ICYMI: Will Saudi King’s Indonesia Visit Change Face of Islam? – The Atlantic

More on the worrisome aspects of Saudi Arabia:

When Saudi Arabia’s King Salman landed in Indonesia on Wednesday, he became the first Saudi monarch to visit the world’s largest Muslim-majority country since 1970. Officials in Jakarta had hoped the visit would help them strengthen business ties and secure $25 billion in resource investments. That’s largely been a bust—as of Thursday, the kingdom has agreed to just one new deal, for a relatively paltry $1 billion.

But Saudi Arabia has, for decades, been making investments of a different sort—those aimed at influencing Indonesian culture and religion. The king’s current visit is the apex of that methodical campaign, and “has the potential to accelerate the expansion of Saudi Arabia’s cultural resources in Indonesia,” according to Chris Chaplin, a researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asia. “In fact, given the size of his entourage, I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be a flurry of networking activity amongst Indonesian alumni of Saudi universities.”

“The advent of Salafism in Indonesia is part of Saudi Arabia’s global project to spread its brand of Islam throughout the Muslim world,” said Din Wahid, an expert on Indonesian Salafism at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta.

Salaf is Arabic for “forebear,” and Salafism is a Sunni movement that advocates a return to the Islamic traditions of the Prophet Muhammad and his contemporaries. It arose in reaction to 18th-century European colonialism in the Middle East, but it took particular root in Saudi Arabia in the hands of the influential preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Al-Wahhab’s alliance with the House of Saud in 1744 cemented Wahhabism as the spiritual backbone of the Saudi Arabian state. And in the 20th century, Saudi Arabia, which had become fabulously oil-rich, started to invest its considerable resources in propagating its ideology abroad.The heart of Indonesian Salafism is the Institute for the Study of Islam and Arabic (LIPIA), a completely Saudi-funded university in South Jakarta whose campus was abuzz the day before the king’s visit.“It’s really great that our two countries are becoming closer,” said one student who, like most of the other male students at LIPIA, had a wispy beard and wore cropped pants, per hadith verses stating that covering one’s ankles connotes arrogance. “I’ve been reading all the news about the royal visit. I hope to further my own studies in Saudi Arabia, God willing.”

LIPIA’s doors opened in 1980. Its ostensible purpose is to spread the Arabic language, and there’s not a word of the country’s official language, Bahasa Indonesia, on its campus—not a bathroom sign, not a library book. Tuition at LIPIA is free for all its 3,500 students. Music is considered bid’ah, an unnecessary innovation, and is prohibited, along with television and loud laughter. Men and women do not interact; classes of male students attend live lectures on one floor while female students watch the same lecture, live-streamed, on a separate floor.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs accredited LIPIA in 2015, which bodes well for the university’s push to open four more branches across the archipelago. Hammed al-Sultan, head of LIPIA’s Arabic language department, was confident that the satellite campuses would open by the fall of this year. But they will need their own green lights from the ministry, which has voiced concerns about whether they will uphold moderate Islam and Indonesia’s state philosophy of Pancasila, which enshrines religious tolerance.

When I asked whether LIPIA Jakarta already does this, al-Sultan said, “Pancasila … sorry, what is that again?” A LIPIA representative acting as our translator quickly briefed him on it. Al-Sultan said, “Yes, our integration of Pancasila is in progress, since it was a requirement for our accreditation two years ago.”

Muhammad Adlin Sila of the Ministry of Religious Affairs was more frank. “We are concerned about some alumni from LIPIA who are big fans of khilafah [the caliphate of the Islamic State].”

Ulil-Abshar Abdalla, a LIPIA alumnus who now runs the Liberal Islam Network, said he found the university’s theological climate oppressive when he attended in the early 1990s. “Theology, which is a mandatory subject there, is only taught by committed Wahhabis, and I really think their ideology is antithetical to traditional Indonesian Islam, which is usually syncretic and relaxed,” he explained.

