'Militants should fight jihad in war zones'

Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) deputy chairman Ma'ruf Amin is in charge of issuing fatwa, or Islamic edicts. He is also the chairman of a group of Muslim leaders recently set up to campaign against terrorism. In a conversation with The Jakarta Post's Tiarma Siboro he shared his views about the campaign. Below are the key points of their conversation.

Question: What will be your first priority in the antiterror campaign?

First, I will pick members that will form a working group, who will assist me in the campaign against radicalism and terrorism. Actually, the MUI issued a decree in 2003 on terrorism and principles of suicide. In the decree, our view is clear that acts of terror and suicide are forbidden for Muslims. Islam cannot accept terrorism because there is not a jihad here, and those who commit suicide attacks will not be seen as martyrs.

And this is our main duty: to clarify the false perceptions about jihad and martyrdom and suicide, as some people have spread deviant teachings about these principles. The radical groups have even used the false principles as their doctrines to carry out acts of terror towards others. In the latest attacks, we have even seen a tendency toward suicide bombings, which is forbidden by Islam.

Can you elaborate?

I call it the false principles because they (the militant Islamists) see Indonesia as ""a battle field"". This country actually is a peace zone. Further, we have begun to take a close look at books, which we deem contribute to the spread of false Islamic teachings, one of which has been written by convicted terrorist Imam Samudra. The reviews are aimed at countering the false perception about being a good Muslim, and we will let the public have more options to discuss.

Do you have any plan to go directly to some of the pesantren (Islamic boarding schools), because many of them have been accused of promoting radicalism?

Visits to the pesantren will also be part of the program that we are planning now, especially as we try to prevent the pesantren from being infiltrated by ""other parties"", who may come up with a certain mission. In general, the mainstream Islamic boarding schools in Indonesia are not extreme nor radical. Many of them were established decades ago and have never had problems with the propagation of peaceful teachings. And my team will try to find out whether some pesantren have been infiltrated by ""strangers"", or, perhaps, there are just few insiders who believe in radicalism.

What do you mean by 'being infiltrated'?

We need to know why such radicalism can be so readily accepted by some pesantren here in Indonesia. If the reason is the global injustices, then they cannot partake in radicalism here in Indonesia, because this country is a peace zone. If the reason is anger over the U.S. and its allies' foreign policies in the Middle East issues, then the extremists are also not allowed to attack the Western interests here in Indonesia because this country is not a war zone.

If the hard-liners feel angry when they hear of their Muslim brothers and sisters being suppressed in -- for example, Afghanistan or Iraq -- then they can go to those countries and engage in the jihad there in a show of solidarity among Muslims. But not here in Indonesia.

And once again, Islam does not recognize these acts of terror (in this country over the last several years) because each one has victimized women, children and other innocent people. But I must stress that we, the clerics at MUI, are not going to deal with security, political or intelligence approaches. We will just focus on improving the way of thinking as it pertains to being a good Muslim. Our main goal is merely to counter the false teachings about jihad, martyrdom and suicide.

Why has it taken so long for the ulemas to realize that some people were taking advantage of people here by spreading the ""false teachings"" about Islam?

We thought the 2003 decree on terrorism and radicalism had given guidance for the Muslim people. And we also let security authorities to deal with the issues. But after some VCDs and books on terrorism were made public, we just realized that we must be proactive in taking a role to counter it because terrorism and radicalism are forbidden in Islam.

Do you see that the U.S. and its allies have suppressed the development of Islam in Indonesia?

As of today, I have not seen that the U.S. and its allies' policies have suppressed the development of Islam in Indonesia. Muslims here have never been suppressed by certain interests of Western countries. Therefore, we do not need martyrs here to fight against the Westerners. We must know that jihad can be carried out in two ways: launching war or pursuing a peaceful way through propagation.

Of course, foreign countries are competing for influence in Indonesia, but I do not think that Muslims here are being suppressed by that competition, certainly not to an extent that would make them fail to pursue a peaceful way in spreading the Islamic tenets and fighting for their rights, either in economic or in social fields. And, of course, eradicating poverty should be the government's top priority, because the situation with so many people living in poverty is also a breeding ground for radicalism.

As deputy chairman of the MUI, you recently contributed to the fatwa than ban pluralism, secularism and liberal Islam. Many commentators believe such edicts encourage radicalism and fanaticism among Muslims. What is your comment?

Ever since Indonesia declared its independence in 1945 and adopted the five principles of Pancasila, we, the Indonesian Muslims, have realized that this country is enriched by its differences in this big country. It is not extraordinary if one or two groups cannot accept differences in others, but the MUI does not oppose pluralism.

We issued the fatwa after having learned that some people have developed a different perception about pluralism. These people have even created pluralistic theologies, which view all religions as one. Such theology is aimed at preventing sectarian conflicts, but, instead, it has created new problems in the relationship between followers of all religions here in Indonesia.

MUI also opposes liberal Islam because it teaches Muslims to reinterpret, or even to read the Koran in the context of our modern world, on grounds that the holy book is just (an ancient Middle East) cultural product. MUI also opposes secularism, because it sees Islam merely as "an obligation during worship times", and thus takes it out of people's day-to-day relationships.

Published by The Jakarta Post on November 24, 2005