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Can Indonesian Islam be a Model for the Rest of the Muslim World?

  • The Jakarta Post
    The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Fri, May 20, 2016 | 12:00 am
Can Indonesian Islam be a Model for the Rest of the Muslim World? Kamaruddin Amin Director General for Islamic Education Ministry of Religious Affairs (-/-)

Kamaruddin Amin
Director General for Islamic Education
Ministry of Religious Affairs

Islam has been implemented around the Muslim world through a dynamic range of distinctive reflections and articulations, ranging from moderate to extremely radical. These various local articulations of Islam are believed to be a reflection of the flexibility and the universal values of Islam. To put it differently, it is unrealistic, if not infeasible, to expect one homogeneous, universally implemented Islam. Islam in Saudi Arabia is different, or has to be different, from Islam in other parts of the Muslim world, including Indonesia. However, Islam has to contribute to civilization, no matter how and where it is implemented. Can Indonesian Islam be a model for the rest of the Muslim world?

As the second largest religion, and the one predicted to be the largest by 2050, Islam has shown spectacular, impressive and continuous growth, not only in the Muslim world but also, significantly, in the West, including Europe and the US. The growth has been accompanied by Islam’s specific and dynamic problems. Islam in Europe is colored with problems around cultural integration and assimilation, often based on mutual fear, which results in the appearance of Islamophobia on the one hand, and a serious suspicion of Western culture on the other hand.

Islam in Africa is characterized by poverty, backwardness, short life expectancies, low income per capita and gender disparities in every aspect of life. In Asia, Islam is colored with other distinctive problems, ranging from its relationship to the state and its interaction with modernity to its exploitation in socio-political life.

The Muslim world has its shared characteristics such as history, culture, civilization and a tradition of scholarship. Saudi Arabia, for instance, besides being the birthplace of Islam and having the cultural and historical legacy, it has the iconic religious symbol of Ka'bah, the mosque and the cemetery of the prophet. Moreover, Saudi used to be the hub of Islamic scholarship. However, Saudi’s socio-political life, its tradition of scholarship and its religious characteristics that tend to be rigid, tough and black-and-white, make it difficult for Saudi to be the reference point for the Muslim world.

Likewise, the Arab spring that arose independently and spread across the Arab world in 2011 through Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, uprooting some autocratic regimes, though not creating democratic government, let alone enhancing living standards, has left little space for those countries to be referred to as models for Islamic civilization. 

Opportunity, Potential and Challenges for Indonesia

Is it feasible for Indonesia to become a prospective model for the rest of the Muslim world, in terms of both Islamic civilization and Islamic study? The following are Indonesia’s areas of potential that need to be taken into account:

First, Indonesia has a great wealth of Islamic educational institutions, among them some of the world’s largest, that promote a moderate Islam, democracy and tolerance. This system plays a strategic role in the creation of an educated and critical middle-class Muslim society that is appreciative of modernity without losing their Islamic identity.

Secondly, Indonesia has an unshakable social infrastructure that strengthens the foundation of Indonesian ideology, protecting it from any foreign radical ideas. NU, Muhammadiyah, PERSIS, Matlaul Anwar and other moderate Islamic mass organizations, play a pivotal role in maintaining, nurturing and protecting Indonesian Islam from penetration by any radical or extremist ideology.

Third, Indonesian Islam is democratic, tolerant, moderate, indigenous and appreciative of a diversity of cultures, ethnicities and religions. It is true that sporadic communal conflicts over religious nuances still happen in Indonesia, but they are few and far between, given the fact that Indonesia is a hugely diverse country in terms of demography, geography, religion and culture.

Fourth, the structure of Indonesian demography is unique – 43 percent of the population is under 25 years old, which means that Indonesia has an enormous demographic dividend, or demography bonus.

Fifth, as the strongest ASEAN economy and the 16th largest economy in the world, Indonesia has abundant natural and human resources. The challenge is to increase national competitiveness through human capacity improvement, which will come through quality education.

 The above mentioned points merely showcase Indonesia’s potential to become the Muslim world’s model for the future. Realizing this will be heavily dependent on how Indonesia manages this great potential. It will require quality education, professional governance, integrity, sincere dedication and nurturing and the maintenance of a moderate Islam amid various global influences. Wallahu Alam