with civil society and democratisation
Martin van Bruinessen
ISIM / Utrecht University
Does Islam as a system of beliefs or as a political
force have something positive to contribute to the hoped-for
democratisation of Indonesia, or will it largely be an impediment and a
threat to the emergence of an open society? Many participants in the
political process have strong opinions on these questions. There are
those who argue — and not without some justification — that
reformist political Islam represents the only significant alternative to
the patrimonial, authoritarian and corrupt political culture pervading
almost all parties and thereby is the country’s only hope for
democracy. Others — and these include many committed Muslims besides
secular nationalists and non-Muslims — fear that the Muslim ambition
of turning Indonesia into an Islamic state is perhaps the most serious
threat the country is presently facing, the more so since radical Muslim
groups appear to be courted by power-greedy military and civilian elite
factions. There is a widespread and understandable fear of resurgent
political Islam — but this resurgent political Islam is itself in
large measure a response to another perceived threat, the fear that
Islam’s very presence in Indonesia is being threatened.
Islam under threat?
Many Muslims, and not just the radical, believe in
the existence of an international conspiracy, involving the assorted
enemies of Islam — Zionists, Christian missionaries, imperialist
politicians, and their various local allies — aiming to destroy or
weaken Islam in Indonesia. Considering Islam as harmful to their
interests, these conspirators not only fight it by force of arms where
this is possible, but they also try to subvert it from within through
sex, drugs and rock-and-roll or, more dangerously, through spreading
deviant teachings of various kinds ranging from Shi`ism and heterodox
mysticism to what is broadly subsumed under the label of “liberal
Many of the Muslim NGO-type activities about which
I shall speak shortly are perceived by some of the radicals to be part
of a concerted assault on real Islam, with the intent of either turning
Muslims into Christians or defenders of Christian interests, or of
spreading heresies that will tap the strength of the umma. If
Islam is to survive in Indonesia, in this view, the true Muslims will
need to get their act together and mobilise themselves against the new
Jewish-Christian Crusade. Besides the Christian militias in the Moluccas
and the Christian missionaries who are attempting to effect mass
conversions, some of the most visible actors in this Crusade are
institutions like USAID, The Asia Foundation, and The Ford Foundation,
which between them are sponsoring most of the Muslim NGO activities and
do so quite explicitly in order to combat the spread of fundamentalist
and anti-Western Islamic trends.
The obsession with anti-Islamic conspiracies has
deep historical roots, in part going back to apprehensions about
missionary intentions in colonial times and much strengthened by the
perception of mass conversions to Christianity in the aftermath of the
violent events of 1965-66. Many Muslim leaders feared that, parallel to
the Western efforts of those years to “roll back” communism (in
which the overthrow of Sukarno was one of the more successful episodes),
there was a similar drive to destroy the political strength of Islam in
Indonesia. Kristenisasi, “Christianisation”, through the
spread of Christian institutions and proselytisation among Muslims, was
a key element in this perceived strategy.
Another aspect was the forced depoliticisation of Islam and de-Islamisation
of the state apparatus in the early New Order, a policy widely
attributed to Ali Murtopo and the Chinese Catholic intellectuals manning
the influential think tank CSIS.
Some believed the controversial ideas of Nurcholish Madjid and his
circle, which received much press coverage in the 1970s, to be
deliberately sponsored by the regime in order to subvert “real”
Apprehensions about Kristenisasi were
strongest among the activists of the Indonesian Council for Islamic
Predication (Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia, or DDII), a body
that had been established in 1967 by Muhammad Natsir and other former
leaders of the Masyumi party. The party had been a principled opponent
of Sukarno’s Guided Democracy and had been obliged to dissolve itself
in 1960; its leaders had been jailed by Sukarno. Although released from
jail after Suharto’s takeover, they were not allowed to establish a
new party, which no doubt contributed to their devoting themselves
entirely to dakwah. The DDII established close contacts with the
Saudi-sponsored and financed Islamic World League (Rabitat al-`Alam
al-Islami or briefly Rabita) and through its Rabita
connections increasingly came under the influence of Middle Eastern
currents of Islamic thought, of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the “Wahhabi”
Due to these contacts, DDII activists began to perceive the issue of Kristenisasi
in global terms, as part of a wider Jewish-Christian conspiracy against
They became increasingly interested in the confrontations between
Muslims and superior enemies that appeared to be taking place across the
globe: in Afghanistan, Palestine, Kashmir, the southern Philippines, and
later Bosnia and Chechnya. Assertive demonstrations by the Indonesian
Committee for Solidarity with the Islamic World (KISDI), which was
established towards 1990 by DDII activists, became a prominent presence
in the streets of Jakarta during the 1990s. By the end of the decade,
KISDI and various other, ideologically similar groups were speaking of
world-wide Jewish-Christian conspiracies involving Indonesian Chinese
businessmen, liberal Muslim thinkers and the left-leaning student
opposition. This sort of discourse was strongly supported by certain
elements of the regime, most notably generals Prabowo Subianto and Z.A.
Maulani. In spite of their strong support of Suharto until the very end,
these groups survived quite successfully into the “Reformasi”
Some of the developments following the fall of
Suharto appeared to confirm the predictions of the various peddlers of
conspiracy theories. East Timor gained independence, which was seen as a
victory for Catholicism. Indonesian Muslim settlers, mostly traders,
poor workers and civil servants from Sulawesi and Java, had to leave.
Clashes between (Christian) locals and (Muslim) immigrants in other
parts of East Indonesia could easily be interpreted as evidence of a
concerted effort to purge East Indonesia of Muslims and, perhaps, to ‘roll
back’ Islam throughout Indonesia. In fact, the fall of Suharto also
appeared to corroborate the conspiracy theories: hadn't the West always
supported him as long as his policies were anti-Islamic? Could it be a
coincidence that he was brought down after he had been drawing ever
closer to Islam and no longer privileged the Christian minority?
