Indonesia’s religious affairs minister: Radicals have made heaven cheap

Adelia Putri
Indonesia’s religious affairs minister: Radicals have made heaven cheap
The religious affairs minister of the country with the biggest Muslim population in the world speaks up about the rise of radicalism in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia — In the past few weeks, the Islamic State (ISIS) threat has become more and more real in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

The Indonesian government and religious leaders have strongly denounced the violent jidadist group, but support for it appears to continue to grow in Indonesia.

In March alone, 16 Indonesians were arrested in Turkey trying to cross into Syria, while another group of 16 remain unaccounted for. They are feared to have joined the hundreds of other Indonesians who have already joined ISIS. On home turf, the police anti-terrorism squad arrested several individuals believed to have recruited and faciliated the travels of those in Turkey and Syria.

Rappler sat down with Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin to ask his views about this rising radicalism. (Read and watch the Bahasa Indonesia version of the interview)

Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin. Photo by Jet Damazo-Santps/Rappler

To start with, he says, radicalism is much more complex than just a matter of religious views.

“In the ministry’s point of view, radicalism is related to religious views, but there’s more to it. People have various reasons for engaging in radical acts. They might feel that they’ve been treated unfairly, and they might have lost confidence in the system, so they fight back with extreme actions,” he told Rappler in an interview on March 26. 

“It can also come from political reasons, the economic gap, and many others. Those will be taken care of by law enforcers, but for the Religious Affairs Ministry, we’ll deal with the radicalism resulting from religious views.”

What makes a view radical and dangerous? 

Lukman said two things signal that a radical view is dangerous.

“The first one is takfiri, a point of view that says others with different beliefs are kefir, or infidel. The consequence is that they can fight with those infidels, or even kill them. This kind of view should not exist in Indonesia.”

The second criteria is the wrong understanding of the word ‘jihad’.

Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the jailed spiritual leader of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, once said jihad is a necessity for Muslims. (READ: Support ISIS, jailed Indonesian terror leader tells followers)

“Go to places with conflicts. Go abroad, but if you can’t, (fight) in Indonesia, like in Poso and Ambon. Indonesia is an infidel country as it has yet to implement Islamic law. Those who don’t want to change the system support infidels. It’s time for Muslims to start a revolution to achieve this goal,” he said in October 2012, as quoted by Islamic website

For Lukman, a member of the Islam-based United Development Party (PPP), this is not what jihad is about. He said extremists have reduced the meaning of jihad to qital — the sacrifice of lives, be it their own or others.

“Jihad actually means fighting and defending our belief. In Islam, it has a much wider spectrum, including pursuing education and helping others,” he said.

“But the meaning has been reduced to sacrificing our own lives, or others’ lives, to reach a goal. That’s why there are suicide missions, like suicide bombings.

“So, it seems like heaven is a cheap thing, that you can get to heaven just by killing yourself,” he added, citing the attraction most often used to lure Muslims to radicalism. 

“It’s too cheap and too easy, if it’s true. That’s what we have to clear up.”

How to stop radicalism from spreading?

The ministry, Lukman said, leaves the legal matters and crackdowns to law enforcers and takes the soft approach to fighting radicalism through education and providing the correct information to the public.

“This is the ministry’s job, how to develop a good and correct religious understanding, Islam that is compatible with plurality, with democracy, that supports human rights and tolerance, and spreads peace,” he said.

That is what Islam in this country is.”

To start with, the ministry is working with the Constitutional Court to engage the heads of Islamic boarding schools and Islamic mass organizations in discussions about what the Constitution states – which is that Indonesia is a secular country that recognizes the plurality of beliefs. 

On the Islamic Defenders Front

FPI members demonstrating against homosexuality in Jakarta on September 28, 2010. Photo by Adi Weda/EPA

But what about borderline radical mass organizations — those who force their beliefs on others but do not practice the same degree of violence terrorists do – like the notorious hard-line group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI)? 

The minister said nothing could be done against them if there’s no proof of them violating the law. (READ: Does Indonesia need stronger laws to combat ISIS?)

“Indonesia is a democratic country, where every one is guaranteed to have freedom of speech. Indonesia is also a country of laws. We have laws regulating what views can and cannot exist in Indonesia,” he said.

“So even if a view is so extreme, but it doesn’t violate the nation’s values, we have no power to act upon it. We can only do so if those groups engage in violent acts, brutality, or destructive activities. But as long as there’s no violence involved, it’s hard to take legal action.” —

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