Malaysia: Group decries govt’s move to ban book promoting ‘moderate’ Islam

Discouraging trend, as in Indonesia:

A PRO-MODERATION group comprising eminent ethnic Malays has questioned the Malaysian government’s move to ban a book it published on “moderate” Islam amid concerns of rising Islamic fundamentalism in the country.

The Home Ministry banned the book authored by the group of predominantly former senior civil servants, who call themselves G25, for being “prejudicial to public order”, reported Malay Mail Online on Thursday.

A notice on the Federal Gazette, dated July 27, listed the prohibition of the book, titled Breaking the Silence: Voices of a Moderation Islam in a Constitutional Democracy under the Printing Presses and Publications (Control of Undesirable Publications) (No 12) Order 2017.

The group’s spokesman Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin said she was shocked by the ban, given the government’s long-standing drive to promote the wassatiyyah (moderation) concept espoused in Islam.

“This is obviously an action intended to suppress free speech. The articles in the book were written by respected academics, lawyers and social activists,” she told Asian Correspondent when contacted.

“They are intellectual articles mainly discussing the place of Islam in the Federal Constitution. None of the articles have criticised Islam or touched on matters of Aqidah ( faith ).”

G25

The G25 group says it will appeal the government’s ban on the book it published. Source: Amazon

Noor Farida, a prominent former judge and diplomat, also suggested the questionable timing of the ban as the book was released back in December 2015.

“This does not make sense as in the nearly two years that the book has been on the market, we have not heard of any of the readers causing public disorder or a public nuisance as a result of reading the book!”

The government, she said, should instead favour the book due to its “moderate” stance. Malaysia promotes an image of moderate Islam internationally, despite the increasing implementation of Syariah law across the country.

The government gazette’s notice stated the printing, importation, production, publishing, sale, issue, circulation, distribution, or possession of the publication is “likely to be prejudicial to public interest”, which led to the nationwide ban.

Noor Farida said the G25 group would seek an explanation from the ministry and appeal the ban.

“We are still discussing this among our group members, but we will appeal and ask the Home Ministry to point out to us what the offending passages prejudicial to public order are,” she was quoted by The Star as saying.

Civil society groups such as the G25 have recently expressed alarm over the northeastern state of Kelantan’s move to amend its religious Islamic laws to allow public caning against “criminals” who breach its strict Syariah code.

At the end of this month, Malaysia’s lower house of Parliament is expected to debate a Bill to amend Act 355 of the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, also known as the controversial RUU355.

The Bill – commonly known as Hadi’s Bill after the man who proposed it – would increase the Syariah punishment caps in Malaysia to a maximum 30 years’ imprisonment, RM100,000 (US$22,400) fine and 100 lashes of the cane – far harsher sentences than those currently implemented under the civil system.

Noor Farida said the G25 promotes moderation and peace and harmony among our people of various faiths and ethnicities.

“We believe in promoting respect for the beliefs of others. And we firmly believe in upholding our secular Federal Constitution against any attempts by religious bigots to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state.”

Losing our religion: How anti-Muslim sentiment threatens religious freedom | Toronto Star

Asma Maryam Ali and Amira Elghawaby on risks to religious freedom.

While Muslim women should feel safe wearing the hijab, is there not also a broader question of religious edicts requiring head coverings, or the need for edicts permitting their removal?

And yet, news of emerging anti-Muslim militias, the significant rise of hate crimes and hate incidents and apparent lack of consequences, the proliferation of xenophobic, and bigoted groups online, the tacit acceptance of discriminatory policies by some municipalities, and even occasional political rhetoric targeting Muslim communities, threaten to undermine all that is positive.

Some Muslim women in our circles are now seeking religious edicts that deem it acceptable to remove the head scarf in order to feel safe. In a striking parallel, Muslims in 15th century Spain sought a similar edict from the Mufti of Wahran to allow them to alter what many deem an Islamic compulsory act so that they could be less visible.

Canadian Muslims at work and school are also now debating whether to worship at the appointed times or to delay it in order to avoid tension. In June, anti-Muslim protesters gathered to protest in front of a secondary school in Toronto as students were heading home.

A 2016 study out of San Francisco State University highlighted how American Muslim children between the ages of 5 and 9 years old are internalizing this zeitgeist. According to the findings, one in three children did not want to tell anyone they are Muslim, 1-in-2 did not know whether they could be both American and Muslim, and 1-in6 would pretend not to be Muslim.

This process, called “dissimulation” by the late French scholar Jean Baudrillard, is deeply concerning because it signifies a gradual deterioration of cultural and religious identity.

