Based on a university assignment I made recently. Improved and translated from Indonesian:
Ahok is charged with two years of imprisonment for a blasphemy he was never guilty of. Habieb Rizieq, who blatantly and clearly insulted the Christian faith and desires for Sharia imposed on every citizen, has yet to be touched by the anti-blasphemy legislation. Worse, Ahok is considered to be the nation’s divider and Rizieq to be a unifier by some Muslims.
Unfortunately, this injustice is not surprising. First of all, Islam is the biggest religion here, venerated by 87.18% of the population; so easy for the majority to rule. I obtained the data from a census published by the Central Agency on Statistics (BPS) in 2010. Minority religions were also mentioned. But, the balance in religious studies was not always embraced.
Overall statistic studies of the whole country published in 2016 mentioned the numbers of government-run Madrasahs (Islamic schools) along with their students and teachers; there are also numbers for the people who did the Hajj (pilgrimage). Same thing with the 2015 and 2014 publications. The studies were executed to comprehend different aspects of the country’s life, including its ‘key socio-demographic’ characteristics, as stated in the introduction page of every said publication.
Demographic studies should include every single section of a society, not just the majority ones. Other religious groups are not mentioned at all while the study of the Muslim one is quite in-depth. The Indonesian government seems to treat the others like step-children. Maybe I look petty for making a big deal out of statistical researches. But, that lack of impartiality is also shown in the government’s administrative works.
From its name alone, the ministry of religious affairs should serve all religious groups. But, in reality, they only serve Muslims. The ministry is being ruled by Muslims, including the ministerial rank. If they only want to serve Muslims, at least they change their name to ministry of Islamic affairs. No need to be deceptive.
Of course, I cannot completely accuse the government of making Islam the golden child. Besides it, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism are all officially recognised. Despite being dominated by Muslims, the ministry of religious affairs still possesses organisations that represent minority religions. Publicly-funded universities affiliated with other religions can still be found. Ministerial positions can still be held by non-Muslims. Despite the tendency to be religiously one-sided and to mix religion with politics, the Indonesian government has yet to be tainted by Islamist ideology.
I also believe the problem can also be found on the people. In the post-Soeharto era, Syahrin Harahap notices how the Indonesian society possesses three distinct images: harmonious, open and fair interreligious image, secular, liberal and western-oriented image and conflicting, in tension and terroristic image. (2006, p. 32-43).
The observation shows how a nation, especially one as diverse as Indonesia, always consists of distinct collectives. But, at the same times, those said images are very black and white and I find that unnerving.
Indonesian liberals are not thought to prioritise harmony even when they openly oppose religious sectarianism; Ulil Abshar Abdalla even supports the Ahmadis. We also forget about how, as I mentioned earlier, Habieb Rizieq is being praised by so-called harmony-loving citizens. The mask we wear is often deceitful.
Rationality, which is embraced by some Muslim thinkers, is considered to be a highly-western thing. Such assumption gives the impression that rationality is antithetical to eastern cultures and most Muslims are easterners themselves.
Rationality is also not considered as a factor for openness. Rational thinking is just a path towards blasphemy, a path towards atheism. As a result, many Muslims see it as something that we should refrain ourselves from embracing.
We also forget about how popular the western culture is in Indonesia, even among citizens who oppose liberalism. Even the Islamic pop culture is highly westernised, with its commercialism and hedonism that attract conservatives’ distaste (Saluz 2009).
In addition, a load of preachers have attained celebrity status. Every sermon is a generous money generator. They also have appeared in countless commercials. In many ways, they are not unlike the televangelists from the United States, a western country.
Those liberal thinkers are considered too westernised because they studied in western universities. People with such petty assumption don’t realise how modern Islamic education in eastern countries is based on the western one; Islamic universities in the east have followed the results of the Bologna Process. Oh and Gus Dur graduated from University of Baghdad and Quraish Shihab from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. They studied in Arab education institutes. Why weren’t they accused of being too Arabised?
Besides accused of being too western, the liberals are also labelled as secular, despite how open they are about their religious beliefs, how often they give religious sermons and how some of them teach in Islamic educational institutes. Besides, can we guarantee all of those opponents of liberal Islam pray five times a day, do the zakat, fast every Ramadhan, abstain from alcohol and pre-marital sex?
The images shown by Syahrin Harahap, despite referring to the ones foreigners see, also exist among Indonesians. We love to stamp black and white labels on each other, not realising how humans are more complex than we like to imagine. I also feel Syahrin Harahap used the wrong approach to this issue.
I appreciate how he acknowledges Muslims’ extremism problem. But, at the same time, he was an apologist; he seemed to blame the rise of fundamentalism on forces from outside the Muslim world by stating that Islam is an inherently peaceful religion.
As a Muslim myself, I would love to believe that. But, in reality, those extremists genuinely believe their views are completely aligned with Islamic teachings. We should accept the possibility of our beloved religions being far from perfect.
I do agree with his proposal that teaching globalisation studies to students will help combating domestic extremism (p. 43). It is true the ideology was born overseas and spread from one country to another. But, the academic discipline does not cover the whole issue; it does not study how something spreads internally once it reaches a country.
I propose for all Indonesian Muslims, including the moderate ones, to take a look at themselves in the mirror regarding how we decipher Islamic teachings and how we treat our fellow human beings, especially ones whose outlooks contradict ours. Even though the moderates incite neither violence nor discrimination and will call out anyone who do so, their tendency to make infidels out of liberals and unwillingness to admit Islam as the inspiration for extremism have already given birth to possibly long-lasting negative consequences.
Like it or not, the moderates are indirectly responsible for the injustice that befalls Ahok.
Badan Pusat Statistik 2010, Hasil sensus penduduk 2010: kewarganegaraan, suku bangsa, agama dan bahasa sehari-sehari penduduk Indonesia, BPS, Jakarta.
Badan Pusat Statistik 2014, Statistik Indonesia 2016, BPS, Jakarta.
Badan Pusat Statistik 2015, Statistik Indonesia 2015, BPS, Jakarta.
Badan Pusat Statistik 2016, Statistik Indonesia 2016, BPS, Jakarta.
Harahap, S 2016, ‘The image of Indonesia in the world: an interreligious perspective’, The IUP journal of international relations, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 30-44.
Saluz, CN 2009, ‘Youth and pop culture in Indonesian Islam’, Studia Islamika, vol. 16. no. 2, pp. 215-242.