US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Indonesia gave much hope, at least for its people, that Indonesia might do something more in an international context.
His visit sparked the idea that Indonesia made a deep impression on Obama. It is remarkable to see that he remembered and probably learned many things from this country as a young child — not only about food such as sate and bakso but about Indonesian values.
Specifically, that Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation and third largest democracy, has shown itself to be a religious and tolerant country.
In the context of Indonesian Islam, this statement can be regarded as positive and negative, especially when related to the real conditions in our country.
By saying it is positive it means that Obama has understood well the true tradition of Indonesian Islam. Historically speaking, Islam came to Indonesia peacefully and not by the sword.
By mostly using its sufi tradition i.e. walisongo, Islam was welcomed by local traditions.
It happened because Islam did not want to attack rigorously other traditions.
Instead, Islam used a cultural approach through trade and intermarriage that eventually converted Indonesia to Islam. This fact gives great support to the premise that Indonesian Islam was founded on tolerance.
However, what has happened recently in our country contradicts the idea that Indonesian Islam is tolerant, specifically the development of transnational Islam and Islamic organizations that create fear by spreading violence throughout the country.
Take for instance the transnational Islamic caliphate idea that emerged from the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) movement. This idea was unknown in the history of Indonesian Islam.
It was mainly imported from other countries that were completely different from our culture. It is distinct from Indonesian Islam, which has embraced democracy since Indonesian independence.
Furthermore, the never-ending violence perpetrated by several organizations against non-Muslims and also fellow Muslims worsens the international image of Indonesian Islam.
For example the Ahmadiyah group has been repeatedly attacked. We can mention several such incidents, such as in 2005 when the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) attacked Ahmadiyah’s headquarters in West Java or in October incident when an Ahmadiyah mosque was burned down.
Surprisingly, this situation was worsened by an edict from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) that said Ahmadiyah was non-Islamic and a deviant sect. The government’s reaction to this issue — issuing a joint ministerial decree “to freeze” the activities of the Ahmadiyah sect — legitimized the perception that Indonesian Islam was not tolerant.
Nonetheless, Obama’s visit as well as his hope that Indonesia might play an important role in the 21st century — especially when he mentioned Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (unity in diversity) — could be a turning point for Indonesian Islam for showing its real character in accordance with its tolerant basis.
This goal may be achieved if several conditions are fulfilled. First, Indonesian Islam must return to its basis, reflecting its introduction to the archipelago.
By upholding this basic and rooted tradition, Indonesian Muslims can consistently act tolerantly and with respect for other faiths.
This means that Indonesian Muslims must be assertive and refuse any spirit or ideology which deviates from our tradition, including transnational Islam thought that condemns democracy and Islamic group which support violence.
Second, Indonesia has to spread this spirit of tolerance to the world. It is well known that Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim majority country.
This fact gives us a legitimate basis for representing Islam to the world. Its democracy gives Indo-
nesia more credibility than the Middle Eastern countries in the region where Islam was born.
Based on those factors, Indonesia can go further, representing Islam and fostering a dialogue with the western countries on Muslim-Western relations.
It can be said that dialogue with Indonesia means a dialog with Islam. This goal dovetails with the hope of Obama to repair the relationship between the US and Muslim communities.
Third, the Indonesian government must be consistent and show the world that Indonesia is a tolerant country. Therefore, the government must eradicate any violence related to the freedom of religion which happens many times in this country.
If necessary, the government can dismiss any organization which promotes violence because it goes against our Constitution, especially article 29, paragraph 2, which states: “The state will guarantee the freedom of everyone to adhere to their respective religion and to perform their religious duties in accordance with their religion and faith.”
By constantly implementing these three ideas, it can be guaranteed that Indonesia can play an important role in the international context especially representing the interest of Muslim communities vis a vis their western counterparts.
It can be said that dialogue with Indonesia means a dialog with Islam. This goal dovetails with the hope of Obama to repair relationship between US and the Muslim world.
The writer is a lecturer at the State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN), Surabaya.