Indonesian Democracy and Islam

Dec 27th, 2005, in News, Opinion, by

According to the Freedom House annual report on democracy in the world there exists one democracy in the middle east. Despite the regular attacks and hatred that this lonely democracy in a sea of Muslim terror and repression attracts from many in the West Israel remains the only bright spot on an otherwise darkly painted canvas.

One might assume from analysis of the picture that there is something about Islam and its associated culture that is eternally problematic, hostile to democracy and freedom. A more intrepid student might venture into the pages of the Quran, the hadiths, and the writings of Islamic holy men and scholars throughout the centuries, and there find confirmation for this view, confirmation of which exists in ample supply. Not so Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune who, in this piece, holds up Indonesia as a powerful and instructive reminder of the broad, sunlit democratic uplands that await the Islamic world if only it would become “moderate”.

Anyone who thinks Islam is congenitally hostile to democracy, however, will have to explain Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-dominated nation, which is now categorized as free.

Indonesia News is more than willing to take up the challenge so squarely put down by Mr Chapman of Ignoranceville, USA.

Indonesia is indeed Muslim dominated. The proportion of Muslims in the population is figured anywhere from 80 to 95% although we incline to the lower number. The question which occupies us is to what extent are these some 200 millions of people truly Muslim, to what extent do they have any idea of what their religion means, even broadly, and what that religion says about politics and freedom.

The reality is that most Indonesian Muslims are quite ignorant of their faith. The former President of Indonesia, and a Muslim cleric, Gus Dur, put it more bluntly: “most Indonesians know nothing of their religion”. What they in fact do know are the rituals, the meaningless, archaic movements of the hands and other silliness.

The percentage of Muslims in Indonesia who have read the Quran in any detail is very small. What they understand about their faith can only be very limited and we believe it is limited mostly to a sense of belonging to a wider group, the umma, and that this belonging will entitle them to reward in the afterlife. As long as they follow the rituals they are Muslims.

The actual details of the religion, and specifically what it says about how societies should be governed are little known. The Quran leaves much open and it has fallen to scholars throughout the ages to interpret it, and make Islamic provisions for matters which are not dealt with in the holy book. Of the writings of this classical Islamic canon Indonesians are even more ignorant.

When Islam penetrated Indonesia it did so in a relatively gentle way. Existing faiths were accommodated and this resulted in a uniquely syncretic faith, particularly in the villages of east and central Java, and in inland areas generally. Many of the “Muslims” concerned here were, and some still are, essentially “pagans” with Islamic ritual grafted onto their indigineous Javanese beliefs.

However on coastal areas, and in Aceh, a purer form of Islam took hold, one which entirely rejected the earlier traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. As an old time communist would say, it is no accident that one of these regions, Aceh, became the first part of Indonesia to institute sharia law.

As time has moved on the syncretic form of Islam has gradually been losing out to the stricter kind, as reformists seek to harmonise Indonesian Islam with the “true”, authentic middle eastern form. Indonesia is thus in the (perhaps early) stages of Arabisation and it is our view that in time the moderate Islam that Indonesia is so famous for will be a memory only, a memory cherished by those useful idiots in the West who are so desperate to avert their eyes from the true nature of Islam.

6 Comments on “Indonesian Democracy and Islam”

  1. O. Bule says:

    While I am a westerner (USA), I am also a Moslem, having convertied when I married my Indonesian wife. The piece to which I am responding is obviously the work of someone who dislikes Islam. I to am worried that the “moderate Islam that Indonesia is so famous for” will be inexorably overwhelmed by the extremist, Arab style Islam. However, I do not see Islam as a cult, and the degree to which it fosters violence is determined by two things: The evil in the hearts of those who preach hate under the false flag of religion, and the gulibility of their audiences. I pray to almighty God that the Indonesian people have the good sense to not only ignore the rantings of these evil people, but to eliminate them from Indonesian society.

    Orang Bule

  2. Orang Baik says:

    I agree with Orang Bule di atas.

  3. bunclyinsacka@@@@ says:

    Tell that to thousands of christians or ethnic chinese! that being slaughtered all over the country! because they just being christians and chinese! how do you justifiy the FPI, or any other radical islamist group who chanting to hang 3 innnocent ladies just because merely they just try to help muslim childreen from being hungry or malnourished?
    It will take the whole world to educated the muslim! it just because they happened to inherit the apathy and ignorance. Is not about religion, is about the mentallity and the feel of entitlement to level with the rest of other races and nation which they cannot ACHIEVED for the last of 400 years! tell me other than UAE if there is any other muslim country who really succeed in both aspect of their economy and civilian life of their people? NONE! dont denied it NONE!.

    It’s a whack whack world out there.

  4. Country man says:

    How narrow and krap your comments about islam ! believe you were commenting to small amount of Moslems who become bigot due to their stupidity. Bigots are also present in Christians and Chinese…

  5. Rob says:

    There is a more current thread on a similar topic…

  6. I think Islam can be compatible with democracy, Turkey is another example of such a nation. Allot of the countries in the middle east who are not democracies, are probably that way because of a number of reasons not just religion.

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