Tangerang, Banten - When Lt. Col. Antonius Tihadi confronts a couple in a hotel room, he does so very politely.
“We don`t kick down the door or anything like that,” he said.
Under a local ordinance that includes elements of Islamic Shariah law, Colonel Tihadi heads the enforcement unit that raids shops selling alcohol, interrogates women who are out alone at night and arrests unmarried couples for “immoral behavior.”
“We ask politely to see their documents,” he said. “If they do not have the same address we ask them separately to tell us the names of their in-laws. If they don`t know that, they aren`t married.”
This is the extreme version of the possible future of Indonesia, where as many as 50 communities have adopted similar Shariah regulations in recent years.
A conservative tide is challenging the moderate, tolerant traditions of the world`s most populous Muslim nation. But most analysts doubt that Tangerang, an industrial city of 1.5 million people adjacent to the capital, Jakarta, is a model for a future Indonesia, despite the emergence in the country of hard-line organizations and Islamic political parties, an increase in Islamic head scarves among women and periodic attacks by terrorist groups.
“There is a view that Islam is on the march,” said Greg Fealy, an expert on Indonesia at the Australian National University. “I don`t see any evidence for that.”
“Yes, there is a religious and cultural Islamization, in private and public,” he added. “But in the political realm, there is hardly any evidence to support the view that Islam is rising.”
Some analysts say the Shariah ordinances are in large part a response to economic hardships, colored by a rise in religious devotion that mostly has nothing to do with radicalism.
More broadly, they say, this Islamic ferment is a product of the democratic clamor unleashed in 1998 when the longtime strongman Suharto was driven from power.
The change in mood can be seen on campuses, where students who demonstrated for democracy a decade ago are forming Islamic associations and turning toward religion. The short skirts of the past have been replaced by Muslim head scarves.
“Democracy is like a gate that is opened to let people say what they want,” said Budi, a student at the secular University of Indonesia who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name. “Having the door open wider, it was easier for us to promote Islamic values and teaching.”
Nearly 90 percent of Indonesia`s 235 million people call themselves Muslims. But Indonesian Islam has a history of accommodation of other beliefs and tolerance for differences.
After Muslim traders brought their religion in the 12th century, the Indonesian version of Islam embraced elements of the Hinduism, Buddhism and animism that flourished here. It is still characterized more by the mysticism of these roots than by the orthodoxy of Islamists.
“Indonesia has these awful political crises,” said Robert W. Hefner, an expert on Indonesian Islam at Boston University. “But one thing that has consistently survived is this kind of sweet nationalism, not a racist nationalism — it`s a multiethnic thing.”
The tension between Islam and secular democracy goes back to the founding of the nation in 1945, when the Islamists failed in their attempt to insert into the Constitution what are known here as the seven words. They translate into English as “with obligation for Muslims to practice Shariah.” Islamist delegates to Parliament tried again to insert the phrase after the fall of Suharto and were rebuffed in 2002.
Militant Islam has found little support among the public, analysts say, and is unlikely to be a strong force in shaping the country`s future.
“In my experience, Indonesian Islam will remain tolerant, remain moderate,” said Azyumardi Azra, director of the graduate school at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University. “Of course there is growing conservatism, but not in terms of becoming more radical.”
Indonesians overwhelmingly say they support Shariah, said Mr. Azyumardi, who has studied public attitudes on the question. For most, though, Shariah means Muslim morality rather than the imposition of Muslim law.
“When you ask them if they support Shariah in a general way, they support it,” he said. “They think of prayer, fasting, the hajj” — the journey to the holy city of Mecca.
But he said most of these same people say they do not support the imposition of restrictive Islamic law, which includes punishments like flogging or stoning for adultery.
Source: www.nytimes.com (3 Juli 2007)