Similarly, the ‘war on terror’ that was unleashed worldwide after
September 11, 2001 could only too easily be interpreted as a war of the
West against Islam, confirming the pattern predicted by the conspiracy
theories and contributing to a siege mentality among many of Indonesia’s
Muslims. The obsession with anti-Muslim conspiracies until recently was
a relatively marginal phenomenon, more at home on the disaffected
fringes of Indonesia’s Muslim community than in the mainstream. One of
the most disquieting developments is that is has gradually been taking
hold of sections of the moderate centre as well, and that ambitious
young politicians find it expedient to stake their careers on appealing
to these fears.
The threat of the Islamic state
The paranoia on the Muslim side is mirrored by
similar anxieties among the non-Muslim minorities concerning Muslim
intentions: is Indonesia gradually being turned into an Islamic state,
with shari`a regulations replacing secular legislation? What will
this mean for the position of Christian, Hindu and Buddhist citizens, or
for secular-minded Muslims? A selective perception of recent
developments can make for a very worrisome perspective. The anxieties
are as old as the Republic and go back to the debates on the Jakarta
The physical destruction of the Communist Party in 1965-66 left
political Islam (well, in fact only the NU) in the position of the only
significant surviving grassroots movement, making it potentially more
threatening. Political Islam was forced onto the defensive during the
first two decades of the New Order, but a string of violent incidents
— associated with Komando Jihad in the late 1970s, the Imran
group in the early 1980s, and the underground ‘Islamic State and Army
of Indonesia’ (NII/TII) — kept minority fears alive.
Those fears were seriously exacerbated during
Suharto’s last decade, when reformist Islam appeared significantly
empowered through an alliance of convenience with Suharto. The status of
Islamic courts was elevated to the same level as that of ordinary state
courts, and the government had a ‘compilation’ of Islamic law made
that was in fact a codification — which was seen by many Muslims as
well as non-Muslims as a step towards the integration of the shari`a
in Indonesia’s legal system. The establishment of ICMI and its
successful campaign for ‘proporsionalitas’, which amounted to
replacing many Christians in leading positions by Muslims, the
intimidating demonstrations by KISDI and others against Christian media
struck fear into many Christian hearts. Suharto’s final years saw a
dramatic increase in anti-Christian and anti-Chinese violence.
In the post-Suharto years, the emergence of Muslim
militias, with their apparent military and other elite support and more
than adequate funding, further added to Christian fears, especially when
these began participating in local and regional inter-ethnic and
inter-religious conflicts. Jihad and shari`a became
prominent terms in Muslim public discourse. In several provinces and kabupaten
vocal movements calling for enactment of the shari`a emerged.
Some of the militant movements, such as the Majelis Mujahidin
(established in 2000) openly advocated jihad in the Moluccas and
the struggle, if necessary violent, for the establishment of an Islamic
Several of the Muslim parties in the freely elected parliament advocated
the adoption of the Jakarta Charter; many of the younger radicals
believed that not only Muslims but also non-Muslims should be subjected
to the shari`a.
The Jakarta Charter was discussed extensively in
the 2001 and 2002 MPR sessions, and the matter was resolved once again
by shelving the famous seven words, for there was no majority supporting
it. The two largest Muslim organisations, NU and Muhammadiyah, had
resolutely made a clear stand against this attempt to enshrine the shari`a
in the Constitution. This is not the end of efforts to give the shari`a
force of law in Indonesia, however. Attempts have been made to use the
enhanced authority of regional parliaments under the regional autonomy
law to get elements of the shari`a adopted into regional
regulation. Islamist bureaucrats in the Ministry of Justice are
reportedly preparing a large number of legal changes that will amount to
a significant degree of Islamisation. Non-Muslims also perceive a
deliberate effort at sneaking Islamisation in other new legislation,
such as the new bill on national education, which obliges schools to
provide pupils with education in their own religion — so that all
Christian schools will become centres of Muslim education. (Many
Muslims, on the other hand, perceived the better quality of Christian
schools to constitute danger to their religion and feared Muslim
children would be drawn away from their native religion towards
It is not only the radical militias and the
politicians agitating for Islamisation of the legal system,
incidentally, who are causes of Christian anxieties. There is also a
widespread suspicion of the intentions of more moderate Muslims. Some
believe that Muhammadiyah and /or the alumni of the Muslim student
organisation HMI are carrying out a well-planned strategy for getting
control of key institutions and decision-making positions. Whatever
Muslim politicians and activists are doing, and whatever their real
intentions, it can only too easily be perceived as part of a wider
anti-Christian conspiracy. Conspiratorial worldviews are widespread
among Christians as well as Muslims in Indonesia. Both sides find
apparent confirmation of conspiracy theories in many recent
developments, which can only have a negative impact on the already low
levels of social trust.
Who wants the shari`a and why?
The perception that not just radical Islamists but
perhaps a majority of mainstream Muslims want the state to be more
Islamic appeared to receive confirmation in an opinion survey carried
out in 2002 by the research institute PPIM. The most surprising
finding of this survey, which was widely reported in the press, was that
no less than two thirds of Indonesian Muslims all over the country
stated that they believed Islamic governance to be best for the nation;
an even slightly higher percentage answered that the state should
enforce the obligation for all Muslims to live by the shari`a.
This is a finding that calls for some comments.
