As homelands devastated, Indonesian tribe turns to Islam – The Jakarta Post

Parallels with Canadian Indigenous peoples and Christianity?

Indonesian tribesman Muhammad Yusuf believes his conversion from animism to Islam in a government-supported program will eventually make his life easier.

“Thank God, the government now pays attention to us; before our conversion they didn’t care,” says Yusuf, the Islamic name he has adopted.

Yusuf is a member of the “Orang Rimba” tribe. His small community now gathers around a stilt-mounted wooden hut, while children inside wearing Islamic skullcaps and hijabs enthusiastically recite the Koran.

Not far away, other members of the tribe who remain faithful to the old ways stalk through palm oil trees in a desperate hunt for prey in an area that was once lush Sumatran rainforest.

Stick-thin and wearing only loincloths over their weather-beaten skin, they brandish homemade rifles as they search for their next meal.

Yusuf’s group converted to Islam, the predominant faith in Indonesia, and gave up their nomadic ways in January in a bid to improve livelihoods that have been devastated by the expansion of palm oil plantations and coal mines into their forest homelands.

Authorities insist the move is positive but critics say it amounts to a last throw of the dice for indigenous groups driven to desperation by the government’s failure to properly defend their rights against rapid commercial expansion.

Indonesia is home to an estimated 70 million tribespeople, more than a quarter of the total 255-million population, from the heavily tattooed Dayaks of Borneo island to the Mentawai who are famed for sharpening their teeth as they believe it makes them more beautiful.

But as a nomadic group, the Orang Rimba — whose name translates as “jungle people” — are a rarity.

Source: As homelands devastated, Indonesian tribe turns to Islam – National – The Jakarta Post

Ken Ward: Indonesia lacks answers to rise of political Islam- Nikkei Asian Review

More on Indonesia and the challenge of Islamic fundamentalists:

Purnama’s defeat and imprisonment also pose questions for Indonesia’s future as a country reputed for pluralism and tolerance, as well as for the “moderate” orientation of most of its Muslims. As happened in many Middle Eastern countries in recent decades, secular nationalism appears to be weakening in Indonesia and a less tolerant form of Islam seems to be consolidating itself. Secular nationalism in Indonesia has never found an eloquent and effective champion since President Sukarno, who died 47 years ago.

The tens of thousands of Indonesians who participated in the rallies held over the last six months were by no means all followers of HTI, the Islamic Defenders’ Front (IDF) or other radical Muslim groups. According to Greg Fealy, also of the Australian National University, and an astute observer of Indonesia’s Muslim politics, many of the participants saw the demonstrations as a legitimate form of religious activity and did not support radical political objectives such as the nationwide adoption of Islamic law.

Those rallies were usually termed actions “to defend Islam,” echoing the IDF’s name. This highlights an advantage that Muslim activists have over secularist or other opponents. It is much easier to “prove” that Islam is under attack than to show that, for example, secular nationalism is under threat. This is partly because the endless wars taking place throughout the Muslim world, largely waged by the U.S. with its local allies against various Muslim opponents, give an international dimension to claims that Islam is under threat.

Moreover, as Islam is by far Indonesia’s majority religion, it is easy to mount the case that Muslims are somehow under-represented. For example, if the governor of the capital city of a Muslim-majority nation like Indonesia is a non-Muslim, it is easy to argue that Muslims are obviously being denied their appropriate place. This is leading to a de facto redefinition, if not abandonment, of Indonesia’s longstanding national motto, Unity in Diversity: Non-Muslims may be elected to govern in non-Muslim-majority regions or cities, but not in Muslim-majority ones, according to such a redefinition.

The ideological counterpoint to Islam in Indonesia is Pancasila, the national doctrine or ideology. But its lofty if essentially generic principles lack an emotional pull. They do not lend themselves to being turned into catchy slogans for mass rallies. Nor does Pancasila have any international connection. A massacre of Christians in Egypt, for example, will not be seen to threaten Pancasila or bring pro-Pancasila demonstrators into the streets.

…HTI is a non-violent organization, however, and a court may refuse to ban it merely on the grounds of its long-term objectives. As pointed out by a former justice and human rights minister, the government has so far ignored the complex procedures it should follow before asking a court to ban HTI. The full legal process can take up to a year.

Such a long period will give Muslim organizations ample opportunity to combat what they will condemn as a new threat to Islam. The attempt to put HTI on trial cannot be blamed on Purnama. Instead Widodo will, correctly, be held responsible. He risks being targeted as anti-Muslim if HTI is banned, and as incompetent if it is not. In any case, Widodo has unintentionally offered his Muslim opponents a platform that will allow them to maintain their recent high level of activism.

Indonesia needs to develop an effective strategy for containing hardline currents of Islam, but the Widodo government has none. Focused primarily on securing investment for infrastructure and increasing gross domestic product, Widodo lacks the vision needed to reverse the trend toward intolerance.

