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Extremism 'still strong' in Indonesian colleges

Hardliners using universities to infiltrate society to further intolerant ends, study says

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Extremism 'still strong' in Indonesian colleges

Muslims from hard-line groups stage a rally in Jakarta in this Nov. 2, 2018 file photo. Islamic groups are still trying to spread intolerance and their demand for Shariah in Indonesia’s state-run universities, a religious freedom advocacy group says. (Photo by Ryan Dagur/

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Muslims looking to impose Shariah across Indonesia are showing no-let up in their campaign to infiltrate state-run universities, according to a study conducted by an advocacy group promoting religious freedom.

The year-long study, the results of which were released on May 31, was carried out by the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace at ten state-run universities.

All the universities were under the influence of Islamic movements called tarbiyah (education), which spread hostility towards other religious communities, the study said.

“These movements demand Shariah law implementation and intolerance towards non-Muslims and were resistant to moderate discourses on Islamic teaching,” said the group’s director of research Halili, who goes by one name.

He said they strongly upheld the Quran and Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohammad), and believe Islam was under threat.

"They make repeated calls for Muslims to unite to fight against infidels or Muslims' enemies, who include Christians, Jews as well as Western and secular-liberal groups," he said.

“They became an exclusive solid community in these universities and were careful, suspicious and hostile to others,” he said, adding that they targeted university student organizations, used mosques on campuses and even controlled the leadership structure on campuses to spread their message.

Ade Armando, a political science lecturer at the University of Indonesia (UI) and one of the researchers said these Islamic groups believe “they must control strategic institutions in society” to realize their Shariah dream

“These institutions include state-run universities, which produce individuals who can be carefully placed in society,” he said.

Pudentia Maria, a Catholic lecturer in UI’s Faculty of Culture, said the groups tended to flourish in non-social science faculties.

“They, in general, they do not do well in faculties related to social sciences because of these faculties’ openness to cross-disciplinary dialogue," she said.

Setara, however, said the universities were taking steps to counter extremist threats.

Eko Cahyono, a lecturer at Bogor Agricultural University, said the university’s rector has kept a tight watch on activities in its mosques since last year and has also built places worship for non-Muslims.

“These, of course, challenge these Islamic groups," he said, adding that important positions once dominated by them are no longer open to them thanks to the university’s rector.

Setara’s deputy director Bonar Tigor Naipospos said it is hoped the research encourages moderate groups to counter Islamization on campuses.

“They move systematically and massively. There is no other option but for moderate Islamic groups to do so the same,” he said.

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