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In Indonesia, ‘call to jihad’ videos by hardline cleric’s fans show threat of rising fundamentalism

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 01/12/2020 Resty Woro Yuniar in Jakarta restyworo.yuniar@scmp.com
a group of people posing for the camera: Hardline cleric Habib Rizieq Shihab, leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). Photo: Reuters Hardline cleric Habib Rizieq Shihab, leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). Photo: Reuters

Fans of a controversial Indonesian hardline cleric have made videos that changed a verse in the Muslim call to prayer to a call for jihad, heightening fears that rising religious fundamentalism could snowball into conflict in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation.

This Week in Asia has seen at least four versions of these videos being shared on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as the WhatsApp messaging app. Each video shows a group of men in Muslim attire, standing in rows, listening to a man singing the call to prayer.

A verse of the chant, which originally means "hurry to the prayer", has been changed to "hayya alal jihad", or "rise up for jihad", which the men responded to by shouting, "God is Great", and raising their fists in the air. In one video, five men were shown wielding swords.

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Details of where and why these videos were created are unknown, but on Twitter, the video could be traced back to November 29, posted by a supporter of Habib Rizieq Shihab, the leader of Indonesia's biggest anti-vice organisation Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).

The video was shared with the caption: "Calls to jihad will be heard from mosques, Islamic boarding schools, and other Muslim communities if Rizieq Shihab continues to be criminalised."

The Twitter account was suspended on Tuesday following a request to Twitter by the Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Informatics. The videos, however, are still up on Facebook.

The FPI has claimed it was not involved in the making of these videos, saying rather than they were made by some devotees over the perceived unfair treatment by authorities against Rizieq.

"I think (the call for jihad) is normal, because people see the unfair treatments on Muslim clerics who are opposing the government," Aziz Yanuar, the FPI's deputy general secretary, was quoted by local news portal Detik as saying on Monday.

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Rizieq, who last month returned to Indonesia after self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia, is supposed to be questioned by Jakarta police on Tuesday, after he staged massive gatherings in Jakarta to commemorate the birth of Prophet Mohammed and held a celebration for his daughter's wedding, flouting Covid-19 rules.

The Jakarta event was not the only gathering the FPI had organised since its leader returned. Its members also met in the city of Bogor in West Java. At least 80 people from the crowds in Jakarta and Bogor had tested positive for Covid-19, the Health Ministry said last week.

At the time of writing, Rizieq had not appeared for the police questioning. Before the summoning, authorities only imposed a fine of about US$3,500 to Rizieq, drawing public anger from citizens who viewed the move as being too lenient towards the controversial cleric.

President Joko Widodo later told his cabinet to take a tough approach to all violators of coronavirus rules, no matter their positions.

The videos calling for jihad have led to a backlash by the country's Muslim organisations, which see them as a threat against the country's unity and religious tolerance.

Cholil Nafis, chairman of Indonesian Ulema Council, said that he hoped Indonesian Muslims would not be provoked by the "unnecessary" calls for jihad.

"I hope people do not alter the standard Islamic call to prayer. Jihad does not only mean physical war, but jihad can also mean the (efforts to) strengthen a Muslim's faith," Cholil said in a statement on Tuesday. "I hope people remain calm and unprovoked by these calls to carry out violence and riot."

The police should investigate this ... If they don't, I fear there will be unrest in the society
Indonesia Police Watch

Robikin Emhas from Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's biggest moderate Muslim group, said all Indonesians should "respect each other, regardless of religions, ethnicity, or culture".

Neta Pane, chairman of civic group Indonesia Police Watch, urged law enforcements to launch a crackdown against religious extremist groups to prevent further unrest.

"The police should investigate this and secure the weapons featured in the videos. If they don't, I fear there will be unrest in the society," Neta said.

a crowd of people: The FPI has an estimated 200,000 followers. Photo: AFP © Provided by South China Morning Post The FPI has an estimated 200,000 followers. Photo: AFP

Religious fundamentalism has been on the rise in Indonesia in the past few years, as the proliferation of social media and increased internet connections allow users to follow conservative religious teachings by some tech-savvy clerics and religious leaders, analysts said.

The FPI, which has an estimated 200,000 members, was established in 1998, following the fall of authoritarian leader Suharto. It has gained notoriety for destroying and sweeping bars, nightclubs, and brothels.

It also has waded into politics as the group aligned themselves with the ultraconservative politician Prabowo Subianto, a former presidential election contender in last year's election.

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"These videos are part of an escalation of tensions that have happened in the past few weeks between authorities and right-wing religious groups, triggered by the return of Rizieq Shihab," said Alexander Arifianto, a research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

"They are feeling under pressure after authorities act firmly against FPI and Rizieq Shihab, so they respond to it by posting (provoking) content such as these calls-to-prayer videos," said the Indonesia analyst.

Arifianto added that many extremist groups used social media to spread the notion that they were being treated unfairly by authorities and to gain sympathy from their followers.

"If these (online provocations) cannot be controlled, they could snowball into real-life conflicts," he said. "The government needs to calm these right-wing religious groups by facilitating a dialogue between them and moderate Islam groups such as the Ulema council, Nahdlatul Ulama, and (Indonesia's second-largest Muslim group) Muhammadiyah."

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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