Islam in Indonesia

The agents of change

Where is Indonesia heading? With Islamic organisations become increasingly vocal commentators in the public debate about morality and religious minority rights, the concept of citizenship in Indonesia is undergoing a gradual, yet profoundly disturbing transformation. By Chris Chaplin

Islamic organisations have formed an integral part of Indonesia′s social fabric since the early part of the twentieth century. Organisations such as Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama are broad social bodies whose activities focus on Islamic propagation, education and welfare. Inevitably, they also play an important role in informing how their members come to synthesise national and religious identities. Their reach across the nation, vast member base and political influence ensure that they have historically been at the heart of national developments.

After the fall of Suharto, a much wider range of Islamic organisations started to gain strength and prominence. They have become vocal commentators on national debates concerning religious minority rights and morality – often eclipsing their larger and more established counterparts in doing so. The recent mass protests against former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known by the name ′Ahok′, made clear that various new groups carrying the banner of Islam have developed a mobilisational capacity of their own. Among them were the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Hidayatullah and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI).

Another was Wahdah Islamiyah, a community organisation influenced by the Salafists that originates from Makassar, where this research was primarily based. It now has 120 branches and 170 schools throughout Indonesia. Through lectures and intense ′cadre-isation′ programmes, members of Wahdah Islamiyah are taught they must emulate the first three generations of Muslims in every aspect of their lives and ensure society adheres to a strict interpretation of Islamic doctrine. By doing this, they aim not just to change the way Indonesians come to interpret Islam, but also to alter the form and substance of citizenship in Indonesia itself.

Pious Muslims make good citizens

Wahdah Islamiyah and organisations like it increasingly argue that the creation of pious individuals and good citizens are not separate. Wahdah Islamiyah encourages its members to take an active role in promoting both social welfare and Islamic education. Cadres believe that following correct Islamic practice requires that they work for the betterment of society. While they emphasise that such a mission implies worldwide dynamics (as they are part of the global ummah), their activism focuses predominantly on the Indonesian nation-state.

Teaching children at Al-Muhtadin Koranic Education Centre, Indonesia (source: tpamuhtadin.wordpress.com)
Inculcating the young: cadres believe that following correct Islamic practice requires that they work for the betterment of society. They are required to assist communities through sustained programmes, such as teaching young children about Islam through Taman Pendidikan Al-Quran (Koranic education centres, TPA for short), centred around Makassar

Cadres are encouraged to become ′agents of change′. They are required to assist communities through sustained programmes, such as teaching young children about Islam through Taman Pendidikan Al-Quran (Koranic education centres, TPA for short). These are Islamic classes held at local mosques throughout Makassar. Cadres also act as a pool of volunteers who can be mobilised for Wahdah Islamiyah′s welfare and disaster relief programmes when needed. Indeed, members of Wahdah Islamiyah have previously travelled from South Sulawesi to Aceh and Yogyakarta in order to assist in disaster relief after the 2004 tsunami and the 2006 earthquake.

As part of this effort, Wahdah Islamiyah builds working relationships with local and national government offices. For example, they have signed an agreement with the Ministry of Social Affairs to assist the government with welfare provision in remote villages. They have also signed an agreement with the Ministry for Remote Village Development and Transmigration to launch the ′one village, one preacher′ programme to help solve (as they see it) drug addiction and immorality amongst Indonesia′s youth.

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