Terrorism and Islam in Indonesia

Indonesia: ‘Religion Will Not Prosper Through Violence’

Muslims pray in Jakarta
Jakarta: Women praying on the first night of Ramadan, Nov. 5, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

The arrest of Muslim leaders known for their hard-line political stance has contributed to fears of reprisals among Muslims. The Jakarta Post's Soeryo Winoto talked to Hasyim Muzadi, the leader of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), who shared his views on the current situation.

Police have detained Ulemas Abu Bakar Ba’asyir on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks and Habib Rizieq Shihab, chairman of the Islam Defenders’ Front (FPI), for [supporting] violence. What do you think the effect on the Indonesian Muslim community will be?

The most important thing is proving the offenses they have been charged with... If they are found innocent, let them free.... They have not been arrested for being Muslim but for applying inappropriate methods to develop Islam. The methods are against our legal system and our culture. I’ve told them that in our history not a single religion has developed through violence; the fact that 87 percent of the population is Muslim is not because of violence.

That figure was reached through cultural, economic, welfare, and educational approaches, not violence. I’ve also said that someday they would come up against their own Muslim brothers ... [because] the vandalizing of discotheques by Habib Rizieq’s people is against Islam. Eliminating vice must not be done through another vice.

Are the arrests of Muslim hard-liners due to pressure from other governments, such as the U.S. government?

It could be, but a request from another nation would not be the sole reason. Maybe the U.S. government asked Indonesia [to be tough on terrorism]. In any case, the development of Islam through violence must be stopped. The gain is less than the impact of the action.

History has proven that violence through demonstrations, battles, and rebellions [in the name of religion] has never been fruitful here. It just leaves scars and wounds among Muslims.

Any extreme movement that uses religion, “proletarianization,” and communism must also be eliminated.

Has the politicization of Islam encouraged more diverse people to follow it?

Islam is one [as a religion], but followers differ.... There are people with mature knowledge about Islam, many with vague knowledge, and many others with very “raw” knowledge and understanding of Islam. Sociological background also differs among Muslims. Poverty and injustice, for example, could influence a community, including Muslim communities.

So care must be applied in considering whether a movement is religious, or one produced by sociological interaction.

As the leader of the biggest Muslim organization, have you met with the leaders of radical organizations, which in many cases use the banner of religion in their struggles?

When I was in Ambon [the capital of the restive Maluku province] I met with leaders of 11 radical organizations. I told them that Islam has never taught offensive actions against other religions. I told them that what Prophet Muhammad did [in battle] was just in self defense; it was never aggression.

Soon after Prophet Muhammad had conquered Mecca, he said that everybody, including the enemies, were secure. The churches and synagogues could hold services without fear. No single tree was to be uprooted or cut. This means that there must be no killing.…

The movements [such as] Darul Islam with its Tentara Islam Indonesia [Indonesian Muslim Warriors] have all failed to develop Islam through violence [Darul Islam, which campaigns to establish a Muslim theocracy in Indonesia, was most active from 1948. Since then, members have reportedly volunteered to fight the United States in Afghanistan—WPR].

I believe Muslims were also among the (Bali) bomb victims.

At a Friday noon prayer at the National Police headquarters, I met National Police chief Gen. Da’i Bachtiar, and (former) Laskar Jihad commander Ja’far Umar Thalib [who was being detained]. I was the preacher at that time. Afterwards I asked Ja’far what he was thinking when he learned that—after fighting with swords in the name of Islam—he was performing prayers alongside the man responsible for his arrest. He was stunned briefly and then asked me why I asked him such a question. I said that the question was just for contemplation and needed no answer.

So, who is the real Muslim? Why do some claim that they are the best and most devout Muslims? Are the kyai (Islamic teachers) who have devoted their lives to pesantren [Islamic boarding schools] lesser Muslims?

Ja’far Umar Thalib disbanded Laskar Jihad, saying that the organization had violated religious teachings. Your comment?

This reflects inconsistency of thought. This is evidence that violence is a product of social interaction, not religion. Religion is fixed and permanent. The product of social interaction is not based on Islamic dogma and teachings, but of the understanding of the principle amar ma’ruf nahi mungkar [to encourage virtue and discourage vice].

If they use the wrong method it will be counterproductive. Islam now has a bad image, and hatred has been poured on Muslims who know nothing about radicalism and terrorism.

What should the government and the people do regarding radical organizations that act under the banner of Islam?

For the government, law enforcement is the key. While people must deepen their knowledge about religion, they must remember that they live in Indonesia.

The young people who have joined clashes [in conflict areas]... know jihad, but they do not know what being patient means. They are aware of things banned by Islam, but they forget istighfar [asking forgiveness from God]. They can say Allahu Akbar [God is greater], but they have never said Astagh ferullah [God, please forgive me].

They live in Indonesia, not in the Middle East, so things must be adjusted to Indonesia’s culture, which respects pluralism.

They lack the spirit of unity.

NU was previously involved in politics. How have you brought the organization back to its original nonpolitical activities [kembali ke khittah]?

Khittah is a term that contains many meanings, but basically, it means applying religion according to actual conditions in Indonesia. In a general sense, khittah means avoiding practical politics.

We develop principles to respect our NU members, to respect people from other religions and ideologies based on nationalism.

Through khittah, NU will become the nation’s most important asset. In the hands of NU, religion is peaceful and tolerant. NU sees that the country must not become an Islamic state. The inclusion of Islamic values in the Constitution and Indonesia’s way of life is enough. We have never asked that religion be formalized in the state.

No religion condones and supports gambling, corruption, and prostitution. The government can just formulate antigambling, anticorruption, and antiprostitution laws; it can formulate regulations with Islamic values in them, so as not to disturb the sensitivities of other religions and ideologies. In this way religion can develop properly in the nation state.