Although they deny the claims they are a breeding ground for terrorists, pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) are a fertile spot for conservative, intolerant views of other faiths, a new study reveals.
Research conducted by the Jakarta-based International Centre for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP) at 20 schools in West Java showed a generally held belief among students and clerics that there was no compromising on the matter of religion.
Tolerance should only be limited to socio-political and economic issues, they told researchers in the study, released Tuesday (17 January).
In practical terms, their unbending view of religious right and wrong means no uttering of a Merry Christmas greeting to Christians, or any other expression of acceptance towards a faith other than Islam.
In their opinion, the recognition of other faiths is a sin, because Islam is the only true religion, the researchers said.
Their responses were in keeping with the controversial edict issued last year by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) that banned Islamic interpretations based on liberalism, secularism and pluralism.
They also supported two other MUI fatwas – one that requires Muslims to consider their religion to be the true one, and to view other faiths as wrong, and another that declares Ahmadiyah a heretical Islamic sect. Ahmadiyyah recognizes another prophet apart from Muhammad.
The respondents said the involvement of women in politics or society in general must be limited, because their roles were merely domestic, with men as the leaders.
Not surprisingly, the idea of feminism and gender equality was branded part of liberal thought concepts which, according to them, were not in line with Islamic teachings.
In terms of implementing shari’ah law, the responses were split, with some advocating the establishment of an Islamic state, while others thought creating strong morality and education were more important.
Democracy which is based on representation, meanwhile, is preferred to direct elections, because “people cannot make their own choice”.
Presented at a three-day workshop for members of the West Java Islamic boarding school community, the research quickly drew criticism from the assembled clerics and students.
“The Christmas greeting is trivial compared to the security and wealth received by a minority group. When Muslims are a minority, they are not protected,” said a participant.
But the same might be said for religious minorities in this predominantly Muslim country, with the year 2005 marred by the forced closure of many houses of worships in Bandung and its surrounding areas.
Another participant argued that in Christian-majority provinces like East Nusa Tenggara, Muslims also face obstacles in establishing a mosque or making the call to prayer (adzan).
ICIP researcher Jajat Burhanudin said some Muslims remain “traumatized” by the legacy of Western colonization, but the intolerance was not limited to West Java.
“But will we continue to see Jews and Christians as threats? Or are we going to move on?” he said.