Indonesia Edges Closer To Fundamental Islam


If asked to name the nation with the largest Muslim population in the world, many would look to the Middle East. Yet, it is the Southeast Asian nation of Indonesia which holds this tenuous crown.

The world’s fourth most populous nation, Indonesia is home to approximately 260 million people, 88 percent of whom follow the tenets of Islam. Until recently, Indonesia’s population served as an ideal of religious tolerance compared to many Asian nations, particularly when compared with the majority of Muslim nations.

Yet, the tide appears to be turning in Indonesia, with a young generation that has exhibited a desire to move the nation in a direction eerily reminiscent of Middle-Eastern blueprints. Several steps have been taken toward this authoritarian, Sharia-based form of governance, with the imprisonment of one former governor serving as the catalyst for the move toward fundamentalism.

Basuki Tjahaja Purname, known to Indonesians as “Ahok”, was the overwhelmingly popular governor of Indonesia’s capital province, Jakarta. As of September 2016, he garnered a 70 percent approval rating, despite being a member of the Chinese and Christian minorities in Indonesia.

However, in September of 2016 he noted during a campaign rally Islamic verses that warned against Muslims taking Christians and Jews as allies. After some sly editing, the video was virally circulated and Ahok was accused of blasphemy, a fatwa issued upon him by the FPI, a fundamentalist Islamic group in Indonesia.

He was formally charged, causing rifts within a country in which many Muslims would hang signs declaring both their Muslim faith and their support of Ahok. On the contrary, many, including FPI leader Rizieq Shihab, suggested Ahok be imprisoned or executed for his alleged crime. In ironic yet predictable fashion, radical clerics used verses from the Quran to argue that Muslims could not, in good conscience, vote for a Christian.

Ahok, now facing blasphemy charges, remained in the governor’s race. However, he ultimately would lose 58-42 percent to Anies Baswedan, a Muslim who gave at least one speech at FPI headquarters and began wearing conspicuously Islamic attire with more frequency.

When it came time for Ahok to stand trial, he was found guilty of blasphemy. The prosecutor suggested he receive only probation with a one-year suspended sentence. Instead, a five-judge panel doled out a two-year prison sentence, resulting in the promotion of three of the judges to the Indonesia Supreme Court the very next day.

While much of the nation remains loyal to Ahok and embraces the religious tolerance and secularism that has allowed the third-largest democracy in the world to remain intact, the seeds of radicalization have begun to sprout.

Informed observers note that some of the strongest bases of fundamental Islamic sentiment reside in the nation’s youth, in particular with University student. This alone casts a dark shadow over the future of a nation known for its religious, political, and economic freedoms.

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