The first question that imposes itself is, what
happened to the abangan and the secular Muslims who do not desire
an Islamic state? Have their numbers really been reduced to less than a
third now? Or does the stated preference for Islamic governance and the shari`a
perhaps reflect other concerns? An even higher percentage of Muslim
respondents, 88%, claimed that they ‘very frequently’ or ‘quite
frequently’ performed the daily prayers and no less than 94% claimed
to regularly fast in Ramadan. Both strike me as very high percentages,
which may reflect a wish to please the interviewer rather than an effort
to be perfectly candid. As long as the shari`a remains an
abstract term, it may be difficult for a Muslim to say she or he does
not support it. Once concrete implications are mentioned, the degree of
commitment to the shari`a may prove to be considerably less. This
is borne out by the response to the question whether one would vote for
representatives who vow to struggle for implementation of the shari`a.
Not more than 46% of the respondents said yes, and we know that those
who actually voted for Islamist parties in the 1999 elections constitute
a mere 16% of the Muslims (14% of all Indonesians). However, an amazing
53% voiced support for the various radical Islamic groups and militias.
Support for various practices associated with the shari`a
differed considerably. Almost a quarter of the Muslim respondents spoke
out in favour of Islamic punishments such as cutting off the hands of
thieves, and 36% agree that the state should oblige women to wear a
veil. Women’s participation in social and political life is, however,
endorsed by a large majority; 7% think a woman should not be a member of
parliament, 26% that she cannot be the president of the country. On
inheritance, long an issue on which Indonesian tradition (adat)
and the shari`a were at odds, about half said to favour the shari`a’s
unequal division between sons and daughters.
There are no comparable quantitative data for the
1950s or the 1970s, but most observers would agree that these figures
appear to represent a considerable change and would be inclined to
attribute this change primarily to the rise of Middle Eastern-style
Islamic activism. However, detailed analysis of the survey data shows
that strong pro-shari`a attitudes (as measured by the above
questions) correlate with rural background, low education and low
This seems to point to a rather different social category than that
commonly associated with Islamic radicalism. Radical Islamists
everywhere tend to be relatively well-educated, lower middle class and
socially climbing. Indonesia too has such Islamists, most typically
represented by the Partai Keadilan (Sejahtera), but their numbers are
too small to make a noticeable mark in a nation-wide survey. The high
percentage of pro-shari`a responses appears to reflect a general
rural conservatism rather than support for an Islamic revolution. This
conservative attitude is perhaps most prominently embodied in the
vice-president, Hamzah Haz. Mujani found no correlation (neither
positive nor negative) between this pro-shari`a attitude and
membership of NU or Muhammadiyah, but a negative correlation with
participation in social activities outside one’s own narrow group. The
conservative Islamists, he concludes, tend to isolate themselves from
the larger society. They remain a minority everywhere in the country but
are significantly more numerous in Banten, West Java, South Sulawesi and
West Sumatra than in Yogyakarta or Jakarta.
Not surprisingly, the four mentioned provinces are,
besides Aceh, exactly those where there has been a strong demand to
implement the shari`a at the local level. Apart from West
Sumatra, these are the provinces where the Darul Islam movement has its
strongest historical roots and is still very active underground. In none
of these regions does the demand for the shari`a appear to be
associated with a clear conceptual model of the Islamic state, such as
have been developed in the Middle East and South Asia and widely
discussed in Indonesian student circles since the 1980s. To the best of
my knowledge, the only practical measures proposed (and partly and
irregularly put into practice) concern veiling in public and other
restrictions of women’s freedom of movement.
NU and Muhammadiyah as pillars of civil society
Another surprising finding of the PPIM survey
mentioned above is the high percentage of respondents who identify
themselves to some extent with NU or Muhammadiyah, 42 and 12 percent
respectively. Those who strongly identify themselves with these
associations constitute 17 and 4 percent. This confirms the position of
these organisations as the stable and moderate centre of the Indonesian ummah
and makes especially NU appear as even more formidable than its claims
of representing thirty million followers. Even more significant is the
finding that strong identification with NU or Muhammadiyah correlates
with active involvement in various other, non-religious civil society
activities (such as arisan, voluntary activities in village or
ward, sports, cultural clubs, co-operatives, labour unions and
professional organisations). In Mujani and Liddle’s words, these
respondents “tend to be attracted to, and involved in, matters
connected to the public interest. (…) they are politically active,
they discuss political problems with friends and neighbours, read
political news in newspapers, follow political news on television, and
support political parties.”
This sounds almost too good to be true, like a
textbook illustration of the belief (inspired by Putnam’s influential
study on Italy) that social trust generated in one sphere of life is
almost automatically transferred other spheres and ultimately society in
general. If Mujani and Liddle are correct in drawing their conclusion
(which seems however more clear-cut than the data warrant),
this would make these two Muslim mass organisations essential vehicles
of a democratic climate, the pillars of civil society and, as they say,
‘bulwarks against Islamism.’ More cautious analysts, and those more
suspicious of the validity of the data compiled by such questionnaires,
will have to concede that the authors do point to an important and
rather neglected aspect of the political process, the role of NU and
Muhammadiyah in inculcating civic values in their members. And, as
observed above, these associations did take a clear stand against the
recent attempts to reinstate the Jakarta Charter (even though parts of
their constituencies are strongly in favour of enacting the shari`a).
In discussions on and studies of civil society in
Indonesia, during the 1990s and early 2000s, relatively little attention
has been shown to these large associations. In the growing volume of
studies on Islam and civil society, they may be mentioned in passing but
seldom appear to be thought of as part of civil society themselves,
unlike say students’ associations, ICMI and issue-oriented NGOs.
Although there are quite a few recent studies of Muhammadiyah and
especially of NU, most of these focus on their religious discourse and
system of religious education or on their role in national politics.
There has hardly been any sociological research on the role these
associations play in the daily lives of their members and followers.
