Thursday, November 18, 2010

Muslim-Christian relations in the New Order Indonesia: the exclusivist and inclusivist Muslims' perspectives

Husein, F. (2003). Muslim-Christian relations in the New Order Indonesia: the exclusivist and inclusivist Muslims' perspectives. PhD thesis, Melbourne Institute of Asian Languages and Societies, University of Melbourne.


The relationship between Muslims and Christian in Indonesia is and important subject. Apart from a few investigations on certain conflicts in different areas of Indonesia, little effort has been devoted to thoroughly examining the complexity of the relationship between the two religious groups. This study is an attempt to investigate the perspectives of the exclusivist and inclusivist Muslims on Muslim-Christian relations in Indonesia, especially during the New Order period (1965-1998).

In dealing with this subject, the theological and legal precepts on the ‘religious’ other as developed in some classical texts are explored briefly. In order to provide the historical background of current Muslim-Christian relations, the study then investigates policies of the Dutch, Old Order, and New Order governments on Muslims and Christians. During the Dutch regime, Christians received better treatment as compared to Muslims. This was deeply resented by some Muslims, who identified the Dutch as Christians and Christians as colonists. By the time Indonesians were approaching independence, Muslim, Christian and other religious groups were preoccupied with deciding the philosophical basis of the state, and the Sukarno government paid scant attention to the hidden tense relations between Muslims and Christians. With the shift to the New Order period, Muslim-Christian relations changed dramatically because Soeharto intentionally and carefully controlled Indonesians based on the policy of SARA. The study found that some elements of SARA policy caused tensions between Muslims and Christians.

In separate chapters, the study then explores the backgrounds and concerns of the exclusivists and inclusivists in relations to Muslim Christian relations. It found that among both exclusivists and inclusivists the degree of ‘exclusiveness’ or ‘inclusiveness’ varied, as they were influenced by their different backgrounds. In addition, within each groups or among individuals, the concerns on issues related to Muslim-Christian relations differed. Four main exclusivist institutions are discussed in the study: the Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia (DDII), the Komite Indonesia untuk Solidaritas Dunia Islam (KISDI), the Forum Pembela Islam (FPI), and the Laskar Jihad. Key issues discussed by the exclusivists include the Christian ‘other’, relations between religion and the state, Christianisation, and the Ambon conflicts. The relations between the exclusivists and the Christians have been coloured largely by disharmony. Exclusivists believe that Christianity underwent alteration and that the God of Muslims is different from the Christian God, who is described as having offspring. In addition, all exclusivist groups in the study stated the view that it was the Christianisation activities that tore apart the relationship between Muslims and Christians.

In contrast, the relationships between inclusivists Muslims and Christians are coloured largely by harmony. The inclusivists chose to work within the New Order system for changes beneficial to Indonesian Muslims by avoiding direct conflict with the government and occupying themselves with intellectual endeavours. Against such a backdrop, the renewal of Islamic thought, characterised mainly by inclusivism, was introduced and developed. Moreover, the inclusivists hold the view that plurality is a law of nature (sunnatullah). Within this view, all religions are seen to adhere to the same principle of One Truth; and will therefore gradually find their ‘common platform’ or kalimatun sawa. As a reflection of their perspective on religious pluralism, most inclusivists admit the existence and rights of other religious believers, especially the ahl al-kitab.

The study found that it was the exclusivists who were more adamant in criticising the inclusivists through articles in their media or sermons in their mosques. Three of their important critiques are the belief that the inclusivists have established a link with Jews and Christians, that inclusivism weakens Muslim faith by giving new interpretations to the Islamic foundation texts that deviate from the accepted views, and that inclusivists lack concern about Christianisation. In contrast, the inclusivists tend not to criticise or respond to critiques directed at them by the exclusivists, as they consider these to be emotional or personal.

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