Where does this leave us? With a faith and identity that’s constantly in question, and inevitably in flux. We must collectively address these worrying trends in order to promote healthy, cohesive communities where everyone is encouraged to fulfil their potential and be true to their varied and diverse identities.

Let’s not allow these values to be relegated to Canada’s own history books.

Source: Losing our religion: How anti-Muslim sentiment threatens religious freedom | Toronto Star

The never-ending argument over what is “real Islam”

Good piece and advice from The Economist:

IN THE commentariat, the world of higher learning (religious and otherwise) and the corridors of political power, the long-running, hot-tempered debate about the real nature of Islam shows no sign of reaching a conclusion. The temperature rises every time some ghastly act of violence is perpetrated by people who say they are inspired by their Muslim beliefs. Broadly it pits those who think that killers who practise violence in Islam’s name are traducing the faith and perhaps mis-stating their own motives, up against those who insist that Islam’s core beliefs (and not just some idosyncratic version of them) can easily prompt people to take up the sword.

Sam Harris, an atheist public intellectual, is among the best-known advocates of the second view. Despite the change of guard at the White House, and the apparent conversion of Donald Trump to a slightly more emollient view of Islam, Mr Harris is still pouring scorn on Barack Obama for insisting that Islam was at heart a religion of peace. Another person whose views Mr Harris excoriates is Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim thinker who combines leftist political ideas with fairly traditional religious ones. Mr Ramadan incurs the American writer’s contempt when he argues that political, economic or geopolitical grievance, rather than any Muslim beliefs, motivate the terrorist group known as Islamic State (IS).

In a new twist of the argument, Mr Harris has published a podcast, lasting nearly two hours, in which he discusses these matters with Graeme Wood, an author and reporter who has travelled the world interviewing prominent members or supporters of IS and probing their motives and intentions. Both broadly agree that some widely held Muslim beliefs, especially those connected with the world’s end times and the battles portending that era, are important drivers of violent behaviour. But this emphasis has been dismissed as “deeply wrong” by Phil Torres, author of a book entitled “The End: What Science and Religion Tell Us About the Apocalypse”. His book argues that apocalyptic ideas could easily become self-fulfilling. But he also observes that bloodshed (and other dramatic events) in the here-and-now are the real reasons why people suddenly start to think about the final acts in history.

All participants in this discussion merit a hearing. Mr Harris and Mr Wood do a decent job of demolishing some of the more simplistic arguments used to support the views they dislike. For example, the point is often made that many of the people who become jihadis, whether they are converts or Muslim by birth, lack theological sophistication. Indeed, at least one was found to be studying a book with the self-explanatory title, “Islam for dummies”. So, the argument goes, being extremely Muslim and being extremely violent do not seem to go together.

The point about non-sophistication may be true as far it goes, but as both Mr Harris and Mr Wood agree, a person can be very passionate about a belief system without fully understanding its details. And there is no guarantee that even if those details were fully mastered, they would prompt the learner to behave in more peaceful ways. To put it bluntly, jihadis may indeed be theologically ignorant, but that does not prove that a sound theological education would make them more peaceful. (That said, there may be plenty of other reasons for encouraging nuanced theological awareness.)

Mr Wood’s research has reinforced his view that IS is much more apocalyptic in its mentality than earlier jihadi movements such as al-Qaeda. IS propagandists take seriously the notion that Dabiq, a location in northern Syria, will witness a titanic battle between Islamic forces and those of “Rome”—which might mean anything from NATO to the Christian world to the constitutionally secular republic of Turkey. Also widespread is the expectation that an Antichrist figure known as Dajjal will emerge (possibly from an island in the Red Sea) and kill Muslim fighters until Jesus returns to earth and leads the faithful to victory. (Jesus is the second-most-revered prophet in Islam after Muhammad.)

Mr Torres agrees that these beliefs are widely held and significant, but also asks why this is now the case. It was the 2003 assault by America and Britain on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq which turned many Sunni Muslims to end-time thinking, he notes: “prior to the US invasion, Sunni Muslims were uninterested in apocalypticism.” He points out that apocalyptic thinking is most widespread in the two countries where American-led armies have entered in force, Iraq and Afghanistan. As Mr Torres sees things, apocalyptic obsessions can be both a result and a cause of real-world violence.

