(Travelblog is an occasional series of posts by RNS Editor-in-Chief Kevin Eckstrom, who’s on the road in Boston, Honolulu, Jakarta and Banda Aceh with the 2014 Senior Journalists Seminar, sponsored by the East-West Center in conjunction with the U.S. State Department)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (RNS) I woke up this morning to the news that the thugs in the Islamic State had beheaded yet another American journalist. Not a great way to wake up.

The name “Islamic State” is unfortunate on a number of levels — the group behind it is neither Islamic nor a state. Sure, they may be Muslims acting in the name of Islam, but the Muslim leaders I’ve met here are clear that it’s not a form of Islam that they recognize, or embrace.

Kyai al-Hajj Ali Musthafa Ya'qub is the grand imam of the Istiqal mosque in Jakarta, the national mosque of Indonesia. Photo by Kevin Eckstrom.

Kyai al-Hajj Ali Musthafa Ya’qub is the grand imam of the Istiqal mosque in Jakarta, the national mosque of Indonesia. Photo by Kevin Eckstrom.

“ISIS is not born from the heart of the Muslim people,” said Kyai al-Hajj Ali Musthafa Ya’qub, the grand mufti of the national mosque of Jakarta, using another acronym for the Islamic State. “Islam is what Allah the exalted says, not what Muslims do.”

Here in the heart of the world’s most populous Muslim nation, you encounter a different vision of Islam than the one most Americans see beamed out of the Middle East. Some would call it moderate, or centrist, and tolerance for other faiths is deeply embedded in its DNA. In a country that is 87 percent Muslim, there’s a surprising amount of room for everyone else.

Lukman Hakim Saefuddin is Indonesia's Minister of Religious Affairs. Photo by Kevin Eckstrom.

Lukman Hakim Saefuddin is Indonesia’s Minister of Religious Affairs. Photo by Kevin Eckstrom.

“We need to change this idea that the Middle East is where we need to look” for what Islam looks like, said Lukman Hakim Saefuddin, the government’s minister of religious affairs.

Which brings us back to this idea of an Islamic state — a concept that has never found much favor in a country that claims more Muslims than any other. To be sure, there are controversial blasphemy laws, and the province of Aceh has implemented Shariah law (more on that in a later post). But the country remains a secular democracy whose founding principles include a “belief in the One and Only
God,” but doesn’t mention the term Allah.

Unlike Pakistan or Iran or Egypt, Islam is not the state religion here. Islam certainly has primacy of place, but it’s one of six officially recognized religions. There’s a sense of “Godly nationalism,” as one scholar put it, where Islam is just one of many claims on a national and individual identity.

“We are Indonesians who happen to be Muslims, not simply Muslims who happen to live in Indonesia,” Saefuddin said. For a man charged with safeguarding the faith of some 200 million Muslims, that’s quite a statement.

Let’s assume, just for argument’s sake, that we could call Indonesia an Islamic state. What seems to work here that hasn’t translated to the more troubled corners of the Muslim world?

The Al-Hasyim Pesantren outside Jakarta houses about 250 young students and 100 university students. Photo by Kevin Eckstrom.

The Al-Hasyim Pesantren outside Jakarta houses about 250 young students and 100 university students. Photo by Kevin Eckstrom.

EDUCATION: Saefuddin’s office is charged with ensuring religious “harmony,” and religious education is a big part of that. Indonesia is dotted with nearly 50,000 Islamic schools, which all operate under the careful eye of the government. In other words, this country has mechanisms to ensure that extremism doesn’t take root (although there are questions about whether that’s still the case).

“You’ll never find a student here who will become a jihadi or something,” said Arif Zamhari, the director of the Al-Hikam Pesantren, or boarding school, outside Jakarta that’s home to about 250 youngsters and 100 university students.

REAL ESTATE: Muslims here aren’t fighting the same kinds of turf battles over holy sites that rage across the Middle East from Iraq to the West Bank. “Islam came to Indonesia peacefully; there was no war,” Zamhari said. While there are still disputes over building churches (or mosques, in some majority-Christian areas), Indonesia Muslims have the luxury of space, and cultural dominance. There’s no existential battle for survival.

