Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Indonesian Islam--the Good, the Bad and the Really Bad

Here's an interesting look at Indonesia's version of Islam. In many respects, it is far more moderate than the by-the-book approach of, say, Saudi Arabia. Then again, pockets (big ones) of extremism and the intolerance borne of sharia continue to thrive.

The good:
When the holy Ramadan fast began on Jul. 21, it arrived almost unnoticed in the country. 
Loudspeakers that usually blast prayers starting at dawn have been turned down as a courtesy to believers of other faiths; there are no ostentatious displays of piety, and eating in the streets is not prohibited, as it is in most other Islamic countries.

In a nation of 240 million where 90 percent are Muslims and most observe the fast, many customers are still seen sipping cafe lattes at Starbucks outlets in Jakarta’s glitzy malls, or bustling around food courts at lunchtime.

This is a completely different scene than in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, where officials have warned non-Muslim expatriates that eating, drinking or smoking in public during the holy month risks deportation.
The bad:
However, there are limitations to religious acceptance. On official identity cards, Indonesians are forced to choose between only six accepted religions in the country.
Also, atheism is illegal according to the country’s constitution and just last June an Indonesian man was sentenced to two and a half years in jail for propagating his atheism on the Internet.
Blasphemy, also considered a felony, earned a Shiite cleric a two-year prison term in July for causing “public anxiety” because his teachings deviated from the mainstream Sunni Islam practiced in Indonesia.
Members of the minority Ahmadiyah sect who, contrary to mainstream Muslims, do not regard Muhammad as the last prophet, are often attacked. The most recent incident took place last month when a mob attacked the homes of six members of the Ahmadiyah community while a group of journalists was attempting to shoot a documentary about them. Four people were injured in the brawl.
Some Christian churches have been forced to close under pressure and last May a group of radical Muslims in West Java prevented a Christian congregation from holding a service by hurling sewage and frogs at them, according to a parishioner quoted by a local newspaper.
“On paper, Indonesia respects and protects the religious and ethnic diversity of its citizens. But this beautiful ‘social contract’ between the state and its people unfortunately means almost nothing on the ground,” Bona Sigalingging, spokesman for the Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church (GKI), told IPS.
“It is a manufactured image being sold to the international community,” he added. 
The really bad:
Despite optimism, tensions in some regions continue to boil over. This patterns of intolerance, if allowed to continue, could risk souring Indonesia’s unique blend of Islam.

A week after the start of Ramadan a bar in South Jakarta was ransacked by a mob of more than 100 people for serving alcoholic drinks, local media reported.

The local news website quoted the mob’s alleged leader, Habib Bahar (33), as saying, “It is usual for me and my followers to raid sinful places during Ramadan.”
Can Indonesia's unique brand of Islam survive such fanaticism? Maybe. But I tend to doubt it.

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