The Jakarta Post
As the nation prepares to celebrate its 70th Independence Day on Monday, concerns are brewing over the proliferation of radical Islamic movements that have become more prevalent after the fall of the Soeharto regime in 1998.
Aiming to combat such extremism and to reinforce Indonesia's long-held pluralistic identity, the country's largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), has embarked on a campaign to promote Islam Nusantara (Islam of the Archipelago).
Islam Nusantara is the concept of a Muslim-majority nation with moderate views and one that embraces religious tolerance.
In sweltering heat, thousands of young men marched in unison toward the At-Taqwa Grand Mosque in Cirebon, West Java, on Saturday wearing either black or green uniforms. 'The Unitary State of Indonesia [NKRI] or death! Indonesia, victorious!' a crowd of NU's youth wing Banser chanted repeatedly.
Three marching bands also joined in the parade and played loud music without rest. Young boys and girls wearing bright purple twirled their batons in time to the music while older men in Armylike gear tried to make sure everyone marched in straight lines.
'We denounce radical groups and for that I ask for the commitment of our members to promote Islam Nusantara not only in Cirebon but throughout the archipelago,' head of the national division of Banser, Alfa Isnaeni, announced.
'We are Indonesians who are Muslims, not just Muslims living in Indonesia,' he said while denouncing the idea of an Indonesian caliphate.
The city of Cirebon has a history of militancy, and garnered national attention in 2011 when a suicide bomber from the Tauhid Wal Jihad group attacked a mosque in the police headquarters in Cirebon. The attack occurred during Friday prayers, which resulted in the death of the suicide bomber and left 27 others injured.
Nonetheless, Alfa said that he saw potential in Cirebon as a site to promote the word of Islam Nusantara, especially since it was on Java's northern coastal area (Pantura), where thousands of people crossed daily.
'[The parade] was an effort to promote an Islam that is neither selfish nor intolerant. I would like to ask everyone to live peacefully side by side no matter whether you are Muslim, Christian or Buddhist because that is the type of Islam we have in Indonesia,' he said.
'We are also trying to discourage any acts of violence done in the name of religion and open up room for dialogue and encourage learning about each other and Islam Nusantara.'
Alfa added that Banser planned to conduct similar activities in other places across the archipelago such as Medan in North Sumatra and Central Kalimantan.
The issue of radicalization and the metastasizing influence of militant groups has increasingly attracted attention and consternation in Indonesia, especially in light of the more than 500 Indonesians reportedly having joined the Islamic State (IS) movement in Iraq and Syria.
After the declaration, the crowd was entertained by members performing debus, a demonstration of death-defying invulnerability skills.
Rizal, 19, who joined Banser over a year ago, peered excitedly at a man having a pile of bricks smashed on his head. '[Joining the parade] was exciting. We get to show people what Islam Nusantara is, an Islam that is inclusive. It's important because it's based on NKRI and Pancasila [Indonesia's philosophical foundation)],' he said.
Onlookers, however, were not so sure. Mitha, a 25-year-old housewife, said that she was unsure of the parade's objective. 'I'm still not sure what Islam Nusantara is. It's just Islam in Indonesia, right?' she said.
Separately, founder of the Institute of International Peace Building, Noor Huda Ismail, applauded NU's efforts to raise awareness of increasing radicalization and to spread the concept of Islam Nusantara through such activities. However, he said that more must be done in order to tackle the problem of radicalization.
'Parades could be an effective tool to reach out to communities in Cirebon. However, such efforts cannot reach their full potential if they are only ceremonial affairs,' he said.
Noor Huda explained that Banser could work effectively through informal methods to encourage a better understanding of Islam Nusantara among family, friends and prayer groups.
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