“In the Middle East, you have 30 countries with one culture,” said K.H. Hasyim Muzadi, the founder of the boarding school, and Zamhari’s father-in-law. “In Indonesia you have one country with hundreds of subcultures.”

Women attend sunset prayers at the Istiqal Mosque in Jakarta, indonesia Photo by Kevin Eckstrom.

Women attend sunset prayers at the Istiqal Mosque in Jakarta, indonesia Photo by Kevin Eckstrom.

TEMPERAMENT: Let’s not overstate it: Indonesia has its share of religious drama — atheism is illegal and Ahmadi Muslims are persecuted, for starters. Suicide bombers in Bali murdered hundreds in 2002 and 2005.  “Like every country, Indonesia has her own ugly face to hide,” said Idrus Shabab, senior editor of Tempo magazine.

But generally speaking, Indonesians don’t seem to have the appetite for waging war over religion. “Religious harmony” can become a cliche, but for whatever reason, it seems to work here — mostly because it’s a value embraced by the rank-and-file. (For a place where it doesn’t always work out so well, take a look at the other big Muslim democracy, India).

And it’s a message enforced from the top, and for good reason. “Islam is a gentle religion, not violent,” Muzadi said. “Violence will turn people away.”

Seeing reports of yet another gruesome murder in the name of Islam is enough to make you turn away. But the Islam you see here might just be enough to deserve another look.

EARLIER TRAVELBLOG POSTS:

Are you a Christian?  What do we mean when we ask questions like that?

Hate speech, the First Amendment and religious sensitivity. Hate speech is an amorphous beast. Who defines it?

 

 

 

19 Comments

  1. “Slay them wherever you find them” – Surah (Q’uran)

    I think it is great when people ignore their holy text.
    I think it is great when religious people ignore their religion.
    I think it is great when people
    are aware that holy texts are not 100%
    Reliable.

    Indonesia appears to be shrugging off the dictates of its religion.
    Excellent.

    They can ‘ban atheism’ all they want – but under the circumstances they are all practicing it anyway.

    Good for them.

    • Hello Max!!

      You are misinformed. Whoever told you that quote from the Koran was either trying to decieve you for political motives, or was misinformed themselves!!

      I’d advise reading the Koran, especially if you wish to become a critic of religion(know thy enemy, eh??). Otherwise you’ll wreck your own credibility by misquoting things.

      For you are correct!! Indeed, Surah 2.191 of the Holy Koran reads “Slay them wherever you find them”. However this will cause any rational person to ask “Who are THEY??”

      If we read the verse right before it, Surah 2.190 reads: “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.”

      “They” are specifically defined as “those who fight you”.

      Additionally, if we read the verse RIGHT after it, we see Surah 2.192 reads: “But if they cease, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.”

      So, when we read the surrounding Surahs, we see your quote, in full context, plainly means: “If someone fights you, slay them (but do not break Islam’s warefare rules in the process). Additionally, if they stop attacking you, forgive them.”

      (Surah 2.193 further elaborates, stating that if your enemy stops attacking you, but continues to oppress Muslims in their own country, you can continue the warfare, but that is the only exception given)

      They are not “ignoring their religion” or “shrugging it off”, they are following it. Unless Indonesia is invaded, Indonesians KNOW their religion demands they leave their neighbors in peace.

      The IS on the other hand ignores and blatantly breaks Sharia, ignoring Mohammed (PBUH)’s direct command to not lay a hand on women, children, babies, and the elderly during warefare.

        • Theist or atheist is a believe system.. either you believe in God or you don’t or you do not know (agnostic- is also a believe system).

          Either can not prove the existence of God. To proof needs data…and data is the result of measurements in space time dimensions…

          To measure requires the subject to be finite/limit..

          why? because that’s how our mind/understanding works..we are simply can not process things in the infinite form…we could have a small success dealing with infinite form. (more about infinity read georg Cantor works..I could only follow small portion of it not all)

          Theist or Atheist would fail to collect data or to measure when the subject is God…

          Besides, Scientific methodology, or logic, reason..whatever name you called a system that governs mutual exclusively to believe system is not always the answer….

