Such work has obvious benefits for Wahdah Islamiyah as it raises its public profile. However, it also plays upon a broader ideological vision of the relationship between Indonesia and Islamic organisations. According to one leading Wahdah Islamiyah member, the government and Islamic organisations must be partners, with the latter playing a vital role in welfare and education on behalf of the former.

This is necessary due to the sheer size of Indonesia. It is also historical – given the role Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah have played in previous decades. Accordingly, Wahdah Islamiyah sees little that is new – structurally speaking at least – in the way it engages with the state compared to other Islamic counterparts. Pious Muslims have always acted as good citizens who strengthen the Indonesian nation.

Morality and the private sphere

Yet, Wahdah Islamiyah′s welfare and education programmes provide an avenue through which it disseminates a particular interpretation of Islamic morality and vision of Indonesian citizenship. This vision diverges from those of Muhammadiyah or Nahdlatul Ulama. Wahdah Islamiyah views its cadres as agents who use such activities to promote Islamic principles and their role in everyday life.

An important dimension of this vision is a lack of differentiation between private and public spheres. It is an obvious feature of any religious group to regard every aspect of one′s conduct and thought as having transcendental consequence, but Wahdah Islamiyah challenges liberal interpretations of citizenship that see the private sphere as out of bounds for state regulation.

Emblem of the Indonesian Islamic Convention sponsored by Wahdah Islamiyah (source:
Creeping Salafism: Wahdah Islamiyah′s cadres promote a stratified understanding of citizenship that skews Indonesia′s constitutional recognition of six religions in favour of the Muslim majority. The rights of all other recognised religions remain, in their opinion, guaranteed by the state, but only so far as they do not challenge the hegemony or values of Sunni Islam. Those who fall outside these categories, such as the Shia, Ahmadiyah or LGBT communities, must be restricted – because they threaten the unity and morality of the Indonesian nation as a whole

Wahdah Islamiyah supports efforts to regulate citizen behaviour on grounds that the state needs to uphold the moral character of the Indonesian nation and create a conducive environment in which Muslims can practice their faith without hindrance. The organisation conducts efforts to impose Sharia by-laws that regulate dress and restrict the intermingling of sexes or inter-religious marriage.

Cadres strongly believe that Indonesian authorities need to ensure that public order is upheld and problems such as alcohol consumption, theft and gambling are reduced; that Islam is taught in schools; that all government employees understand Islamic principles and obligations; and that so-called deviant Islamic sects, as well as the LGBT community, are criminalised. Wahdah Islamiyah′s leaders argue that the state must refer to Islamic organisations such as themselves, who would ″provide input to leaders so that Islamic precepts are guarded properly in Indonesia″.

In its teachings and sermons, Wahdah Islamiyah has made repeated reference to the dangers of so-called deviant beliefs such as Ahmadiyah and Shia Islam. For example, in 2008 – after a joint ministerial decree severely circumscribed the rights of Indonesia′s Ahmadi community – Wahdah Islamiyah worked together with the Ministry of Home Affairs to ′socialise′ the dangers of the Ahmadiyah to individuals across Makassar.

Wahdah Islamiyah′s cadres have also been successful in demanding the Makassar city government to prohibit any public commemoration of Ashura, the Shia holiday that remembers the death of Husain ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad. The effect of such demands has been a notable increase in harassment of the Shia community in Makassar as well as public ambivalence, even acceptance of this behaviour, over the past five years.

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