So how can the “true nature” of Islam, or any other religion, be determined? It might be helpful to divide statements about this into two categories. First, there are value judgments, usually made from inside the boundaries of one’s belief system. This includes statements from religious authority figures such as: “Having studied and reflected on the matter, I believe the real message of our religion’s founder(s) is…” Such messages can have moral force even if they run completely counter to the way in which most followers of a religion have, in practice, acted.

In the second basket are historical or sociological statements, which can be made by any fair-minded observer. These are on the long lines of: “Whatever the prophets and scriptures of this religion may teach, it’s an observable fact that hundreds of millions of followers of this faith behave in certain ways, and that they root this stance in their religious world view.” You might call it a behaviourist approach. In the case of modern Islam, one would have to concede that a not-insignificant number of Muslims are, in some cases, prepared to condone religious violence. But they are far outnumbered by the hundreds of millions of Muslims who live peaceful, law-abiding lives and hope that others will do the same. These are statements which can be debated, investigated, affirmed or falsified in a way that religious statements cannot.

For figures of secular authority, be they American presidents, counter-terrorism officials or even opinion-makers, it is often best to stick to the second kind of statement. The “real” nature of a religion, if such a concept has any meaning at all, is hard for an outsider to determine, and certainly well beyond the remit of a more-or-less secular state.

Source: The never-ending argument over what is “real Islam”

Islam in Germany: Berlin Mosque Where Burqas Are Banned and LGBT Muslims Welcome Defies Fatwa

Says something about the Turkish and Egyptian religious authorities:

The woman who opened a mosque in Berlin where men and women pray together and face-covering headscarves are banned has vowed to defy a fatwa from Egypt’s highest Islamic authority and criticism from the Turkish government.

German-Turkish women’s rights activist Seyran Ates, 54, pioneered the opening of the Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque in the Moabit neighborhood of Berlin on June 16. Ates said that the mosque was open to all, including LGBT Muslims, and would seek to provide a liberal counterpoint to extremist interpretations of Islam espoused by groups like the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

But the mosque has not been received well by traditional Islamic authorities in Egypt and Turkey, where Ates was born. Al-Azhar University in Cairo, which is widely regarded as the world’s highest authority on Sunni Islamic theology and sharia law, issued a religious judgement (or fatwa) criticizing liberal mosques in general, according to The Guardian.

Egypt’s state-run Islamic institution, Dar al-Ifta al-Masriyyah, issued a statement on June 19 heavily criticizing the Berlin mosque, saying that men and women praying side by side was a violation of Islam and stating that such liberalization of Islamic values was not the way to combat extremism.

In Turkey, the criticism has been widespread and virulent. Turkey’s main religious authority, Diyanet, said that the Berlin mosque’s practices “do not align with Islam’s fundamental resources, principles of worship, methodology or experience of more than 14 centuries” and described them as “experiments aimed at nothing more than depraving and ruining religion.”

Turkish media outlets have also accused Ates of ties to Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed Gulen for the failed coup in July 2016, which has led to a massive crackdown on freedom of speech and political opposition in Turkish society.

But Ates told The Guardian that she took heart from the criticism. “The pushback I am getting makes me feel that I am doing the right thing,” she said. “God is loving and merciful—otherwise he wouldn’t have turned me into the person I am.”

The mosque is housed in part of an old Lutheran church and is open to Muslims of all traditions, including Sunni and Shiite, as well as people of other religions or no faith. Ates, who is in training as an imam, has led prayers at the mosque; the position of imam is traditionally reserved for men in mainstream Islam.

She also banned the wearing of burqas and niqabs—the former covers the whole face except the eyes; the latter covers the entire face, with a mesh for the wearer to see through—at the mosque as she considered such practices to be “political statements,” Ates said in an interview with German magazine Spiegel.

Ates told The Guardian that the congregation has dwindled since the mosque opened as would-be worshippers stayed away due to the controversy. She said that the mosque had nothing to do with Gulen or his followers, and added that she has been the subject of abuse and death threats herself.

Preaching at the mosque on Friday, Ates called upon her critics to be “brave enough to show their true face” and voice their concerns publicly. “Allah knows their true face anyway. And it is Allah to whom they are accountable, not us,” she said.

On its website, the mosque says that it seeks to promote a “secular liberal Islam that separates secular and religious power” and “strives for a contemporary and gender-oriented interpretation of the Qu’ran and ‘hadith.” The hadith is a collection of sayings about the life and practice of the Prophet Muhammad, which mainstream Sunni Muslims interpret as a normative guide for religious belief and practice.

Ates’ project has defenders as well as critics. Following the statement from Turkey’s Diyanet, a spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry, Martin Schaefer, said that he “rejected all comments that clearly intend to deprive people in Germany of their right to freely exercise their religion and to limit the right to free expression of opinion,” Reuters reported.

