Islamist Pesantren Leaders in Indonesia – Pluralist or Primitive?

A long and winding article in the Jakarta Globe, about some well-meaning outfit that wishes to steer the notorious pondok pesantren  (Islamic Boarding Schools) away from Islamist fanaticism and towards tolerance.

Its starting point was a story about a pro-pluralism comic book produced by Search for Common Ground, ‘an international NGO focusing on conflict transformation,’ which is aiming to get up to 60,000 copies to hundreds of Indonesian pesantren. They began in August with ‘3,500 students at nine pesantren and one public school in Madura in East Java, Yogyakarta and Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara. The goal of the program is to encourage the students to apply the lessons from the comic books in their lives.’

Interestingly, but ambiguously, the JG tells us that this activity issupported by the US State Department.’

So how supported? A verbal blessing, or distribution facilities, or financial contributions? It doesn’t say, but it would be useful to know. 

Especially for the hundreds of US tax-payers who read RRA!               

Reporters could do better in terms of the questions they ask. But searching for answers to what the JG didn’t ask, I found that they are simply up-dating an old story, first reported in the Bali Times on July 18th!

Certainly the comics, as described in the JG and the BT, are a very well-meaning effort.

Dewi Wijayanti, an SFCG project officer, says the comic books are not just for high school students and can also be shared among friends. As part of the project, students are asked to discuss the key messages in each comic book in a discussion led by teachers.

“The comic book is our second project. Our first was English debate competitions that started in 2009 and ended last year,” Dewi said. The competitions were designed to strengthen the students’ understanding of tolerance and pluralism by getting them to debate key motions, such as whether the government should ban the Ahmadiyah sect, or if Muslims could vote for non-Muslim leaders. “One team in each debate would argue for the positive side and the other for the negative,” Dewi said. “Through discussions and building their arguments, they learned about many things, such as the Ahmadiyah and how important tolerance and pluralism are.”

Brian D. Hanley, director of SFCG Asia, said the group was expanding the pesantren program to include community radio and video programming for youths, using the schools as a platform to put out positive messages and counter the radical narrative from other mosques and pesantrens in their communities.

Okay, so what does the JG add to the tale?

Choirul Fuad Yusuf, director of pesantrens at the Religious Affairs Ministry, said only a handful of the roughly 27,500 pesantrens across the country could be categorized as radical or espousing a rigid understanding of Islam. “We’ve done many things to curb radicalism through informative and educational approaches, including seminars, workshops and even English debates, just like the SFCG program,” he said.


The growing chorus of accusations that the country’s pesantrens, which teach a combined four million children, are hotbeds of radicalization, Choirul said, are unfounded. To claim that they are “places for terrorists to grow, that is wrong,” he said, arguing that most pesantrens taught tolerance and pluralism.

Now just hold on a minute! What is Choirul’s definition of tolerance and pluralism? He works for the Ministry of Religious Affairs. So his boss is Suryadharma Ali, arguably the biggest bigot in President SBY’s Coalition ( I say arguably only because some other Ministers are pretty bigoted too)

Ali wants the Ahmadis banned. He hates the thought of those peaceful minority members having the same rights as followers of other creeds. He’s a menace.  So does Choirul plan to stick a few SFCG comics in the Minister’s in-tray? Does he disagree with Ali’s sectarian intolerance?

The Ministry seems confused about a few things. Having declared that only a ‘handful ‘ of pesantren are ‘radical’ or ‘rigid,’ Choirul is suddenly contradicted by his colleague, Nuhrison M Nuh. Nuh redefines what most of us would understand as a ‘handful.’

“There are thousands of unregistered pesantren in the country that have been teaching radicalism to students for years,” said Nuhrison M. Nuh, head of the ministry’s research and development department.

Right, from a handful to thousands. So what is Nuh going to do about that? 

“It’s hard to control them because they’re established by respected local people.”

Respected? Islamist fanatics indoctrinating youngsters are ‘respected?’ By whom? Are we talkng about stagnant primitive pools like Cikeusik, where a recent JG report suggested many of the villagers hailed the February Pogrom scum as heroes? If so, they are most in need of government action to shut down poisonous pesantren propaganda centres.

“Most of these shady pesantrens are financed with money raised in the Middle East, where their founders went to school and where they still have friends and teachers with whom they have maintained close ties….in such cases, Nuhrison said, both the Religious Affairs Ministry and the National Education Ministry were powerless to shut the schools down.

“If we do, then we stand accused of violating their right to freedom of expression, which in turn will lead to more conflicts,” he said. “So we can do virtually nothing. We’re in a dilemma because we’re bound by the need to respect freedom of expression.”

Oh, so freedom of expression for IslamoNazis is sacrosanct, but freedom of religion for Ahmadis is not?

Nuh says that his Ministry has talked to 40 such schools in six provinces, with positive results, but that ‘none of the schools were among those considered overtly radical by the government.’ So now his staff are ‘drawing up a list of the pesantrens that are either unregistered or known to be preaching radicalism, which is expected to be completed next year. “We’re working with officials from Pakistan, Egypt and Iran in compiling this list,” Nuhrison said.

This is getting wierder. The IslamoNazi schools can’t be touched on human rights grounds, but there’s going to be a (likely very long) list drawn up? Why?  So Nuh’s men know which schools not to bother?

