and tolerant Muslims.

"The way he sees it, there are many groups that don’t represent Islam because they only have a partial comprehension of the Koran. And this is dangerous,” said Sidqi.

He cited Imam Samudra, one of the masterminds of the 2002 Bali bombings, as an example.

Another student, Addin Kholis, 25, said radical groups had given Islam a bad name. “They swallow their leaders’ words without being critical. They are told to go on a jihad against non-believers, whereas jihad is not at all like that. Islam is a peaceful religion,” said the Yogyakarta native.

But Al-Hikam’s cooperation with the BNPT has not gone unchallenged.

According to al-Aroki, the school’s staff and students had become targets of criticism and occasional threats.

"Some people criticise the term ‘de-radicalisation’ because to them, it’s like we’re attacking our own religion. We also receive threats in the form of printed materials,” he added, refusing to give details.

With scores of students and university graduates recently involved in terrorism, concerns are rife that terrorist sympathisers may recruit students or recent graduates to join their fight in converting Indonesia into a caliphate nation with the full implementation of sharia law.

Violent jihadist groups regularly recruit students who are devoted to Islam, but have social difficulties. These students are easily lured into joining exclusive prayer groups or religious discussions outside college campuses.

The moderate Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (Uinsh) in South Tangerang, Banten, for example, has seen at least two of its students and a graduate get

involved in a terrorism ring, harboring the terrorist masterminds behind the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotel bombings in mid 2009.

Pepi Fernando, who was behind the distribution of recent book bombs to several noted figures and a failed attempt to bomb a church in Serpong, Banten, is also a Uinsh graduate.

"The trend of radicalism in campuses has been growing in the past couple of years. There is an alarming sign from a survey by the Indonesian Research and Science Institute [LIPI] that shows 80.6 per cent of university students in Java have rejected Pancasila [the state ideology]. This means there is a likelihood the students will have a lack of tolerance and engage in radicalism,” said Mbai recently.



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