          For example, we have a conservative law of energy that states that the total amount of energy in a system remains constant (“is conserved”), although energy within the system can be changed from one form to another or transferred from one object to another.

          Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transformed.

          we can not deny there is energy around us….try to answer this..
          “how energy exists in the first place if it can not be created?”

          if you can answer this with a proof I believe you would be a Nobel prize winner…

          logic,science, reason would fail us to answer..but a believe system God created the energy gives us the answer.

          In Islam there is no compulsory in religion…Islam offers a choice…

          Human has a choice to believe in God, to disbelieve in God, or a choice of agnostic…

          For those who choose to believe and to become muslim…we believe Allah is One..how do we know? because we believe Al-Qur’an is words of Allah and tells us Allahu Ahad (Allah is One)…
          Now, we know something about Allah …simply because we believe Allah tells us…

          Al-qur’an is important to us…

          • @cineresatu,

            1. “Human has a choice to believe in God, to disbelieve in God, or a choice of agnostic…”
            Not according to Aliyat al Faqui. The Muslims are ‘owned’ by the state which is run by the clerics as the judges. You must believe or you are infidel in Iran, Saudi Arabia etc.
            Correct?

            2. “we have a conservative law of energy that states that the total amount of energy in a system remains constant..”
            Yes, but you cannot say in one tone of voice “Science is true”
            and in another tone of voice say, “Science is not true.”
            There is no scientific support for Allah or Hell or any Q’uran claims about god.
            Correct?

          • @atheistmax
            1. compulsion by definition is the action or state of forcing or being forced to do something; constraint…

            no compulsion that means a freedom…the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint…

            so yeah Islam offers a choice..

            surah 2:256
            “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.”

            If you have an issue with the law in Iran,Saudi Arabia…address it to them…not to me…likewise I won’t address my issue with my neighbor with you..:)

            2.?????? not sure what are you trying to say…

            science remains true if it is according to the observed data. And science only works in our space time dimension. In other dimensions we simply do not know…we do not have the data…

            For example gravity on earth is 9.80665 m / s2…we use space (shown in meter) and time (second2)..also speed,acceleration etc are using these measurements…we use gram/kilos for mass etc…observed data is a collection of these many units…since they are finite, they are collectible and becoming data…

            space and time,energy start at big bang…what did happen before that?….there is no units of measurement, no tools to measure either…science simply can not answer this…

            so “science is true” if it is played in the playground of space time dimension/our universe…

            “science is not true” if it tries to play before big bang or after big crunch…

            Science is not absolute…according to Einstein the law of physics would break down close to and/or in the singularity…

            it works like rule of the game…the rule to play soccer game differs than basketball…if you apply the rule of soccer into a basketball game you got a chaos….

            The rule of the game to approach God is by a believe system…you believe it (theist) or you don’t (atheist)..or you do not know (agnostic)…

            You do not approach God, or try to find out about Heaven or Hell by scientific method…it is not observable….it does not work.

            If you lost a car key inside a dark room…you do not go outside where it is bright to find it…it is a wrong methodology…

          • @Cineresatu,

            “Theist or atheist is a believe system”

            No. They are not the same.
            Theism – “I BELIEVE IN A GOD, and I know which one is the true god”
            ATHEISM – “I do NOT believe in gods”

            Atheism is not a belief system.
            There are no beliefs connected to Atheism.

            To say “I believe” is not the same as saying “I do not believe”.

            Don’t pretend they are equal. The believer in Gods has ALL the responsibility to prove their claim is true.

            The Atheist has no responsibility to prove any claims. I claim nothing on the question of religion – god may exist or not – but I do not believe your claim that it is true.

          • @atheistmax
            go to dictionary dot com

            atheist
            a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.

