Radicals test Indonesia tolerance

Small minority’s actions challenge perception about predominantly Muslim country.

The rise of intolerant Muslim groups is causing concern for Indonesia’s government

Indonesia is home to more Muslims than any other country, largely enjoying a reputation for tolerance and moderation.

But outbursts of violence from small but vocal minorities are challenging that perception.

In recent years radical groups have attacked bars, brothels and Christian churches. And that is causing concern for Indonesia’s government.

The Islamic Defenders’ Front (IDF) is one such group. Its members can be seen training in poor districts of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
Law unto themselves

IDF members say they do not go looking for trouble, but they are happy to take the law into their hands, closing and smashing up bars, brothels and gambling dens.

“If they are open, we initially give them written warnings and so on,” Abu Shorfayail, an IDF activist, says. “And if they still don’t close down, then we will have to go down there and forcibly close them.”

The IDF is perhaps best known for its attack on the offices of Indonesian version of Playboy magazine. 

That gained it international attention, and raised the IDF’s profile in Indonesia as well.

More than 80 per cent of Indonesia’s 220 million people are Muslim.

Cause for concern

The government says the vast majority of Indonesians are opposed to less tolerant forms of Islam, yet the vocal minority still causes concern.

Atho Mudzhar, from the department of religious affairs, told Al Jazeera: “The radical groups are very small in number but are very noisy too.

The actions of a small vocal minority of Muslims
is shaping perception and creating fears

“We saw some instances like the Bali bombing was the result of some radical ideas, so we have to be worried all the time about this.”

The activities of radical groups are hard to miss. In a west Java neighbourhood, a Christian church bears the handiwork of the Anti Apostacy Alliance (AAA).

The church has suffered multiple attacks over a period of years.

The graffiti on the walls threatens to tear down the entire building.

The AAA is troubled by what it sees as an increase in conversions to Christianty.

“Conversions to Christianity in Indonesia, especially in Bandung and Jawa Barat, have become increasingly serious,” Muhammad Mukmin, from the Anti Apostasy Alliance, says.

“In my judgement I think it is a bigger evil than terrorism.”

Rural tolerance

The moderate and more traditional practice of Islam in Indonesia is reflected in less dramatic scenes than those likely to involve groups such as the AAA and IDF.

In a typical village in south central Java, rice farmers see no conflict between their Islamic faith and offerings made to spirits of the field.

Wardoyo, a farmer, said: “I consider myself a good Muslim because all these rituals are just another way of worshipping. The rice goddess is called Devi Sri. This rice sheaf you can take home with you and your blessings will multiply.”

Such ordinary daily activities don’t grab headlines, and neither do the millions of faithful who fill Indonesia’s mosques.

But the actions of a small minority willing to use violence do far more to shape opinion and create fear.

Source : Al Jazeera

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