The PPIM survey constitutes a useful reminder that these unspectacular
mainstream associations deserve more appreciation and attention than
they have been receiving.
NGO-type activities in Muslim circles
Since Suharto’s fall, numerous international
agencies have attempted to stimulate the democratic process by
supporting a wide range of NGOs. Great hopes for the democratic
potential of NGOs of course predates Indonesia’s Reformasi period
(Eldridge 1995; Uhlins 1997; cf. Setiawan 2000), and internationally
supported NGO work in fact goes back to the early years of the New Order
LP3ES, a national-level NGO established by
activists of the ‘generation of 1966’ with Masyumi or PSI
backgrounds, was the first to attempt to reach out to Muslim rural
communities. Supported by the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung (a foundation
allied with the German Liberal Party), it initiated in the early 1970s a
program of studies and pilot projects that intended to raise the
potential of the pesantren as a medium and motor of rural and human
resource development. LP3ES teamed up with Abdurrahman Wahid, who had
recently returned from studies in the Middle East and who could provide
easy access to pesantren as well as advise on the selection of pesantren
to work with, and around 1980 with a community of former student
activists from ITB, who were interested in the concept of appropriate
technology (AT) and carried out a number of AT projects in selected
pesantren and surrounding communities. Various other types of grassroots
activities took place, prominent among them training of pesantren youth
and discussions on societal and religious topics. A second generation of
NGO activists was trained, who in the 1980s and 1990s spawned a new wave
of NGOs. By the mid-1980s pesantren-based development efforts shifted to
a new NGO named P3M (Centre for the Study and Developent of Pesantren
and Society). The most significant contribution of P3M was however in
challenging and developing traditionalist Muslim discourse. Over the
past 17 years, P3M initiated important debates on religion and societal
affairs including land conflicts, gender relations, parliamentary
democracy, and corruption.
In urban environments another early NGO, LSP,
carried out numerous projects (with a variety of international
sponsors), concentrating on the informal sector and co-operatives. Like
LP3ES and its pesantren program, LSP was a breeding ground for the next
generation of activists. LSP’s leading activist, Adi Sasono, had a
strong Masyumi background and was much concerned with the relative
backwardness and weak representation of Muslims in the country’s
economy and political life. He was also more of a political strategist
than most NGO activists. Not surprisingly he came to play an important
role in ICMI in the 1990s and became minister of co-operatives under
Habibie (presently he is the general chairman of ICMI). He has remained
a pivotal figure in civil society-type activities of Indonesia’s ‘modernist’
In the 1990s, various new NGOs emerged, many of
them established by persons who had previous experience in programs set
up by LP3ES or LSP. Most of these new NGOs emerged in response to the
programs of foreign sponsors, who were in need of Indonesian
counterparts. The Ford Foundation and The Asia Foundation (and less
visibly USAID and a range of other foreign agencies) between them are
responsible for most of Indonesia’s booming NGO industry, including
the Muslim NGOs, and for to a considerable extent setting their agendas.
Most of the Muslim NGOs working at the grassroots have some personal or
ideological affiliation with NU (see also Wajidi in this volume).
Activists of Muhammadiyah and similar reformist backgrounds tend to get
involved in a different type of efforts than the typical NGO: discussion
groups and other forms of adult education, some charitable work, and
co-operatives. They tend to be less dependent on sponsoring by foreign
agencies (although there may be some Middle Eastern money around).
Some influential Muslim NGOs take pains not to
appear too closely associated with either NU or Muhammadiyah, such as
Rahima, which is specifically taking on gender issues, organises
training for girls and young women mostly but not exclusively of
pesantren background, and attempts to develop an Islamic feminist
discourse, critically engaging with established views and current
teachings that place women in a subservient position. A more recent
phenomenon, but not an NGO proper, is the Liberal Islam Network (JIL),
which is trying to win back the initiative in setting the terms of
debates on Islam and society from the Islamists. The network started out
as with a mailing list and website, soon adding a radio program, relayed
by local stations in many Indonesian cities, and a syndicated newspaper
column. Its core members have deliberately sought a high profile in the
media because they feel that Muslim intellectuals have too long been
involved in arcane discussions and left the production of simple and
accessible texts on Islam for large audiences to the Islamists. More
than any other group, the Liberal Islam Network sees the struggle
against narrow and intolerant interpretations of Islam as its chief
mission. Unsurprisingly, Islamists of various stripes soon identified
JIL as one of their own chief enemies.
Most of the Muslim NGOs that flourished since the
1990s have shown themselves very open-minded towards non-Muslims and
eager to engage in inter-religious dialogue and joint activities. Most
Muslim NGO activists feel more at ease with their counterparts of
Christian background than with fellow Muslims active in Islamist
associations. The relaxed relations with non-Muslims distinguish the
NGOs sharply from the Islamist groups, whether conservative or
reform-minded. Fostering or avoiding inter-religious relations have
become matters of principle for both.
Another type of civil society organisation: usrah and
It is common to consider the various types of NGOs
in Indonesia as constituent elements of civil society. Mass
organisations such as NU and Muhammadiyah constitute a distinct types of
voluntary association but it will be obvious to most observers that they
play an important role in fostering a vibrant civic life and constitute
perhaps the very core of Muslim civil society. There is a third type of
association, however, that is rarely if ever mentioned in overviews of
civil society, except perhaps as a threat to it. I shall call these
associations jama`ah, a term that many of them use to describe
their own distinct form of organisation and solidarity.
The term jama`ah became a household word in
2001 with the arrest of a group that had planned terrorist attacks
against American targets in Singapore and that allegedly was part of a
transnational terrorist network named Jama`ah Islamiyah.
