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Finding unity in diversity

Article - April 4, 2012
With more than 17,000 islands, 580 different languages and dialects, and some 26 religions, Indonesia has held itself together phenomenally well since its independence from the Netherlands in 1949. And, in light of the uprisings in the Muslim world last year, Indonesia can be considered a role model for the peaceful co-existence of Islam with other religions
One of the biggest democratic countries on earth, Indonesia ranks as the largest predominantly Muslim nation in the world. Its sheer size dictates that diversity rules – not only in terms of geography but also in culture – and thanks to its foundations of tolerance and peace, Indonesia embraces the pluralism and actually uses it to create and strengthen a sense of unity throughout its 17,500 islands.

Indonesia is noteworthy for its tolerant brand of Islam, as  Minister Of Home Affairs Dr. Gamawan Fauzi, explains: “There may be other interpretations of Islam in other countries, however I was taught by my parents when I was a child that Islam is a religion which is very friendly and peaceful.”

 Indeed, Dr. Fauzi sees no conflict between his religious views and professional practice as a democratic politician. “I seek advice from prominent religious leaders as to how I should react as a Muslim and also as a minister. The principles of Islam support democratic views.”

 Officially, the government recognizes six religions (Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism) and there are 20 more local religions, although more than 85% of Indonesians are Muslim. What many people do not know, however, is that Indonesia’s line of Islam differs from that of many other Muslim countries.

“The Islam in Indonesia is more tolerant because it was developed through tradition, culture, and personal relations and not through a dogmatic approach,” explains Djoko Suyanto, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs.

“The schools of thought in Indonesia have always been tolerant. The arrival of more intolerant, violent and radical schools of thought has only been over the past 20 years. These schools have started to take advantage of the environment of openness and freedom in Indonesia.

“The mainstream Muslims here, however, at the grassroots level, the intellectual level and at the leader level are very moderate, and there has been a reaction against this radical and intolerant so-called Islam.”

Indonesia has been a case study in how democracy and Islam can prove compatible, and to a certain extent this can be attributed to Muhammadiyah, an Islamic organization founded 100 years ago by KH Ahmad Dahlan.

Muhammadiyah, which means followers of Muhammad, was a revolutionary movement in Dutch-controlled Indonesia as it adopted contemporary Western educational methods and combined them with Islamic teachings for the organization’s schools. It also employed modern management styles and focused on social development projects such as building hospitals, orphanages and other institutions for the needy.

It was back in the first quarter of the 20th century that Dahlan first introduced the concept of democracy and even created an election system for Muhammadiyah leadership.

Today, Muhammadiyah is the second largest Islamic organization and while it is solely dedicated to social and educational activities in Indonesia, such is its fairness and openness that it has facilitated national discourse by permitting its members to join different political parties.

Fourteen years after the establishment of Muhammadiyah, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) was created as a traditionalist Sunni Islam group. NU also holds tolerance as a main tenet for its members and for Indonesia.

“NU has declared since 1936, nine years before our declaration of independence, that Indonesia is not a Muslim state but a ‘salam’ (peace) state,” says Dr. Sajid Akil Seraj, NU Chairman. “Our philosophy in NU is to teach Islam in a moderate and tolerant way.”
NU, much like Muhammadiyah, has contributed to Indonesia’s role as a peaceful and freedom-loving country, as well as acting as a charitable body, helping to fund schools and hospitals, and combating poverty.


billy kusuma
08/05/2012  |  11:33
100% of 1

Nu Has declared 1926, not 1936