Indonesia: Moderate Muslims Disdain Extremists
Story Filed: Sunday, October 27, 2002 7:16 PM EDT
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) -- When Riyanto noticed the black plastic bundle hidden in the bushes beside the Ebenezer Pentacostal Church, he didn't hesitate.
With a shouted warning to hundreds of people emerging from the church after a Christmas Eve service, the Muslim militiaman guarding the church grabbed the package and raced for an open field across the road. He never made it -- an explosion killed him instantly, damaging the church but leaving the congregation's 600 members unscathed.
The bombing two years ago in the town of Mojokoerto when a member of the moderate Muslim Nahdlatul Ulama sacrificed his life to save his Christian neighbors was perhaps the most dramatic illustration of the close ties between the majority Muslims and other faiths in Indonesia.
The bomb, though, demonstrates that the tradition has been under severe strain in recent years by a minority of Islamic extremists. Last week, radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir was arrested for allegedly orchestrating 11 church bombings on Christmas Eve 2000.
Nineteen people -- including Riyanto, who like many Indonesians uses only one name -- died and dozens were injured.
Bashir is spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaida-linked group suspected of being behind the Oct. 12 Bali terror bombings that killed more than 180 people. Bashir denies any involvement in terrorism and says that the organization -- added to the U.S. State Department's list of terror organizations Wednesday -- does not exist.
Jemaah Islamiyah wants to establish a hardline Islamic state across in Indonesia, Malaysia and the southern Philippines -- a project at odds with Indonesia's tradition of being one of the Muslim world's most secular societies.
Indonesia's founding fathers wrote a constitution enshrining a secular government and harmony between the Muslim majority and minorities including Christians, Buddhists, Hindus.
But turmoil since the 1998 ouster of former dictator Suharto has sparked the growth of Muslim militancy, feeding bloody sectarian conflicts in Maluku province and Sulawesi island and giving a group like Jemaah Islamiyah space to operate.
Still, Indonesia's largest Muslim organizations -- the 40 million member Nahdlatul Ulama and the slightly smaller Muhammadiyah -- have condemned the bloodshed. These moderate social and educational organizations have demanded that authorities crack down on Muslim extremists.
Political and religious leaders have repeatedly said the small cells of radical militants do not reflect the views of most of Indonesia's 170 million Muslims.
Indonesia's version of Islam is heavily influenced by traditions from its Hindu and Buddhist past. Beliefs in genies, evil spirits, and a goddess of the south seas -- which devout Muslims elsewhere might regard as pagan or even blasphemous -- mesh comfortably with Islamic
``Although Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country, Indonesian Muslims are indeed moderate and among the most religiously tolerant Muslims in the world,'' said Amien Rais, speaker of Indonesia's top legislative body and a former head of Muhammadiyah.
Rais himself participated in the overwhelming defeat of a recent proposal to amend the secular constitution and introduce Sharia law for Muslims. Although religious parties control a third of the legislature, even the majority of their members opposed the proposal.
``Implementing Sharia is an obligation for Muslims,'' said Muis Kabri, head of a network of hundreds of religious schools on the islands of Sulawesi, Sumatra and Borneo. ``But that does not mean legalization or implementation by the state.''
Analysts say the sectarian conflicts, which petered out last year, have not destroyed Indonesia's tradition of religious harmony.
``Radical Islam in Indonesia is still quite weak,'' the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said.
In Indonesia, the sale of alcohol is legal, nightclubs stay open late into the night and television networks broadcast American shows.
McDonald's is a favorite for middle class families. The United States is Indonesia's biggest export market.
The country's president, Megawati Sukarnoputri -- daughter of the country's founder, Sukarno -- is a nationalist who almost never wears a headscarf. Nor do most other Muslim women.
Just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Megawati visited the White House and pledged support for President Bush's campaign against terror. She later described the destruction of the World Trade Center as ``the worst atrocity ever inflicted in the history of civilization.''
In Mojokoerto, Rudi Sanusi Wijaya, a minister at the Ebenezer church, praised his Muslim neighbors for their support following the Christmas 2000 attack.
``The self-sacrifice of this young man shows how close relations between Muslims and Christians are here,'' Wijaya said.
``Riyanto's religion didn't matter,'' he said. ``God tested him and he was not found wanting. He is in heaven now.''
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