The latter is a special case, and its very existence has been doubted by
many Indonesians precisely because they understand a jama`ah to
be something different. The term literally means congregation; each
mosque has its jama`ah, both in the concrete sense of the people
actually present at any particular prayer and in the more general sense
of those regularly praying there. More recently, by those who wish to
find in Islam authentically Islamic concepts of social, economic and
political thought, the term has also come to be used to designate a
specifically Islamic form of organisation. This usage of the term is
associated with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) and
South Asia’s Jama`at-i Islami, and it was adopted by their Indonesian
The ideas of the Brotherhood and the Jama`at-i
Islami were in Indonesia mediated by the DDII and spread to various
mosque-based networks. Somewhat simplifying, we may distinguish
university-based networks and networks connecting non-campus mosques,
which developed independently although they were aware of one another.
The major non-campus network was the semi-official Badan Kontak Pemuda
dan Remaja Masjid Indonesia (Contact Organ of Indonesian Mosque Youth,
BKPRMI or shorter BKPM). Apparently unknown to the authorities, the most
radical ideas and plans were communicated in this network, and several
of the most radical jama`ah emerged here, such as the jama`ah
of the radical preacher Imran in Bandung, whose followers assaulted a
police station to acquire firearms and later hijacked a Garuda airplane.
The radical teachers Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, of Jama`ah
Islamiyah fame, recruited their followers in this same network. They
had linked up with the underground Darul Islam but set about organising
and training their following in a more systematic way, in small,
closely-knit groups known as usrah (‘family’) that were
connected in a hierarchical structure in which most members knew no
other members apart from those in their own usrah. This pattern
of organisation, copied from the Muslim Brotherhood, was called an
Islamic jama`ah or jama`ah islamiyah; in reports from the
early 1980s it is not entirely clear whether the name only refers to
this type of organisation or is also refers specifically to Sungkar and
Ba’asyir’s network of usrah.
The emergence of similar groups and networks around
the campus mosques was to some extent also a response to the suppression
of student political activism and the legal ban of activities by ‘extraneous’
student movements such as HMI on the campus from the early 1980s on (the
so-called ‘Normalisasi Kampus’). Most student dissent became
interiorised; many students turned to religion and appeared preoccupied
with efforts to be good Muslims. Two DDII-affiliated activists with
international contacts (with Malaysia’s Islamic youth movement ABIM
and the Saudi-sponsored World Association of Muslim Youth, WAMY),
Imaduddin Abdurrahman and Endang Saifuddin Anshari, organised a new type
of training courses for students in Bandung, based on the training, tarbiyah,
developed by the Muslim Brotherhood. This was a very different type of
course from the ‘basic training’ that HMI members received in
their organisation, which consisted mostly of debating, public speaking
and simple management tasks. The new tarbiyah was more
systematic, a proper disciplining and indoctrination, and many students
felt strongly attracted by it. The most highly motivated participants in
these tarbiyah sessions organised themselves into usrah,
which were really a sort of study groups. Members of an usrah,
who might number five to ten, met a few times a week, one of them acting
as a trainer (murabbi), occasionally meeting with a more senior
member of the movement.
Like Sungkar and Ba’asyir’s usrah
movement, the groups on the campus were underground and even today not
much is known about their internal structure, recruitment and
initiation, nor about the exact relations between the usrah and
the more public study circles, halqah, on the campuses, which
appeared to be more loosely connected to each other.
The former movement was more overtly political, and was especially
fiercely opposed to the regime’s curtailment of political Islam and
its imposition of Pancasila as the sole accepted ideology. This group
saw the objective could not be attained without armed struggle.
Establishing a jama`ah islamiyah, a disciplined hierarchical
organisation, was a first step in preparing for the necessary social,
political and military struggle. From the 1980s until today, members of
this network have been involved in numerous violent incidents. The
campus-based network, also known as the Tarbiyah movement, was
less directly political and did not prepare for armed struggle.
Disciplining the self, developing an Islamic personality (syakhsiyah
islamiyah), took priority over the more distant aims of an Islamic
society and an Islamic state.
Sungkar and Ba’asyir fled Indonesia and settled
in Malaysia in 1985. Dozens, altogether perhaps a few hundred, of their
followers travelled to Afghanistan to take part in the jihad
against the Russians and to get training in guerrilla tactics and the
use of firearms and explosives. After the Russian retreat from
Afghanistan, the southern Philippines became the favourite training
ground. By the late 1990s, there was a network of local groups covering
Malaysia, Singapore, parts of Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi and the southern
Philippines. The network had, at least on paper, a tight hierarchical
structure resembling a military organisation, with a commander (amir)
and a governing council at the top and four regional commands (mantiqi)
each consisting of smaller units called, by decreasing level, wakalah,
khatibah, qirdas and fi’ah.
In practice, the organisation may well be less rigid than this formal
structure suggests. In 2000, members of the network founded a legal
front organisation, the Majelis Mujahidin, of which Ba’asyir —
Sungkar had died in 1999 — became the amir.
The Tarbiyah movement, which considered
itself as the Indonesian sister organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood,
was strongest in the secular universities, especially in the science and
technology faculties. Members remained active in the movement after
their graduation. Many of the alumni made careers in the bureaucracy, in
education or in business, and collectively they experienced a similar
vertical mobility as a quarter century earlier HMI alumni of the
generation of 1966. Towards the end of the Suharto regime, student
groups of the Tarbiyah background established the Islamic student
movement KAMMI (which took active part in anti-Suharto demonstrations
but supported Habibie). Soon after Suharto’s demise, in August 1998,
their elders established the Partai Keadilan (Justice Party, PK),
arguably the only political party with a clear program and transparent
The Jama`ah Islamiyah and the Tarbiyah
movement are not the only bodies with a jama`ah structure in
Indonesia. A third one that has recently been quite visible is the Hizb
ut-Tahrir, a transnational movement that strives for the
establishment of a world caliphate, an Islamic state encompassing all
Muslim-majority regions. The Hizb ut-Tahrir rejects democratic
politics and the nation state as incompatible with divine sovereignty
and therefore does not take part in Indonesian politics and boycotts
elections — but it did take part in demonstrations at the People’s
Consultative Assembly in favour of the Jakarta Charter.
