Jokowi and NU: the view from the pesantren

Ulama have been treated like bay leaves (daun salam) during elections. Our mothers usually use bay leaves when cooking to make food smell delicious. But once the meal has been prepared, the bay leaf is the first thing to be thrown away”—Ma’ruf Amin

During visits to pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) in Java and Sumatra, President Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi) running mate Ma’ruf Amin conveyed that metaphor many times in his speeches. “Pak Jokowi is not someone who treats ulama like a bay leaf,” said the former supreme leader of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).

In an attempt to defuse Islamist attacks by winning over NU’s support, Jokowi has relentlessly tried to secure voters in pesantrenNU’s backbone. He managed to shift NU and pesantren leaders who had in 2014 supported his opponent Prabowo Subianto. Significantly, Jokowi devised pesantren empowerment programs in the form of vocational training centres and microcredit schemes. Jokowi has also promised to expedite the passage of the Pesantren Bill, which would increase the legal recognition of pesantren. Media reporting also suggests that fewer pesantren have openly declared their support for Prabowo today than in the lead-up to the last election five years ago.

Read the rest of this article at New Mandala.

Law as a weapon: The “criminalisation of ulama”

The 2019 elections have seen increasing attacks on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo over his “criminalisation of ulama”, that is, jailing Islamic religious leaders. These claims are part of broader efforts to portray the Jokowi government as anti-Islamic.

Presidential challenger Prabowo Subianto has made repeated references to the “criminalisation of ulama” during his campaign events. Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whose Democratic Party has lent its support to Prabowo, also warned publicly against the danger of “criminalising” religious leaders. A member of the Democratic Party even claimed that, in contrast to Jokowi, Yudhoyono had never imprisoned his opponents during his 10-year rule (a statement that is, in fact, incorrect). Jokowi has been forced to address this issue several times, most recently at a Muhammadiyah leadership meeting in Bengkulu in mid-February. “Which religious leader have I criminalised?” Jokowi said. “If a religious leader is innocent and he is imprisoned, only then can it be considered criminalisation.”

Read the rest of this article on Indonesia at Melboune.

Questioning Prabowo’s alliance with Islamists

In the aftermath of Jakarta’s 2017 gubernatorial election, it seemed that Indonesia’s Islamists would be more solid than ever in their support for Prabowo Subianto’s challenge to Joko Widodo (Jokowi) in Indonesia’s 2019 elections. The “212” movement born out of the 2016–17 anti-Ahok demonstrations was institutionalised in the form of the 212 Alumni Brotherhood (or PA212) and the National Movement to Safeguard the Fatwa of Ulama (GNPF-U), both of which have overtly declared their support for Prabowo. In December 2018, PA 212 held the second reunion of the 212 rally, which was attended by Prabowo and key leaders of his coalition parties, along with hundreds of thousands of 212 “alumni” from across Indonesia. Earlier, in September, GNPF-U held an Ulama Conference (Ijtima’ Ulama) where Prabowo signed a 17-point Integrity Pact (Pakta Integritas) containing promises that GNPF-U wanted fulfilled should Prabowo win. Compared to 2014, the Prabowo–Islamist alliance appeared to be even tighter.

But a closer look into recent dynamics between Prabowo and his Gerindra party and Islamist forces reveals that the Islamists are in fact less solidly behind Prabowo than is often portrayed. Jokowi has consolidated support among major mainstream Islamic parties and organisations, and has sought to split the Islamist coalition which drove the 212 movement. Prabowo has ultimately been left more dependent on a narrower base of hardliners, amid intense political competition with Jokowi for the votes of more mainstream Muslims. Moreover, Islamists may have less leverage and bargaining power on Prabowo this time than they had in 2014, something which might have implications for the policy direction a Prabowo administration would take.

Read the rest of this article at New Mandala.

NU’s policy on ‘kafir’: Not new, but important

Muslims should not have been startled by Nahdlatul Ulama’s (NU) recent call for an end to addressing non-Muslims as kafir (infidels). This opinion, arising from NU’s Bahtsul Masa’il (forum for religious problems) at its recent national conference in West Java, is not new. However, it is significantly important for the current religious state of affairs in Indonesia.

Many Muslims disapproved or even condemned NU’s appeal; yet it does not concern the word kafir in its theological meaning, but rather its use in today’s social and national life. The accusation that NU wants to amend the Quran, which uses the word in many places, is simply a display of ignorance. Continue reading

2019 elections: Pancasila contested

Recent debates on the five principles of Pancasila should worry those advocating democratic values and religious freedom, as Islamists in both the incumbent’s and challenger’s camps have tried to appropriate the state ideology.

All political parties of course shun accusations of being anti-Pancasila. Closer to the general elections this April, the rhetoric of Islamic-leaning parties of both camps implies Pancasila serves their aspirations more than those of secular parties.   Continue reading

2019: Aliansi FPI dan Trah Soeharto

Setelah Partai Berkarya, yang bermisi ingin melanjutkan program HM Soeharto, lolos menjadi peserta pemilu, Tommy Soeharto mengunjungi Imam Besar FPI Habib Rizieq Shihab (HRS) di Mekkah. Diberitakan bahwa HRS menyelamati Tommy, mendukung Partai Berkarya untuk ikut dalam “Koalisi Keumatan” (kini bernama “Koalisi Adil Makmur”), dan menyebutnya sebagai partai yang “nasionalis-Pancasilais”.

Pertanyaannya: apakah HRS lupa pada pemahaman yang ia pegangi selama ini mengenai Pancasila dan sikapnya terhadap Orde Baru (Orba)? Continue reading