Jakarta Muslim leader says no to Islamic law

The chairman of the 40-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama tells radical groups it would only increase tension and violence

The chairman of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation yesterday asked radical groups to stop calling for the imposition of syariah law, saying it would only pit Islam against other religions and ignite more violence in the country.

Mr Hasyim Muzadi of the 40-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) said the Bali bombings demonstrated that religious chauvinists here and in the region were misinterpreting the main tenets of Islam for their own political agendas.

‘Islam is a peaceful religion. But there are opportunists who are trying to use it to justify acts of violence,’ he told The Straits Times.

‘Some of them want the government to impose syariah. But they have to be realistic and understand that it will marginalise our minority groups even more.’

His comments yesterday came in response to calls by militant groups like the Islamic Defenders Front and hardline parties in Parliament to implement syariah law.

A concerted attempt to impose the controversial law was blocked this year by legislators during the national assembly’s annual session.

But the issue continues to fester, with some politicians and Islamic activists in some provinces campaigning for it. And they appear to be getting support for their cause.

A survey by a local university found that 71 per cent of the 2,500 respondents wanted syariah implemented in Indonesia – 10 per cent higher than when a similar poll was carried out last year.

The two-week survey, conducted just two days after the Oct 12 Bali blasts and published last week in Tempo magazine, was carried out by researchers from the Centre for Islamic and Social Studies at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University here.

It showed that 67 per cent of those interviewed wanted a government system based on Islamic law – and that 33 per cent wanted authorities to enforce amputation as punishment for thieves.

Asked to comment on the survey, Mr Hasyim said it reflected genuine concerns of Muslims here, but such concerns had to be dealt with within the bounds of the Constitution.

‘We must not confuse religion and the state. Combining them will destabilise the country because the radicals will want everyone to follow a certain set of ideals,’ he said.

He also stressed that the hardliners formed a small group, numbering about 4,000, and were not in a position to alter the direction of Indonesian politics radically.

But what was of concern to the moderate Muslim majority, he said, was that the radicals were resorting to violence under the banner of Islam.

Acts of violence have been on the rise and religious and ethnic conflicts in particular have reached alarming levels over the last five years.

In the first 20 years after independence, only two churches were destroyed. But under former president Suharto’s 32-year rule, about 500 churches and 15 mosques were attacked, more than half of them in the 1990s.

And after Mr Suharto resigned in May 1998, such violence escalated. The religious conflicts in Poso and Maluku showed the growing confidence and assertiveness of the extremists.

Ever since the Bali tragedy, the NU and other moderate groups like the Muhammadiyah have been openly critical of the actions of hardline groups.

Syariah support

IN a survey, of 2,500 who responded:

71 per cent wanted syariah implemented, 10 per cent higher than when a similar poll was carried out last year.
67 per cent wanted a government system based on Islamic law.
33 per cent wanted amputation as punishment for thieves to be enforced.

Conducted just two days after the Oct 12 Bali blasts, the survey was published last week.

ISLAM BEING HIJACKED’

Islam is a peaceful religion. But there are opportunists who are trying to use it to justify acts of violence… Some of them want the government to impose syariah. But they have to be realistic and understand that it will marginalise our minority groups even more.’
– NU’s Mr Hasyim Muzadi (above)

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