A Malaysian female imam based in the U.S., Ani Zonneveld, hit back at criticism received in her home country after she led the call to prayer at the Berlin mosque, while Mona Eltahawy, a prominent Egyptian Muslim feminist and author, expressed her solidarity with Ates.

Source: Islam in Germany: Berlin Mosque Where Burqas Are Banned and LGBT Muslims Welcome Defies Fatwa

ICYMI: Liberal mosque opens in Berlin – The Washington Post

Interesting example of how Islam can evolve in the West:

Inside the red-brick building that now houses the German capital’s newest and perhaps most unusual mosque, Seyran Ates is staging a feminist revolution of the Muslim faith.

“Allahu akbar,” chanted a female voice, uttering the Arabic expression “God is great,” as a woman with two-toned hair issued the Muslim call to prayer. In another major break with tradition, men and women — typically segregated during worship — heeded the call by sitting side by side on the carpeted floor.

Ates, a self-proclaimed Muslim feminist and founder of the new mosque, then stepped onto the cream-colored carpet and delivered a stirring sermon. Two imams — a woman and a man — later took turns leading the Friday prayers in Arabic. The service ended with the congregation joining two visiting rabbis in singing a Hebrew song of friendship.

And just like that, the inaugural Friday prayers at Berlin’s Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque came to a close — offering a different vision of Islam on a continent that is locked in a bitter culture war over how and whether to welcome the faith. Toxic ills like radicalization, Ates and her supporters argue, have a potentially easy fix: the introduction of a more progressive, even feminist brand of the faith.

“The intention is to give liberal Islam a sacred space,” Ates said. “I feel very discriminated by regular mosques where women have to pray in ugly backrooms.”

The subject of withering criticism as well as hopeful support, the house of worship is part of a small but growing number of liberal mosques founded all or in part by women.
Seen by their backers as an antidote to gender bias that often leaves Muslim women praying in smaller spaces, the new kind of “feminist mosques” amount to a rallying cry for change, observers say.

In London, for instance, the female-founded Inclusive Mosque Initiative opened its doors in 2012. Female imams routinely lead prayers in spaces that welcome male and female Muslims of any sect — gays and lesbians included. More recently, mixed-gender or all-female prayers have spread to boutique mosques from California to Switzerland to Denmark.

Women and men traditionally pray separately in mosques for reasons of modesty. Some argue that the Koran does not explicitly call for separation, but others say that female voices should not be heard during prayer.

Source: Liberal mosque opens in Berlin – The Washington Post

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

To escape abusive marriages, many Christians in Pakistan convert to Islam | Religion News Service

Interesting:

For a Pakistani Christian like Shameela Masih, divorcing her abusive husband meant two choices — both nearly as bad as staying in the marriage.

“I have to prove adultery allegations against him,” said Masih, a 34-year-old mother of two. “The other option I have is to convert to Islam.”

Masih recently filed for divorce from a husband she said “frequently beats me up” and a mother-in-law who she said burned her leg with coal.

But under the majority-Muslim country’s laws, she must produce a witness who would testify to committing adultery with her husband. As a result, she’s now reluctantly planning to renounce her faith.

“Converting is the easiest way out,” she said. “My family tells me that they will disown me as a Muslim, but I don’t have a choice.”

Now Pakistani officials are considering revising the law to make it easier for couples to part ways.

“There are so many things in the existing 19th-century Christian Marriage Act that need to be revised and updated to stop the exploitation of people and protect the human rights,” said Kamran Michael, the federal minister for human rights who is spearheading the drive for the legislation.

The law grants divorces to Christian couples on four grounds: adultery, conversion, marriage to another or cruelty. But proving adultery or cruelty is tough, especially in Pakistan, where adultery is a crime, and the stigma against domestic violence is weak in many parts of the country. Christians comprise less than 2 percent of Pakistan’s population of 189 million.

Muslims, on the other hand, can easily obtain a divorce for a variety of reasons, including irreconcilable differences.

Formerly, Pakistan’s laws on divorce mirrored those in Britain. But in the early 1980s, then-military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq restored older laws from the colonial period that applied to Christians divorcing. For Muslims, he left revised laws from the 1960s intact.

“The current law on Christian divorce undermines the dignity of women,” said Fauzia Viqar, who chairs the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women. “Many Christian women are left in marriages where they are suffering cruelty by husbands without any relief from the state.”

