Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Moderate Muslims and the Challenge of Terrorism

The 21st century witnesses the domination of the term ‘terrorism’ in the lexicon of international politics. The terror menace gained much of its popularity in international arena in the post 9/11 attack of the WTC in New York by the so called Islamic terrorist group Al-Qaeda.

Indonesia as the most populous Muslim country in the world is, however, not spared from the similar attack of this asymmetrical warfare, an attack to the unguarded targets in the society. A string of terrorist attacks has been terrorizing the peaceful coexistence of the Indonesian people.

The fact that these terrors have not even spared the Muslim community, it is then not an incorrect judgment to describe that terrorism has become a global menace that requires global efforts by all communities in the world to work together to eradicate it.

As the biggest Muslim community in the world, Muslims in Indonesia need to work very hard to explain to the international community that Islam is a true peaceful way of life and not a religion of terror. However, this task becomes a huge challenge for the Indonesian Muslims because of the fact that the terrorists who claimed to be Muslims have waged this asymmetrical warfare.

The 9/11 attack in New York, the attacks on the important offices like the embassies in various parts of the world, the series of bomb blast in India as well as the ones in Indonesia that all have claimed many innocent lives have been conducted, or allegedly conducted, by Muslim terrorists.

These acts of terror clearly showed the hijacking of religion for some personal gains. And because of these actions by irresponsible personalities, Islam has been globally perceived as a religion of terror. The Muslims, the followers of Islam, are terrorists.

The perception of Islam as a religion of terror and Muslims as terrorists has not even spared the moderate Muslims in Indonesia who put Islam as a way of life that possesses a high degree of tolerance towards other groups or followers of other religions for the sake of creating a harmonious society in the midst of disparities and differences.

The facts that the home grown Islamic militants conducted the terror attacks in Indonesia further support this generalization in the perception of Islam and Muslims even though the real culprits are small sections of the huge Muslim population.

The Role of the Nahdhatul Ulama (NU) and the Muhammadiyah

As the biggest socio-religious organizations in Indonesia (NU with more than 40 million followers and Muhammadiyah with some 30 million followers), the organizations have a very important role to play in creating a tolerant society and a better understanding of Islam in Indonesia. Even though there are differences between the two organizations in their approaches towards Islam, their difference will not become a hurdle for establishing a global framework in the fight against terrorism.

NU is known as the more traditional Muslim group in Indonesia as compared to Muhammadiyah. It uses Sufistic and liberal approaches to teach Islam to the people. The flexibility of the approach adopted by the group has resulted in the spread of Islam among the people in the rural areas thus the NU enjoys popular supports among the lower middle class Muslims in Indonesia.

On the other hand, the more progressive Muhammadiyah uses a different approach in understanding Islam. It rejects Sufistic and liberal approaches of the NU and relies more on the scriptural understanding of Islam as it is written in the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith. It invites Muslims to learn more about Islam through the study of the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith and strives to ‘purify’ Islam in Indonesia. This approach adopted by the Muhammadiyah gains more popularity among the upper middle class Muslims who are mostly educated and live in the urban areas.

The differences in their approaches and support base in Indonesia, however, do not give any diversion to the representation of Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance and the Muslims in Indonesia are moderate Muslims.

The Sufistic and flexible approaches adopted by the NU give an impression to the general public of the flexibility and tolerance in Islam. At the same time, the more puritanical approach by the Muhammadiyah gives a better understanding to the core of the Islamic teachings which is full of tolerance and respect of humanity.

By combining the approaches adopted by the NU and the Muhammadiyah, there is a bigger possibility of success in picturing Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance. Thus it will enable the Muslims in Indonesia to garner more supports from the followers of Islam as well as from the followers and the leaders of other religions in Indonesia and in other parts of the world as well to represent the true face of religion.

It is now a high time for the Muslims in Indonesia to wake up and to voice loudly their concern towards Islam and Muslims in the world. With the possible success of representing Islam as a tolerant and peaceful religion, the fight against terror by Islamic militants can be started from the very backyard of Muslims.

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