            Can atheist prove the God does not exist? no, you can not…just like theist who believe in God and can not prove God exists…

            believing is..
            to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so:

            Hence, in the absence of proof
            Theist believes in God..(a belief)
            Atheist does not believe in God…(a belief)

            so Yes, both are a believe system…

            “The believer in Gods has ALL the responsibility to prove their claim is true.

            The Atheist has no responsibility to prove any claims.”

            that is childish…I have a choice to believe in God and exercise mine likewise you have a choice to disbelieve and exercise yours..

            why requesting the believer has all the responsibility to prove while the atheist has none…is that reasonable?

            why requesting proof that can not be done?

            For someone who seems to like reason and science…your requests are unreasonable and unscientific…

        • “But why bother with the Q’uran at all? Why bother with any of it if you already know better?”

          Well. Logic and reason dictates that if you want to criticize something you should be knowledgeable in it. It also helps to make sure you don’t make yourself look like an idiot by quoting a Surah about self defense as if it was a bad thing!! It makes sure you aren’t just an unthinking puppet of those who teach you out-of-context quotes for purposes of manipulating you.

          For instance, I see you have a blog. Sarcasm: I know better, though, and know everything in your blog is false without reading it, therefore I don’t have to read it!!

          Is that a fair assessment of your blog, one I have not read??

          But more importantly, you can criticize the Koran BETTER if you know what is inside it. You won’t fall into pitfalls by misquoting things, because you’ll know the context they came from. Muslims won’t dismiss your arguments merely because you have quoted something incorrectly or unintelligently. It allows you to actually DEBATE, rather then throw around your vague understanding of what Islam is and hope no one who has read the book is around to correct you.

          If you attempt to discuss Islam, without knowing what it is, you’ll only make yourself look like a fool. If you, however, learn what Islam is and THEN bring your criticisms of it, you can contribute to a dialog.

          I’d suggest, either learn what Islam is before attempting to discuss it again, or simply stop discussing things that you know nothing about.

          • @Fourth Valley,

            “I’d suggest, either learn what Islam is before attempting to discuss it again, or simply stop discussing things that you know nothing about.”

            Of course you would. You’d probably like me to become a Muslim first, then supposedly I could understand exactly how beautiful it all is and how these head choppers have ‘the wrong interpretation of Islam’.

            I wish I could say that your’s is an ‘enlightened position’ but the same could be said to you by a Christian: If you became a Christian and saw how beautiful it is you would understand why the Crusades were necessary to bring beauty to the world but they were conducted with the ‘wrong interpretation of Christ’ when people were slaughtered.

            I only know what I read in the Q’uran.
            And the behavior of Muslims I see on the news.

            1. Infidels are those who declare: “God is the Christ, the son of Mary.” (Sura 5:17)
            2. Infidels are those who say ‘God is one of three in a Trinity.” (Sura 5:73)
            3. Make war on the infidels who dwell around you. (Sura 9:123)
            4. The infidels are your sworn enemies. (Sura 4:101)
            5. When you meet the enemy in the battlefield, strike off their heads. (Sura 47:4)
            6. Mohammed is Allah’s apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to infidels. (Sura 48:29)
            7. Prophet, make war on the infidel. (Sura 66:9)
            8. Kill the disbelievers wherever we find them. (Sura 2:191)
            9. Believers, take neither the Jews nor the Christians for your friends. (Sura 5:51)
            10. Believers, do not make friends with those who have incurred the wrath of Allah. (Sura 60:13)
            11. Never be a helper to the disbelievers. (Sura 28:86)
            12. Fight those who believe not in Allah. (Sura 9:29)
            13. The only reward of those who make war on Allah and His messenger….will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off. (Sura 5:33)

            Rational, reasonable people have every reason
            to hate all religious philosophies.
            These barbaric ideas from the bronze age are fundamentally based on a claim that there is an imaginary Dictator in the sky who started these beliefs.

            And there is absolutely no reason to believe in Allah, Yahweh or Jesus, Genesha, Thor or any other nonsense.