Source: To escape abusive marriages, many Christians in Pakistan convert to Islam | Religion News Service

Taliban Target: Scholars of Islam – The New York Times

Taliban mentality and reminder of one of the battles within Islam:

A lone grave, its dirt mound shaded under the drooping branches of a mulberry tree and kept adorned with flowers, has become a daily stop for seminary students and staff members near Togh-Bairdi, in northern Afghanistan.

It is the burial site of Mawlawi Shah Agha Hanafi, a revered religious scholar who founded the seminary about two decades ago and helped it grow into a thriving school for 1,300 students, including 160 girls. This month, the Taliban planted a bomb that killed him as he conducted a discussion about the Prophet Muhammad’s traditions, and his grave, at a corner of the seminary grounds, has become a gathering place for prayer and grief.

“When I come to work, the first thing I do is recite a verse of the Quran at his grave,” said Jan Agha, the headmaster of the seminary, in Parwan Province. “Then I weep, and then I go to my office.”

Mawlawi Hanafi joined a rapidly growing list of Islamic religious scholars who have become casualties of the Afghan war.

The scholars have long been targets, of one kind or another, in Afghanistan. Their words carry weight across many parts of society, and they are assiduously courted for their support — and frequently killed for their criticism.

Hundreds are believed to have been killed over the past 16 years of war, and not always by the Taliban. But there has been a definite uptick in the targeted killing of scholars — widely known as ulema — as the Taliban have intensified their offensives in the past two years, officials say.

It is being taken as a clear reminder of the weight the insurgents give not just to military victories but also to religious influence in their campaign to disrupt the government and seize territory.

“The reason the Taliban resort to such acts is that they want to make sure their legitimacy is not questioned by the sermons of these ulema,” said Mohammad Moheq, a noted Afghan scholar of religion who also serves as an adviser to President Ashraf Ghani.

New Jersey Town Used Zoning to Discriminate Against Islam – The New York Times

Courts worked:

At issue was an official demand that the mosque provide 107 parking spots for its 150 worshipers, instead of the ratio of one spot for every three users required of the township’s churches, synagogues, restaurants and auditoriums.

The Planning Board’s parking requirement for the mosque set off an avalanche: If the Islamic Society were to devote as much of its land to parking as the board demanded, it would not be able to comply with mandates for drainage and lighting.

“Are both synagogues and mosques considered churches under the definitions that the township operates under?” Judge Shipp asked.

Photo

Mohammad Ali Chaudry, president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, at the site of the proposed mosque last year. CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

Mr. Mankoff: “No.”

Judge Shipp: “Is a mosque considered a church?”

Mr. Mankoff: “No.”

Judge Shipp: “So it is different?”

Mr. Mankoff: “Yes, your Honor.”

How so, the judge wanted to know. Mr. Mankoff said that mosques were busy on Friday evenings, rather than on Sundays.

Judge Shipp probed the implications of that answer.

“Is the board, in essence, adopting a policy that expressly applies different standards based on religion?” he asked.

“It’s not based on religion,” Mr. Mankoff said. “It’s based simply on the parking needs of the applicants.”

The judge did not accept that. “Counsel, you just stood there and told me that when you look at a mosque, you’re looking at a Friday worship,” Judge Shipp said. “When you look at Christian churches, you’re looking at a weekend worship.”

A lawyer for the Islamic Society, Adeel A. Mangi of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, pointed out that the township’s synagogues did not have the same severe parking requirements. “They pray on a Friday, too,” Mr. Mangi said.

Over nearly four years, the proposed mosque was the subject of 39 hearings. Beneath the technical land-use discussions in public, a sulfurous tone was captured in emails that the Justice Department uncovered.

“As a religion, Islam owes its size and influence to a tradition from Day 1 of forced conversions through violent means,” wrote John Malay, who served on both the Planning Board and the Township Committee. Members of the two bodies discussed ways to exclude the president of the Islamic Society, Mohammad Ali Chaudry, a former mayor of the township, from a Sept. 11 commemoration. John Carpenter, a member of the Township Committee, wrote of President Obama: “Man child. The product of fools, raised by idiots and coddled by affirmative action. Behold the beast.”

None of these materials were part of Judge Shipp’s decision, which was based entirely on the filings made by the township itself.

Michael Turner, a spokesman for the township, said that many people served their township without compensation. They have the power and responsibility to shape the place where they live. In the case of Bernards Township, Judge Shipp found, it was too much.

“The Parking Ordinance unambiguously provides the Planning Board with unbridled and unconstitutional discretion,” he wrote.

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