Muslim influence from abroad, particularly the increasing spread of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Islam, threatens Indonesia’s traditions, which urgently require revitalization. Lately, however, the main vehicles for moderate Islam, Nahdatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, have allowed themselves to be upstaged by their radical counterparts. As for Widodo, whether or not he is re-elected in 2019, he does not seem to be a leader capable of restoring balance between political Islam and nationalism, or of inspiring a restoration of traditional Indonesian Muslim values of tolerance and respect for other religions.

Source: Ken Ward: Indonesia lacks answers to rise of political Islam- Nikkei Asian Review

‘Rot at the Core’: Blasphemy Verdict in Indonesia Dismays Legal Experts – The New York Times

More on the arrest and trial of the jailed Christian governor of Jakarta:

Legal experts noted that the verdict seemed to be based more on public reaction to the governor’s comments than what he had actually said, in effect holding him accountable for the mass protests organized against him by hard-line Islamist groups.

“That’s the problem with the blasphemy law,” said Bivitri Susanti, head of the Jakarta chapter of Indonesia’s Association of Constitutional Law Lecturers. “It’s not about the speech itself and whether it’s condemning Islam itself. It’s about whether society believes it’s wrong or annoys them.”

The governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was convicted on Tuesday for comments he made in September challenging Muslim hard-liners who argued that a verse in the Quran prohibited Muslims from voting for a non-Muslim. Mr. Basuki said those who made that argument were misleading Muslims, a statement interpreted by some as insulting the Quran and Islam.

Mass rallies were organized calling for his arrest, with some zealots demanding that the governor be put to death. Many analysts said that the protests had been orchestrated by his political rivals and that they were a strong factor in his 16-point defeat in last month’s election.

The verdict by the five-judge panel hearing his case repeatedly said that Mr. Basuki, known as Ahok, had caused public unrest and offended the Muslim majority, citing an article in the decades-old blasphemy law banning “words that degrade, harass or insult a religion.”

Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, said the decision “underscored the rot at the core of the Indonesian legal system” and would further polarize the country.

“It isn’t the first time Indonesian judges showed no concern for evidence in a high-profile case, but it could be one of the most damaging,” Ms. Jones wrote in a commentary for the Lowy Institute. “It instantly sent a signal that non-Muslims are lesser citizens.”

Photo

Police officers outside Cipinang Penitentiary in Jakarta, where Mr. Basuki was first taken and which houses violent criminals. He was transferred to a city police detention facility on Wednesday for security reasons. CreditMast Irham/European Pressphoto Agency

“I believe that the street protests influenced the judges’ ruling,” Ms. Bivitri said. “You can really see in the decision, that instead of using other articles, they are using one about condemning religion.”

Experts also expressed concern about the motive for the seemingly vindictive two-year prison sentence. The prosecutors had asked for two years’ probation on a lesser charge, which would have spared Mr. Basuki prison time.

In explaining the sentence, the judges said they determined that the governor “did not feel guilty” about his comments.

“The judges didn’t think Ahok apologized enough,” said Melissa Crouch, a senior law lecturer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

Mr. Basuki apologized publicly months ago for any offense caused, but he has steadfastly denied that he insulted the Quran or committed blasphemy.

On Wednesday, he was transferred to a city police detention facility for security reasons, officials said.

ICYMI: Jakarta’s Christian governor jailed for blasphemy against Islam | Reuters

Not a good sign:

Jakarta’s Christian governor was sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam on Tuesday, a harsher than expected ruling that is being seen as a blow to religious tolerance in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

The guilty verdict comes amid concern about the growing influence of Islamist groups, who organized mass demonstrations during a tumultuous election campaign that ended with Basuki Tjahaja Purnama losing his bid for another term as governor.

President Joko Widodo was an ally of Purnama, an ethnic-Chinese Christian who is popularly known as “Ahok”, and the verdict will be a setback for a government that has sought to quell radical groups and soothe investors’ concerns that the country’s secular values were at risk.

As thousands of supporters and opponents waited outside, the head judge of the Jakarta court, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, said Purnama was “found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment”.

Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch described the verdict as “a huge setback” for Indonesia’s record of tolerance and for minorities.

“If someone like Ahok, the governor of the capital, backed by the country’s largest political party, ally of the president, can be jailed on groundless accusations, what will others do?,”

Harsono said.

Source: Jakarta’s Christian governor jailed for blasphemy against Islam | Reuters

ICYMI: In Indonesia, pious punks promote Islam | Reuters

Interesting mix of identities:

“Prophet Mohammad forever,” chant the young Indonesian Muslim musicians. But instead of a mosque, the men are singing at an outdoor concert with a mosh pit full of followers of the country’s first Islamic punk movement.

The movement is the first of its kind in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, and has hundreds of members in three of the country’s biggest cities – Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bandung.

Sporting mohawks, leather jackets and baggy jeans, members of the “Punk Muslim” group claim that they, like the original British punk rockers, are still defined by rebellion and an anti-establishment ideology. But they express it by singing about Islamic values, freedom for Palestine, and other social issues facing the global Muslim community.

Ahmad Zaki, one of the movement’s founders, believes the genre of punk is often associated with a “tendency towards misbehaviour” but he wants to change that.