These three jama`ah share a number of
they are highly critical of the secular state and believe only a
state based on the shari`a can be just;
they consist of relatively closed groups that avoid contact with
they assert that Islam is a ‘total’ way of life and demand
their members to conform to Islamic norms in all aspects of life;
they exercise a strict social control of their members and demand
high standards of Islamic morality.
Typical of their structure is their hierarchical
organisation, the cell structure (the usrah being the smallest
unit) and the absence of transparancy: the information flows within the
organisation are vertical, not horizontal.
One of the texts used as training material in the
Tarbiyah movement (and also known by members of the other jama`ah)
is the book Towards the Congregation of Muslims, which purports
to derive principles for Islamic organisation from the life and deeds of
the Prophet and describes a number of contemporary jama`ah.
This text emphasises that the jama`ah is a means of disciplining
individual and society, to shape the Islamic personality, the Islamic
family (usra), an Islamic society and ultimately to unite the
entire Muslim ummah. The book also details the characteristics of
the jama`ah, among them secretiveness (sirriyah), which is
an essential aspect of the cell structure.
Not all jama`ah are equally closed groups.
All insist that it is better to associate with good Muslims than with
non-Muslims or not-so-good Muslims, but Sungkar and Ba’asyir made this
distinction into a principal element of their teaching. The book that
was obligatory reading for their better students, Al-walâ’ wa’l-barâ’
by the Saudi author al-Qahtani, focuses entirely on the obligation of
loyalty towards fellow Muslims and of avoiding relations with
The Partai Keadilan is much less radical in this respect and is willing
to work together with all segments of the Indonesian population in the
political arena, although its members in their personal lives tend to
avoid non-Muslims and other outsiders, and to subscribe to theories of
Christian-Jewish conspiracies against Islam.
‘Bonding’ and ‘bridging’ social capital
Such jama`ah-type organisations constitute a
form of social capital, providing the individual with a secure
environment, social and psychological support, useful contacts, a sense
of purpose and a sense of dignity. To some extent they thereby empower
the individual but they also encapsulate and isolate their members from
the world outside. This is a fortiori the case for their female
members, though there is a great difference in the degree of isolation
between the Jama`ah Islamiyah and the Tarbiyah networks:
the latter explicitly endorses women’s playing a public role and the
former insists on their remaining secluded. Does it make sense to
consider these organisations as part of civil society? They are to the
extent that they are voluntary associations and that their members join
in activities for societal ends and — in their own view — for the
purpose of creating a better society. The activities of the Jama`ah
Islamiyah are not exactly characterised by ‘democratic civility,’
but such civility does not always accompany the activities of all
organisations that are more widely accepted as part of civil society
either. It is inherent in the nature of civil society that the common
good may have to give way to group interests.
A distinction that Putnam makes in his more recent
book, Bowling alone (2000), between two types of social capital
will be very useful to our analysis. Whereas his earlier work has
contributed much to the belief that all forms of social capital are
basically good because they create social trust in some spheres, that
will ultimately raise the level of social trust in society as a whole,
his more recent work is sensitive to the disruptive potential of certain
forms of social capital. He contrasts ‘bridging’ and ‘bonding’
forms of social capital. The former, ‘bonding’ social capital,
consists of social ties between members of the same segment of society,
for example ethnic, class, religious or ideological subgroups. It makes
for greater internal cohesion and solidarity of the subgroup and may be
of very great value to the individual members. However, strong ‘bonding’
social capital generates trust in one’s own group but may at the same
time increase distrust of the rest of the world (although it does not
necessarily do so). ‘Bridging’ social capital, on the other hand,
consists of social ties between members of different subgroups in
society; it is the cement that keeps society as a whole together. It is
probably the case that sustained ethnic and inter-religious conflict
will only occur where there is a sufficient amount of ‘bonding’
social capital. The absence of social capital may in fact be less
threatening to society than strong ‘bonding’ social capital that is
not balanced by ‘bridging’ social capital. Conflict resolution will
in most cases require an investment in ‘bridging’ capital, quite
apart from the material concessions to be made by the conflicting
All of this appears quite self-evident, and it
yields a useful yardstick for measuring the performance of civil society
organisations. At one extreme we find those exclusivist groups that,
like the Jama`ah Islamiyah, consider all ‘bridging’ ties with
groups and ideas outside their own circle as sinful. Who joins such a jama`ah
may even have to break off old ties with friends and relatives; bonding
creates a sense of belonging but also dependence on the group.
The thrust of the key text Al-walâ’ wa’l-barâ’ may be
adequately summarised in the slogan ‘bonding yes, bridging no!’
Muslim mass organisations such as NU and
Muhammadiyah also constitute a significant ‘bonding’ capital;
participation in them is a major aspect of the members’ identity and
considerably colours their worldview. One remarkable finding of the PPIM
survey that was highlighted above was, however, that this ‘bonding’
capital is in the case of active members balanced by their also stronger
than average ‘bridging’ capital.
Muslim NGOs too engage in bonding as well as
bridging, and it is significant that there continues to exist some
uneasiness if not distrust between NGO activists of NU and Muhammadiyah
backgrounds. Many young NGO activists of NU background find it easier to
work together with their Catholic or secular peers than with those of
Muhammadiyah background — clearly not all cultural divides are equally
The deepest cultural and political divide in
Indonesian society, and the one invested with most emotion and mistrust,
is that between Islam and Communism.
