Tuesday, August 21, 2018

RLPB 469. Indonesia: 'sword' of weaponised Islam revealed

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 469 | Wed 22 Aug 2018

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by Elizabeth Kendal

In September 2016 hardline fundamentalist Islamists intervened to prevent the popular ethnic Chinese Christian Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama from being elected Governor of Jakarta. Citing Quran Sura 5:51 -- 'do not take Jews and Christians as your leaders (pemimpin-pemimpinmu)' they warned Muslims against voting for a Christian. When Ahok challenged their interpretation, they accused him of blasphemy. After the accusation came the fatwa, then the mass rallies and ultimately the trial which culminated in May 2017 in Ahok being sentenced to two years in prison [for background see: RLPB 383 (9 Nov 2016)]. On 17 April 2019 Indonesia will hold its first presidential election of the 'post-Ahok era'. The battlelines have been drawn, the race has begun and one thing is clear: in this post-Ahok era the 'sword' of weaponised Islam hangs over the head of every potential leader. The Islamists have seized control.

Prabowo Subianto with Sandiaga Uno
(10 Aug 2018)
On Thursday evening 9 August the two main presidential candidates -- the incumbent Joko Widodo and his challenger, the controversial former Special Forces chief and Gerindra party head Prabowo Subianto -- announced their running mates.  Subianto had been expected to nominate Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. However, at the eleventh hour he nominated Sandiaga Uno (49), a wealthy entrepreneur from his own party and the deputy governor of Jakarta. Both men have strong ties to Islamists. Similarly, President Joko Widodo (also known as 'Jokowi') was expected to nominate former Chief Justice Mohammad Mahfud Mahmodin MD (61), who, as Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court in August 2008, called for the scrapping of Sharia-based bylaws, deeming them discriminatory and unconstitutional. However, at the eleventh hour, Widodo nominated the aging Ma'ruf Amin (75), one of Indonesia's most powerful Islamic clerics. His choice sent shockwaves through the nation.
Pres. Joko Widodo with Ma'ruf Amin
(10 Aug 2018)
Ma'ruf Amin is the supreme leader of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). With some 30 million members, NU is Indonesia's largest Islamic body. Comprising all Indonesia's registered Muslim organisations, the MUI is the country's top Muslim clerical body and is responsible for issuing fatwas. It was in his role as MUI chief that Amin signed the fatwa that condemned Ahok, and he provided expert witness in the trial that saw Ahok convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison. Ma'ruf Amin was a key member of the Presidential Advisory Council during the administration of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004-2014), during which time blasphemy prosecutions skyrocketed. He has been behind efforts to ban non-mainstream Islamic sects (in particular the Ahmadiyah), criminalise 'deviant sexual activities', ban alcohol, and Islamise dress codes and public behaviours. He is also behind a pending halal law which would widen halal certification to include just about everything imaginable; a move that would see billions more dollars flow into Islamic coffers. 

Analysts agree that Widodo, feeling insecure and vulnerable, has opted to protect himself against 'the weaponisation of Islam for destructive political purposes' which could come in the form of an 'Ahok-style attack'. It seems the choice was foisted on Widodo, not merely by his nervous coalition partners, but by Amin himself.  According to reports, just one day before the announcement, Amin warned Widodo that if he persisted with former Chief Justice Mohammad Mahfud, 'then we [NU] will say wassalam' (Arabic for 'goodbye'). Marcus Mietzner of the Australian National University noted in a Facebook post that Widodo 'introduced Ma'ruf at the declaration with the enthusiasm of an undertaker who reads out the CV of the deceased'. That Widodo succumbed to pressure is viewed by many not only as a sign of weak leadership, but as evidence that his commitment to the country's secular foundations is also weak. These are pivotal days for Indonesia.


* raise up within Indonesia, leaders and voices of courage and conviction -- people who will promote and defend freedom for Indonesia's 267 million citizens; may the Lord give them strength to 'turn back the battle at the gate' (from Isaiah 28:5,6).

Such grace (strength to turn back the battle) comes from God in response to faith exercised by the Church, so ...

* bless the Indonesian Church with great faith, insight and spiritual wisdom, so she might know how to respond and how to navigate this rapidly changing environment where Islamists are growing more confident, more assertive and more demanding.

* redeem this threatening situation to awaken Indonesians (most of whom do not want to live in an Islamic state) and to revive, unify, build and sanctify his precious Church; may prayer abound ...'For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places' (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).


In September 2016 Islamists prevented Ahok -- a popular ethnic Chinese Christian -- from being elected Governor of Jakarta. First they warned Muslims against voting for him (citing the Koran); then they used a trumped-up charge of blasphemy to destroy him. Today, as Ahok serves his two-year prison term, every potential leader is aware this 'sword of Islam' hangs over their head. On 17 April 2019 Indonesia will hold its first presidential election of the 'post-Ahok era'. To protect himself, President Joko Widodo has chosen a fundamentalist Islamic cleric as his running mate. Ma'ruf Amin is not only one of Indonesia's most influential clerics but, as chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, he signed the fatwa that destroyed Ahok. These are pivotal days. Please pray for Indonesia and its Christians.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com