“We can redirect ourselves to better, more positive things,” he said.

Many of the group’s members used to be street performers, and say they have changed drastically since joining the movement. They are now encouraged to form their own bands and write their own songs.

Reza Purnama, a member and a former alcoholic, says others like him are slowly quitting alcohol and their lyrics are becoming more positive.

“People aren’t looking down on us anymore,” he said, referring to a stigma against punks in Indonesia’s largely conservative society.

After every concert, the head-banging audience bow their heads in prayer and listen to sermons – something the movement’s founders hope will redirect their fans on to a more pious path.

Muslims make up nearly 90 percent of Indonesia’s 250 million people and the vast majority of them practise a moderate form of Islam.

Source: In Indonesia, pious punks promote Islam | Reuters

Indonesians Seek to Export a Modernized Vision of Islam – The New York Times

I think the notes of caution by the experts cited are valid.

That being said, this initiative will likely be useful in broadening the discussions and debates regarding religion and minority rights, and understanding of Islam.

But I am always cautious about “exporting” models. Each country’s geography, history, demographics is different, and thus policies and programs need to take these differences into account, but within an overall human rights perspective:

Leaders of Nahdlatul Ulama’s youth wing, known as Ansor, say that elements of Shariah, which Muslims consider divine law, are being manipulated by groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda to justify terrorist attacks around the world, invoked to rally fighters to battle in the Middle East and elsewhere, and distorted by movements that seek to turn Islam into a political weapon.

“The classical Islamic perspective is dominated by views that position non-Muslims as enemies or, at best, as suspicious figures not worthy of trust,” H. Yaqut Qoumas, Ansor’s chairman, said in an interview.

“Fiqh,” or the body of jurisprudence that applies Shariah to everyday life, “explicitly rejects the possibility of non-Muslims enjoying equal rights with Muslims in the public sphere, including the right to occupy certain positions,” he said. “This classical Islamic perspective continues to possess an extraordinarily powerful authority in the eyes of most Muslims, and is regarded as standard, orthodox Islam.”

Some interpretations of classical Islamic law teach that Muslims have a duty to seek out and fight Christians, Jews and followers of Zoroastrianism until they either convert to Islam or submit to its rule and pay a head tax.

These interpretations have been enthusiastically adopted by the Islamic State.

Also, some interpretations of classical Islamic law, and of certain passages in the Quran, forbid Muslims from having non-Muslim political leaders. Medieval Islamic jurisprudence, still regarded as valid by some, is used to justify slavery and the execution of prisoners.

Photo

A 2006 painting by the Dutch artist John van der Sterren depicts Indonesia’s founding leader, Sukarno, cradling an independence fighter in the 1940s. The rebel’s Christian cross has made the image a symbol of the drive to reinterpret Islamic law.CreditNahdlatul Ulama

Some predominantly Muslim countries have been moving to reinterpret Islamic law within their borders, with some sending delegations to a 2016 international conference of scholars, religious leaders and clergy members in Morocco on protecting the legal rights of religious minorities living among them.

The Indonesian initiative, however, aims to directly approach governments around the world, both Muslim-majority and otherwise, as well as at the United Nations, to achieve a global consensus on reforming what it views as archaic interpretations of Islam.

“The challenge we face is not confined to religious views that emerged through an intellectual process conducted a thousand years ago. We are also confronted by religious and political authorities whose institutions are deeply intertwined with these views, and thus continue to inculcate such teachings among each new generation of Muslims,” Mr. Yaqut said.

“There’s a whole library of interpretations of jihad — Muslims must fight non-Muslim states to expand territory, for example,” said Ruud Peters, an emeritus professor of Islamic law at the University of Amsterdam. “But since the 19th century, there have been interpretations followed by many Muslim states to only defend against attack from non-Muslim states.”

Another problem, scholars and experts said, is the cultural differences among predominantly Muslim countries in interpreting Islamic law. Indonesia, in Southeast Asia, for example, practices one of the most liberal forms of Islam in the world, while simultaneously having a secular government and Constitution, with full rights for Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and other religious minorities.

Saudi Arabia, in the Middle East, however, practices the conservative Wahhabi Islam, and its government does not officially recognize any of its citizens as being Christian.

“If you want to have only one universal interpretation, you have to deal with the cultural differences and also find an international central authority. This is impossible,” said Abdel Rahman El Haj, a professor at Ankara Social Sciences University in Turkey.

He added that while Indonesian Islamic leaders had good intentions, substantive changes would be successful only if support for them emerged within the Arab world.

The Ansor initiative is seen as another move by young Muslims in Indonesia, as well as Islamic clerics and other Muslim organizations in Europe and the Middle East, to push back against extreme, conservative interpretations of Islam.

“The general impression we sometimes get in the West about Islam is one of radicalization,” said Raphaël Lefèvre, a nonresident political Islam scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, “while an equally if not more important trend is the ongoing struggle by Muslim clerics to redefine what Islamic law has to say about society and politics in ways deemed more compatible with modern life.”

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.