The most challenging task in civil society building in Indonesia is no
doubt that of bringing these two extremes together and having them
embark on a process of dialogue, healing traumas, and where possible
undoing past injustice. The most valiant effort at creating bridging
social capital that I am aware of is that of a small Muslim NGO,
Syarikat, that has taken on this challenge and has been organising
meetings of perpetrators and victims of the 1965-66 massacres, in a
modest emulation of the work of South Africa’s truth and
reconciliation commission. Syarikat activists have furthermore been
doing oral history investigations into the events of 1965-66 and have
engaged in advocacy on behalf of (relatives of) the victims.
With these actions, Syarikat activists do not necessarily endear
themselves to their own communities of origin (which are all strictly NU).
Although they have persuaded senior kiai to give them their moral
support, they are aware that their activities may easily be seen as
weakening the cohesion of their own group, building ‘bridging’
social capital at the expense of ‘bonding’ capital.
The most significant difference between an NGO such
as Syarikat and an usrah-based movement is, from a civil society
point of view, not the degree of civility or the usefulness to the
individuals concerned but the nature of the social bonds that are
The rise of bonding social capital: a Christian usrah
It was suggested above that usrah and jama`ah-type
organisations among Indonesian Muslims have developed since the early
1980s. This may be related to the global rise of Islamist movements, but
there probably were also factors specific to the Indonesian situation.
Two factors already mentioned were the suppression of political dissent
and the ban of student movements that had until 1978 contributed to
vibrant public debate in the universities. Rapid economic growth without
real development and a widespread sense of alienation among (lower)
middle class groups may also have been contributing factors. One reason
to seek an explanation for the emergence of these movements in
Indonesian society rather than in global processes alone is the
little-remarked fact that among Indonesia’s Christians one finds a
somewhat similar development to that of the usrah movements,
beginning at more or less the same time.
At least since the early 1980s, and perhaps
earlier, small Bible study and prayer groups called persekutuan do’a
became increasingly popular among Protestant Christians. Catholics later
(towards the end of the 1980s) followed suit with similar small groups,
the [kelompok] do’a karismatik. The persekutuan do’a
consists of perhaps 10 to 25 people, mostly husband-and-wife couples,
belonging to the same church, who meet regularly (typically once a week)
in members’ homes to read the Bible and pray together. The group
members usually live in the same neighbourhood and have more or less
equal socio-economic status. This facilitates the development of closer
and more intimate and emotional ties among the members. Members’
personal or family problems are often discussed in the group; the
members help each other where they can and pray together for divine
intervention to solve problems. For some people, the persekutuan do’a
is one among several networks linking them to others; to many, it is the
most important network and the only one that is invested with
emotionality (it may become more important than one’s family). Members
also tend to be in contact outside the weekly meetings.
The Catholic kelompok do’a karismatik is
not much different. Prayers for intercession by Mary are more prominent
and, in a departure from Catholic practice, the Bible is read in each
session; there is the same combination of study, prayer and
interpersonal involvement as in the Protestant prayer meeting.
There is a conviction that joint prayer is more effective than
individual prayer in invoking divine blessing and support (hence the
name of these groups, karismatik). Support of the group (and a
degree of social control) is also believed to contribute to
strengthening the members’ faith. Recently, even smaller prayer groups
have begun to be formed within the charismatic prayer group, the kelompok
inti (core group) or sel (cell) with only five or six
members. This core group meets even more frequently among itself than
the prayer group as a whole. The members of the cell come together once
a week too, and in addition each member has daily telephone contact with
every single other member; and they pray for one another every day. The
degree of intimacy between the members is much greater than in the
larger karismatik group; there is a deeper involvement in each
other’s problems and commitment to strengthen each other’s faith;
members claim they feel that the joint prayers are even ‘stronger.’
It is especially these cells that are reminiscent
of the usrah among radical Muslims, although the political
dimension appears to be entirely lacking and there is no secretiveness.
Strong social trust is generated in these small groups, but this appears
to be combined with a high level of distrust towards the world outside;
the strengthening of ties within the group goes hand in hand with a
corresponding weakening of other ties. It is unlikely therefore that
this social trust will ever be transferred to society as a whole; it
would rather appear that the reverse is true and that these groups are a
response to insecurity and widespread lack of trust of the wider
society. The PPIM survey that was referred to repeatedly above indicates
a very low level of interpersonal trust in Indonesia compared to other
No doubt the economic hardship and political insecurities of the post-Suharto
years are partly to blame for the lack of trust, but even before the
East Asian crisis the level of trust in Indonesia was low. The
popularity of conspiracy theories — of conspiracies against Islam or
against the position of Christians in society and the state but also of
conspiracies against individuals — and the low level of trust are two
sides of the same coin. In this context, many people will prefer to
invest in bonding rather than in bridging social capital.
The paradox of the Partai Keadilan:
imperfect democrats but perhaps
Indonesia’s strongest force for democratisation
To make a bold leap from small-scale prayer
meetings to the political arena, a look at the phenomenon of the Partai
Keadilan is perhaps an appropriate occasion to bring together the
various threads of the preceding argument. This party — since 2002,
after a split and a reunion renamed Partai Keadilan Sejahtera — came
out of the Tarbiyah movement; its founders and present leaders are
former campus activists. The Tarbiyah movement had the usrah – jama`ah
structure discussed above, probably including the aspect of sirriyah,
secretiveness, but the party has a transparent structure and an explicit
ideology, party program and by-laws.
