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Indonesia's caliphate movement is a creeping menace

A change by militant groups to more peaceful strategies is hiding the same harmful and terrifying motive

Hardline Muslims are gaining support by adopting more peaceful strategies to achieve their aim of overthrowing Indonesia's secular system

Hardline Muslims are gaining support by adopting more peaceful strategies to achieve their aim of overthrowing Indonesia's secular system. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 10, 2022 10:46 AM GMT

Updated: June 13, 2022 03:57 AM GMT

The expansion of an Islamic caliphate movement in Muslim-majority Indonesia has reached an alarming state despite efforts by the government and civil society groups to stop it. 

Although authorities have banned some hardline organizations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) and the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), caliphate militants won’t give up until their goal is achieved.

Members of the disbanded groups may come up with new names, but the mission to establish an Islamic state remains. 

Not long after FPI founder Muhammad Rizieq Shihab was arrested and jailed last year on charges of violating health protocols, blasphemy and hate speech, new leaders quickly emerged to carry the torch.

What’s more concerning is that jihadists have shifted their strategy from using violent means with guns and bombs to peaceful approaches such as preaching — similar to what clerics do — to gain wider recognition. They have won a huge following and established more centers across the country.

They seem to have abandoned terror attacks because they were no longer effective and resulted in many jihadists being arrested. 

After decades of operating under the radar with its mosques, schools and even a university, it has started showing its extremist leanings more publicly

Instead, they are working closely with Muslim communities and are infiltrating Indonesian politics. They rally behind certain Islamic-based parties and endorse politicians that they consider will support the creation of the “Islamic State of Indonesia.”

Khilafatul Muslimin, one of the oldest groups seeking a caliphate through preaching and which is well received by many Muslim communities, has made national headlines in recent weeks.

After decades of operating under the radar with its mosques, schools and even a university, it has started showing its extremist leanings more publicly.

The group that people thought had a purely religious mission has spoken openly about replacing Indonesia’s secular ideology of Pancasila with a radical Islamic one.

Fortunately, police arrested its supreme leader Abdul Qadir Hasan Baraja on June 7 for rejecting the country’s ideology and seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate.

He was accused of being behind a series of recent rallies calling for the establishment of an Islamic state, including ones in West Java and in the suburban areas of Jakarta. Police are still investigating whether the 78-year-old was also involved in terror attacks he had previously not been linked to.

Intelligence analyst Stanislaus Riyanta said in a television interview that the group poses a serious threat because its softly, softly approach makes the public unaware of its true extremist mission

He has fallen foul of the law before, having been behind bomb attacks in Central Java, including one that devastated Indonesia’s largest Buddhist holy site, Borobudur Temple, in 1985. For that, he was jailed for 13 years and after his release he formed Khilafatul Muslimin.

While Baraja’s recent arrest is much appreciated by many, they have wondered why it came so late as his organization has gained nationwide popularity.

It has established offices across the country, including in Labuan Bajo, a popular tourist destination in Catholic-majority East Nusa Tenggara province. 

Intelligence analyst Stanislaus Riyanta said in a television interview that the group poses a serious threat because its softly, softly approach makes the public unaware of its true extremist mission.

All people know is that this group, and others like it, promotes peace and love, conducts religious studies or discussions, and organizes various religious and social activities. 

Little do they know that these radical groups are wolves in sheep’s clothing, that these groups are waiting to pounce under the cloak of preaching religious values. They are also unaware that establishing a caliphate would most likely mean the seizing of power. 

Indonesia should not let these kinds of people have control of the country, otherwise this democratic nation will turn into a war zone, just like in Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power

That’s the danger — when they think they have won enough support, they will slowly mobilize it to seize power and overthrow a legitimate government.

A day after Baraja’s arrest, some 250 militants, many of them former terrorist convicts and members of the disbanded Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia and Islamic Defenders Front, declared their support for Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan to run for president in 2024. 

Recent polls show Baswedan, who was strongly backed by militant groups in his bid to become governor in 2017, is among the favored presidential candidates after Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo.

It’s feared that radical groups will repeat their success in the 2017 election in the next presidential poll.

The poll in 2017 was reportedly marred by acts of intimidation that successfully ensured the defeat of Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. 

Indonesia should not let these kinds of people have control of the country, otherwise this democratic nation will turn into a war zone, just like in Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power. 

The caliphate movement will probably never be eradicated from Indonesia unless the whole of civil society, including religious groups, rallies behind the government and educates people about the deception being employed by radical groups.

* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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