 And we still don’t know how come he is motivated towards promoting the very virtue, tolerance, which his Minister, Suryadharma Ali, is rabid to erase from this once very tolerant country? If Nuh and Choirul seriously seek to promote decent values in pesantren, Ali might well fire them!

But in fact I’d be most curious to learn which of the forty schools mentioned above are GENUINELY into tolerance.

Before all these NGOs (and Western governments which, despite the fact that NGO means non-governmental organisation, seem to be heavily involved with them) start pumping money and/or materials into these pesantren, let’s get one thing straight.

It may well be true that only a minority of Islamic boarding schools are into actual terrorism.  But a large proportion of pesantren are rotten to the core with primitive sectarian intolerance. Financing them in any way is funding the war on religious liberty which they and the other Islamist forces in society are waging on their innocent Ahmadi fellow-citizens.

Don’t believe me? Think it’s just Ross on his hobby-horse? Well, here’s a link to Harian Pelita, an article published exactly a year ago today.

You can translate it yourself, but here’s the gist, and the appalling bigotry of these people has to be read carefully to be fully appreciated.

The Majelis Silaturahim Kiai Pengasuh Pondok Pesantren se-Indonesia  – that’s the All-Indonesia Council of Pesantren Leaders  (MSKP3I) ‘are pushing the government to disband Ahmadiyah organizations in Indonesia.’

The MSKP3I statement was read out by Andi Djamaro Dulung after the meeting at Pondok Pesantren Asshiddiqiyah, Jakarta, Wednesday (1 /9/10) and it said that MSKP3I assesses Ahmadiyah as a group outside Islam, and the organization must be disbanded. The decision was taken in the forum “Bahtsul masail” (discussion of issues in terms of Islamic law) which was attended by, among others, KH Ma’mun al Ayyubi, Salam Wahab KH, KH Hasbullah Ali, KH Mahrus Amin, al Anshori Ahya KH, and KH Abdul Ghofur.

The report also notes that Andi is a former chairman of NU, the ‘moderate’ organisation quoted in the JG item above. Some moderates, right? And they are the people Search for Common Ground works with, according to their own website.that

‘SFCG works in partnership with the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, Nahdlatul Ulama, to promote pluralism and tolerance in Islamic boarding schools in areas vulnerable to extremism.’

Well, they could start by making NU’s Andi read a few of their comics instead of inciting persecution of a harmless minority.

Andi Djamaro

“We ask that the government do not hesitate in taking action,” said Andi Djamaro. Yeah, so moderate. Let the state strike down freedom of worship!

Chairman MSKP3I KH Noer Muhammad Iskandar SQ who hosted the meeting, added that the Ahmadiyya issue was not a matter of freedom of belief  guaranteed by the constitution.

“The issue is precisely that, the problem being that Ahmadiyah is defamation of religion, particularly Islam,” he said.


Besides, added Kiai Noer, Ahmadis have clearly violated the provisions set forth in the joint decree (SKB).

That’s the Tri-Ministerial Diktat, by which the Government stripped Ahmadis of the constitutional rights guaranteed to all religions in Indonesia.

“Therefore, all Islamic organizations, including the Indonesian Ulema Council, must unite for dissolution of Ahmadiyah,” Noer said.

So this highly representative pesantren body openly loathes freedom of religion, and backs suppression of Ahmadiyah by means of the Tri-Ministerial Diktat. Does it include in its ranks the schools ‘cooperating’ with Choirul and Nur at the Ministry. Are these bigot kyai playing some kind of game with pluralist comics on one desk and rants against Ahmadiyah on the other? Is money being poured down a deceptive drain.?

I’d love to be proven wrong, but I couldn’t find ONE  instance of a pesantren leader speaking up for Ahmadi rights. I’d welcome any such example any critic can send me, and promise to publish it.

And it isn’t just Ross who critiques the Diktat in this way.

Catholic scholar Franz Magnis Suseno was quoted in the same Harian Pelita article thus. “I think the actions of the Minister of Religion is a very wrong and shameful,” he said, adding that the government should not have issued the decree because it is not within its authority. Said Mr. Suseno, a lecturer at the Driyarkara School of Philosophy ‘the citizens are guaranteed the protection of the 1945 Constitution in the conduct of worship.

And those poor Ahmadiyah sure aren’t getting much benefit from that guarantee these days.

Deden Sujana, head of security for the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI) during his trial at Serang District Court.  (Antara Photo/Asep Fathulrahman)Deden Sujana



Jakarta Globe today

For months Deden Sujana had to be treated in a Jakarta hospital. He was put on life support as doctors raced to save his right hand, which was nearly severed during a deadly attack on members of the Muslim minority sect Ahmadiyah in February.

Now in jail for provoking the attack and still facing intimidation, Deden told the Jakarta Globe in an interview on Thursday that when a mob of 1,500 descended upon an Ahmadi’s house in Cikeusik, Banten, he was prepared to die…Deden said he was concerned about the threats and intimidation he continued to face, even behind bars.
Since his trial began last month, Deden said several people claiming to represent the local administration had approached him before trial sessions. They said he could have his charges dropped or given a lenient sentence if he renounced his faith as an Ahmadi.