          • Friend Max,

            I am not a Muslim, and consequently have no interest in your conversion. The idea that one must read something before they can presume to have knowledge of its contents is not a Muslim one, it is a rational viewpoint that anyone with common sense will share.

            Indeed, much of your points here seem to presuppose my religious beliefs.

            I have already shown the folly of first quote, how that since you have been given the quote out of context, you believe it to mean something it does not. Yet you still persist in giving quotes from the Koran without context?? Would you like me to give the context of your new quotes as well and expose further the folly of trusting quotes without context, or would you prefer to read for yourself and LEARN the context of the soundbites you have found on the internet??

            Do not deviate from logic and reason, friend. Without those, you do naught but hurt your own cause. If you persist in speaking authoritatively about a book you have not read, you will only cause others to discount your entire position as that of a fool’s. Adhere to sound logic and reason, and read BEFORE critiquing, else you will be rightly ignored.

          • @Fourth Valley,

            “Do not deviate from logic and reason”

            Yeah, right. Ridiculous.

            The evil Jinn: “It is an entity that has been created from the flames of fire, unlike man, who has been created from earth.”
            – Suratul Rahman (55) V. 15

            In one breath you tell me science and reason is necessary.
            In the next breath you tell me science and reason are not necessary.

            There is no evidence of Jinns or any evidence that Mohammed heard Allah speak or anything of the sort.

            Religion is not compatible with reason and science. It is destroyed by reason and science.

          • Look through my posts here. Never have I claimed religion to be logical.

            I claim only the illogic of critiquing a book without reading it. It seems you have an interest in critiquing religion, evidenced by the fifty proofs on your blog.

            But a good critic knows his subject matter well.

            Think of a movie critic. Even when the critic KNOWS the movie will be bad based on its trailer, he STILL watches the movie before writing the review. He does this because no one would take him seriously otherwise.

            When you admit not having read the Koran, but attempt to critique it anyways, you have as much authority as me when I say, “I have not read your blog, but can conclusively say its contents have no merit whatsoever.”

            Religion needs good critics. But do you suppose Christianity’s top critics have never read the bible?? The only critics of any subject who are taken seriously are taken seriously because they know what they are talking about.

          • I do not believe in God. I am an Atheist.

            10% of Humanity is Atheist. We do not believe.
            Simple as that. Your arguments sound ridiculous and laughable.

            I do not say God is impossible,
            but I question your claim that God is real
            and I have that right.

            What are you going to do about it?
            Believe what you want – base it on fairy dust for all I care.
            But keep it away from my public laws, public schools and public policy.

          • Max, now you’re just kind of funny. Friend, did I ever claim I was a theist??

            The Fourth Valley you believe in is IMAGINARY.

            The Fourth Valley that is trying to get you to believe in God does NOT EXIST. He’s a product of your imagination entirely.

            The Fourth Valley that cares about whether you are a Theist or an Atheist is a DELUSION.

            The Fourth Valley that you are arguing with is a product of your mind.

            The REAL Fourth Valley wants you to remain an atheist. The REAL Fourth Valley wants you to be a BETTER critic of religion. The REAL Fourth Valley wants you to read the book you want to bash so that you can BASH IT BETTER.

            The Fourth Valley you are arguing with does not exist.

            Religion needs good Critics, says the Real Fourth Valley, and THAT is why you should read the Koran!! For the SAME reason a movie critic actually WATCHES the movies he reviews!!

            It seems like you’re ignoring everything within a post, imagining its contents contain demands that you should believe in a god, and just posting about how you are an atheist in response.

  2. Thank you for a great article. I am confused about one thing. Why do you call India a Muslim democracy? I was under the impression that India is about 80% Hindu and about 14.4 % Muslim.

    • Kevin Eckstrom

      Article author

      Good point, Clairnel. There’s some dispute over who has more Muslims — India or Indonesia. While India is overwhelmingly Hindu, it may also soon outpace Indonesia in Muslim population. So either way, the world’s largest democracy may soon also be the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Sorry if that was unclear.

  1. Comment marked as low quality by the editors. Show comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.