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Preface

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 April 2020

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Summary

In the past, Southeast Asia has been regarded as the bastion of “moderate Islam”. Some argue it is the “smiling face of Islam” compared to Muslim societies in the Middle East, where Islam originated 1400 years ago. Southeast Asian Muslims have always shown respect for local beliefs, traditions and cultures while remaining committed to their faith. The ulama or religious elites of the past did not consider respecting local traditions as compromising their religion. However, events in the 1970s, known as the Islamic revivalist period, led to Muslims in Southeast Asia embracing more conservative interpretations of Islam. Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have shown an “Islamist turn”, some say. Muslim religious elites are promoting traditionalist discourses that are holding the community back from progress and modernity.

Recent episodes in the three countries feed this narrative. Chief among them was the 2016 mass rallies in Indonesia that sought to challenge Chinese-Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok. He was campaigning for re-election to the Jakarta governorship in 2017 when one of the speeches he gave was interpreted as constituting blasphemy. Ahok later lost the Jakarta election and was sentenced to jail. The mass protests were led by ultra and firebrand conservative Habib Rizieq Shihab. Indonesian president Joko Widodo was also banking on the rising conservatism to stay in power. In the April 2019 presidential election, in which he sought re-election, he chose the conservative Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate, despite the latter's controversial position towards minority Shias, Ahmadis and liberals. Jokowi won the election, which means Ma’ruf will serve as his vice-president between 2019 and 2024. In 2005, Ma’ruf endorsed the SIPILIS fatwa—anti-secularism, pluralism and liberalism—when he was head of the MUI (Ulama Council of Indonesia) fatwa committee. Ma’ruf has also concurrently been the chairman of MUI and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) since 2015, making him the leader of the largest Muslim organization in the country. This book presents chapters on Indonesia that deal with issues pertaining to minority rights under the first Jokowi government. In the same vein, one chapter discusses the contribution of the Ahmadiyah to modernist Islamic discourse in the country, despite the group being seen as a deviant sect today. Another chapter addresses the debates surrounding the “conservative turn” in Indonesia and questions whether this is really taking place.

Type
Chapter
Information
Alternative Voices in Muslim Southeast Asia
Discourse and Struggles
, pp. vii - x
Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2019

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