After Indonesian Christian leaders met the country’s President to plead for action against the country’s Islamic Defenders Front, there are now fears that the largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia may also be becoming increasingly conservative in its views.
The Christian leaders told President Joko Widodo that the Islamic Defenders Front posed a “serious threat to national unity”, after it organised a series of mass rallies in Jakarta in the wake of the blasphemy accusations against Jakarta’s Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as “Ahok”).
But some members of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, the traditionally liberal Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), also attended the rallies.
The Rajaratnam School of International Studies says the organisation is now mired in a struggle about its theological direction, after many of its younger clerics sought to distance themselves from its liberal brand of Islam Nusantara (“Islam of the Islands”) by creating a new group within the NU, calling itself the “True Path”.
“As the RSIS report shows, the Islamic Defenders Front is not the only radical Islamic headache in Indonesia,” says Thomas Muller, an analyst for the World Watch Research unit of Open Doors. “If the NU’s ‘True Path’ gains ground and manages to redefine the organisation’s ideology, Christians and other religious minorities will face many more challenges than the Islamic Defenders Front poses now.
“But until then, the Islamic Defenders Front serves as a catalyst for hatred and enmity in Indonesian society and it is not just religious minorities like Christians who are wondering where its radical and divisive rhetoric may lead.”
As World Watch Monitor reported earlier this month, recent evidence suggests that violations of religious freedom are on the rise in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority nation, while a report by the New York Times focuses on how Sharia by-laws are spreading across the country.