YOGYAKARTA: If you were to open a newspaper in Indonesia today, there would be little to dispel the myth that Islam is a religion of violence. But looking more deeply at how Muslims respond to such violence shows a different reality.
For instance, a few days before Ramadan in August this year there were reports of a small group of Muslims in West Java attacking Ahmadiyyah followers. The Ahmadiyya consider themselves a Muslim community and believe the second advent of Jesus came in the person of the 19th century Mirza Ghulam Ahmad; they are considered by mainstream Muslims as a blasphemous splinter group.
But soon after, Slamet Effendi Yusuf, a leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, one of the largest Muslim organizations in the country, called on Muslim religious leaders to use persuasive dialogue and peaceful approaches to deal with differences between their communities and the Ahmadiyya.
Another violent incident happened shortly after Eid El-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, when Muslims in West Java stabbed two leaders and several followers of a Christian group during a demonstration when the Islamic Community Forum of Mustikajaya and other Islamic organizations were protesting local Christians’ plans to build a church.
In response Din Syamsuddin, Chairperson of Muhammadiyah, the second largest Indonesian Muslim organization, condemned these acts of violence towards Christians, and maintained that the government must guarantee freedom of religion for all citizens.
And on September 22, members of a terrorist network that has most recently made the news for a series of bank robberies committed in the name of Islam shot and killed three members of the police force in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province. Wanted terrorist suspect Abu Tholut allegedly plotted these robberies, claiming that any property not belonging to the group is considered a spoil of war and can be stolen to support its operations.
But Said Agil Siraj, a Nahdlatul Ulama chairperson, spoke out against the actions and stated that “there is no violence within religion, and there is no religion within violence.” Coming from a Muslim leader, statements like these go a long way toward delegitimising terrorist acts committed in the name of Islam.
In fact, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) — which serves as Indonesia’s topmost Muslim clerical body — issued a decree prohibiting terrorism in 2004. The council believes that the actions of groups such as Abu Tholut’s threaten both national sovereignty and international peace because they spread fear amongst the public. That is why the Council considers terrorism a criminal activity prohibited in Islam.
Historically, Indonesian Muslims are peaceful people and have shown an appreciation for diversity. In some parts of Indonesia, such as Jakarta, Medan, Surakarta and Malang, mosques and churches are located next to each other and people from different religions live side-by-side in harmony.
The majority of Muslim Indonesians reject violence, as shown by the Indonesian Survey Institution. In 2006, one of their surveys found that vast majority — more than 80 percent — of Muslim Indonesians disagree with the idea that the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people were a form of holy war; less than 8 percent said they agree (the rest either said they were not sure or abstained from answering).
The voices of Muslim leaders in Indonesia are very clear in speaking out against violence in the name of religion. But the continued violence indicates that some Indonesian Muslims still do not understand that the root of Islam is peace.
I believe these events serve as warnings for Muslim leaders and the entire Muslim community. We must work harder to make principles of nonviolence and peace visible in our society. This includes educating students at public schools, Islamic day schools and Islamic boarding schools about peace in order to foster future generations of Indonesians who understand that every act of violence is contrary to Islamic principles and universal human values. Most of all, however, we need to stop resorting to violence and instead learn to use dialogue to deal with our differences.
Suhadi Cholil is a lecturer at the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies Graduate School Gadjah at Mada University in Indonesia and an Islamic teacher in Yogyakarta. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).