Indonesia’s Religious Demography Is On The Brink Of A Challenge

Although Indonesia set a benchmark in practicing liberal Islam, the future looks distorted for now.

Indonesia, the largest Islamic nation, is revered for championing the entanglement of liberal economics and pious religious practice with least signs of growing radicalisation. Unlike other Islamic nations where radical Islam followers persecutes non-adherents of Sharia law, Indonesia has been extensively plural in religious practice, and in accommodating ethnic minorities under its fold, without threatening their existence. Widodo, Indonesia’s president, is bent on eliminating practices that indulge and attract radicalisation, while also adopting liberal economic policies. What lies ahead for the nation is its tactful handling of growing global radical influence through all means that challenges the failed prevention measures adopted by other Islamic nations.

Having almost 90% of its population practicing Islam is probably the greatest benefit Widodo has in channelling religious practice towards liberal markets by considering and accommodating rigid concerns of all ethnicity. Fortunately for Indonesia, support comes from religious communities, one of which is the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) organization, which preaches non-violence and propounds tenets of peaceful progression to its followers. Widodo has learned smartly to involve religious minorities in political developments, and pluralise the economy through liberal policies with a sole intention of reducing income inequality. Indonesian leaders of the past, believed that income inequality when addressed, could outgrow radical interpretations of religious doctrines, and thus help build a peaceful nation.

On a related note, the growing threat of radicalisation cannot be ruled out, as ISIS weakens in its territory retention and radicalised Indonesian youth return homeward. Saudi Arabia, having invested billions of dollars to spread puritanical Salafi Islam in Indonesia, the threats of radicalisation remain a disturbing possibility. Anti-liberal Muslim organisations such as Islamic Defenders Front (IDF) are increasingly posing resistance to liberal Muslim intellectuals, who support a plural democracy. Mass demonstrations last year across the country demanding the removal of a Christian governor, Ahok, for blasphemy charges were alarming alerts to Widodo about the strength of the anti-liberal movement.

Luring Indonesian citizens through radical interpretations of Islamic scriptures to promote a movement about returning to the ancient ways of Islamic living, mainly the Sharia law, can gain traction with transcending boundaries through technology. Global outreach through social media connections and sharing of radical thoughts is a danger that can threaten Widodo’s liberal policies. In all probability, the government remains attentive to all kinds of suspicious movements. Widodo started “Detachment 88”, a counterterrorism agency designed to eliminate radicalisation threats and suppress any uprising leading to social unrest. The government remains ascertained about all eventualities.

Plans are intact to accord special detention powers to the police force, who can detain suspects on charges of terror inclination, and to amend lax immigration laws, a major policy loophole. This delegation to the police and the army, could enable them to engage heavily in preventing terror attacks. Despite many efforts of maintaining peace, Jakarta became a victim of terror bombing in January this year (the responsibility of which was taken by ISIS). Political will and agility to implement anti-terror action plans are what could prevent a repeat of Syria or a Libya.

Widodo has the mechanism for preventing ‘terror nurturing’, and that is the citizenry itself, which is largely Islamic. The policies of poverty and income inequality reduction are wise measures that the government has embarked on, but it needs stricter law enforcement to eliminate terrorist inclinations and to continue edifying liberal Islam. A collaboration of all stakeholders is undoubtedly the best prevention mechanism, else if terror outbreaks in an Islamic majority country, serious questions would be raised against the authenticity of Islamic interpretations.

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