In the run-up to the 1999 elections, many observers were struck by the
fact that this was in fact the only party with a clear program. Its
performance in the following years has only strengthened this
perception: the party was not plagued by the internal difficulties,
infighting and corruption that most other parties experienced; it
remains a small party but showed itself a reliable and predictable
The PK(S) shares with other Islamists the objective
of turning Indonesia into an Islamic state based on the shari`a.
Unlike some other Islamist movements, however, the Tarbiyah movement
does not believe there is a shortcut to that distant objective. It has
to be reached through disciplining of the individual and gradually
transforming society, not through violent rebellion. Essentially, the
movement accepts the path of democracy. The party makes no effort to
gain numerous adherents but is selective in admitting members and
subjects them, and especially its cadres, to a thorough training. In
that sense it sees itself as a vanguard rather than a mass party —
much as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jama`at- Islami do.
The PK(S), or at least some of its leaders, also
subscribes to the belief in anti-Islamic conspiracies and is hostile to
Muslims of more secular or liberal persuasions. The first two slim
volumes in a political education series written by the party’s chief
ideologist Abu Ridha — practically the official training manuals of
the PK(S) — are quite explicit in both respects.
And again like most other Islamists, PK(S) spokesmen are not just
anti-Zionist and anti-Western but anti-Semitic. This is clearly not a
liberal party (it certainly does not claim to be one either), and its
vision of society clashes at some points with liberal democratic values.
Beneath its transparent formal structure, one suspects there are less
visible lines of command following the structure of the usrah
And yet… In spite of all this, the Partai
Keadilan (Sejahtera) is one of the very few forces in the political
arena that may seriously contribute to a gradual democratisation of the
country. One reason for believing this is that, unlike other jama`ah-based
movements, it believes in participation in the existing political system
and in changing society through persuasion of individuals rather than
through grabbing power. In its practice if not in its discourse it is
moderate and patient, and it accepts pluralism as a given. Unlike most
other parties, the PK(S) is not eager for a share of power. The party
refused to join Abdurrahman Wahid’s cabinet, and when party chairman
Nur Mahmudi Ismail accepted the position of Minister of Forestry and
Plantations (for which he was, significantly, qualified!), he had to
resign his position in the party. This indicates, incidentally, that
positions of power in the party are not personalised; and in fact
promotion in the party ranks appears largely based on merit. The party’s
leaders are refreshingly uncharismatic. It is definitely one of the most
rationalised parties (in the Weberian sense) in the Indonesian
The party’s basic documents — its political
manifesto, by-laws, and programme — candidly address issues where the shari`a
and democracy may be at odds, and it resolves the matter in a way that
raises confidence in its embrace of procedural democracy. Islamists will
always place the divine will above the will of the people, and some
(especially Saudi-style puritans) consider democracy as sinful hubris.
The PK’s political manifesto however endorses democracy based on popular
sovereignty on principle, except where this explicitly is in
conflict with divine command. This reminds one of the slogan that was
popular in Islamic student groups in the 1980s: “in Islam everything
is allowed, except that which God has explicitly forbidden.”
The party’s emphasis on justice and equality is
not surprising in an Islamist party, but the manifesto explicitly
includes women among those who should be equal: all human beings are God’s
vicegerents on earth, and women have the same rights and obligations as
men, “except where the Qur’an makes explicit exceptions.”
Women therefore can take part in public life and in politics; they are
in fact represented in the party’s board, though not strongly: four
out of fifty board members are women. Accepting a woman as the president
of the country, however, has been a problem for the party. In 1999, it
rejected the idea of a female President as long as capable men were
available. In 2001 however, when Abdurrahman Wahid was brought down, the
PK pragmatically recognised Megawati as the President because she had
reached the position by legally correct procedure.
The Partai Keadilan Sejahtera is not in all
respects a democratic party — but that is also true of many Christian
political parties in the world.
Doubts may also linger as to its real views on the position of
non-Muslim minorities: will these always be accepted as fully equal
citizens, as the party’s public view has it? Or does the party hold on
to a distant ideal of an Islamic state in which non-Muslims will be
protected but essentially unequal subjects? What are the party’s views
on the hudud punishments? Does it aspire to have these enacted,
once, in a distant future? Or is it (as I suspect) content not to have
to think much about these questions because in the present situation
they are irrelevant?
It is the comparison with other political parties
that brings out most clearly the positive side of the PK(S). It does not
suffer from the depressing patrimonialism and corruption of most other
parties (especially the large ones); it does not depend on primordial
loyalties but on merit and political ideas. It is the only party that is
consistently against all forms of corruption (and not only against
corruption among its political foes). In its allegiance to existing
procedure it probably is a more consistent supporter of procedural
democracy than most rival parties. In its insistence on the quality
rather than the quantity of its members, it is unlikely ever to become a
big party. It may come to play a role not dissimilar to that of the
Indonesian Socialist Party in the 1950s: never part of the establishment
(although individual members became influential policy advisers), always
a critical voice in the margin, and influential because of the strength
of its ideas and its moral consistency.
Since the fall of Suharto, Indonesia's NGOs,
including the Muslim NGOs, have flourished to an unprecedented degree.
The Asian crisis, krismon (the monetary crisis), kristal
(the total crisis), the krisis multidimensi or whatever the
crisis was called brought nothing but prosperity to the NGO world, as
the major international agencies sought out NGOs as counterparts for
their crisis-alleviating and democracy-fostering programs. September 11
imposed new priorities on the international agencies, which is reflected
in increasing support for Muslim activities that represent an
alternative to fundamentalist Islam (such as those of the Liberal Islam
Network). Some of these activities might have been initiated anyway, but
in the post 9/11 world more funding has been available for them. Muslim
NGOs are more vibrant than ever and engage in a wide range of
activities. They appear to be re-conquering parts of the public sphere
that had in the 1990s come under almost hegemonic control of Islamist
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