Source: Will Saudi King’s Indonesia Visit Change Face of Islam? – The Atlantic

Obama to Turnbull on Indonesia, Islam and the Saudis: ‘It’s complicated’

Always interesting to have a more inside account of these discussions, highlighting awareness in this case:

A revealing series of interviews with US President Barack Obama has given insight into a private discussion he had with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The 20,000-word feature published in The Atlantic magazine also relies on interviews with Mr Obama’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her successor John Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, other world leaders and key White House insiders.

It details part of a meeting between Mr Obama and Mr Turnbull during November’s APEC summit in Manila.

The president, according to The Atlantic, described to Mr Turnbull how he had watched Indonesia gradually move from a relaxed, multi-faceted Islam to a more fundamentalist, unforgiving interpretation with large numbers of Indonesian women adopting the hijab Muslim head covering.

“Why, Turnbull asked, was this happening?” the author of the feature, Jeffrey Goldberg, wrote.

Mr Obama told the prime minister the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs have funnelled money and large numbers of imams and teachers into Indonesia and in the 1990s the Saudis heavily funded Wahhabist madrassas, seminaries that teach the fundamentalist version of Islam favoured by the Saudi ruling family, according to The Atlantic.

Mr Obama also told Mr Turnbull Islam in Indonesia was much more Arab in orientation than it was when he lived there.

“Aren’t the Saudis your friends?,” Mr Turnbull reportedly asked Mr Obama.

Mr Obama smiled and said: “It’s complicated”.

Source: Obama to Turnbull on Indonesia, Islam and the Saudis: ‘It’s complicated’

Inside Indonesia’s Islamic Boarding School for Transgender People

Reminder of the diversity among Islamic countries:

When Shinta Ratri visits her family in Yogyakarta, the Indonesian city where she still lives, she sits outside her family’s home and waits. She hasn’t been allowed inside since she was 16, when as a young boy she told her family she identified as a girl.

Today, Shinta, 53, is one of the leading transgender activists in the country. She runs Pondok Pesantren Waria, an Islamic boarding school for Indonesia’s so-called waria, a portmanteau of the Indonesian words for woman (wanita) and man (pria). The school, in Shinta’s own home in Yogyakarta on the island of Java, provides a tight-knit community for transgender women from across the country who may face discrimination at home.

“They come to Yogyakarta just because they know about this school,” says Fulvio Bugani, an Italian photographer who spent nearly three weeks living with the waria community at the school. “They know that there they can pray and live like a woman in a good atmosphere.”

Bugani’s powerful images depict the daily lives of the school’s diverse waria community, and one of his shots was awarded third prize in the World Press Photo’s Contemporary Issues category this year.

About 10 women live at the school, according to Bugani, though the numbers fluctuate. Many of them make a living as sex workers or street performers, unable to find work in other areas, but the school offers a comfortable environment where, Bugani says, they can be themselves.

It also provides a unique place for the waria to pray. In Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, mosques are typically segregated by gender and the transgender women are reluctant to join or barred from participating in either group. But Shinta has ensured that the women can pray together at the school.

“She is very proud to be a woman and also to be a Muslim,” Bugani says. “She wants to help the other waria to become like her.”

Inside Indonesia’s Islamic Boarding School for Transgender People | TIME.

Indonesian expats excited at getting chance to vote – Khaleej Times

For something different, an example of a country that does not allow dual nationality and the impact on mixed marriages:

Amelia Kusnindito, who has been a resident of Dubai for 14 years, expressed hoped that the next president would make changes in the country’s law on mixed marriages. “I am married to a British, but I can only carry an Indonesian passport. I have no chance to get a British passport because this is a law. I really hope in my heart that the president I choose in this election will espouse changes. So far, I have seen that this candidate I choose in my heart has been supporting the Indonesian diaspora, particularly those married to other nationalities outside my country.”

Indonesian expats excited at getting chance to vote – Khaleej Times.