Indonesia's two biggest Islamic organisations held congresses this week to determine their leadership and discuss the role of the faith in Indonesia. Meanwhile, the country's top Muslim clerical body criticised health insurance as anti-sharia, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was nominated for a peace prize.
Indonesian Islam was described as peaceful and moderate in congresses held by Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah this week. The two religious organisations represent a significant portion of Indonesia's Muslim-majority population, with memberships of about 40 million and 30 million respectively. The traditionalist NU presented a vision of Islam Nusantara or 'Islam of the Indonesian Archipelago', as the theme of its congress. This vision promotes indigenised forms of Islam as practiced across Indonesia, combined with local customs and cultures.
At a separate congress, the modernist Muhammadiyah took the theme Islam Berkemajuan or 'Progressive Islam'. The 'progressiveness' referred to here is less about new interpretations of the faith and more about making Islam the basis for moving forward on Indonesia's social and economic development. Both organisations urged the country's Muslims to stand against violent radicalism and terrorism. President Jokowi spoke at the opening of both congresses, backing the role that each had to play in promoting peace and tolerance in Indonesia.
More controversial than the interpretation of Islam by each organisation was the election of leaders for the next five years. Muhammadiyah elected a leadership board of 13 members, two of whom are considered strict conservatives. These two appointments were controversial since the remaining majority are moderates, including some who have been vocal in defending Muslim minorities such as Ahmadis and Shiites against attacks in Indonesia. The 13 members are expected to elect a chairman to replace Din Syamsuddin, who is due to retire from the position.
NU's change of leadership caused even more controversy and may create a rift between its factions. On Wednesday, Mustofa Bisri, better known as 'Gus Mus', was chosen by a council of clerics over Hasyim Muzadi to become rais aam, or supreme leader of the organisation. In earlier congresses, leaders were chosen directly by all participants, rather than a council. The appointment was criticised as a political move against Hasyim, who is a member of Jokowi's Presidential Advisory Board. Hasyim's supporters left the conference by the hundreds following the decision against him.
Figures from both NU and Muhammadiyah have spoken out against damaging comments made by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Indonesia's top clerical body, regarding the national health insurance (JKN) program. Initial reports said MUI had issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against the program, but the council later clarified that, while it considered JKN to be incompatible with sharia, it was not haram (forbidden). Clerics at MUI took exception to elements in the program that they equated with gambling and the accumulation of interest, both of which are against Islamic law. The Health Ministry defended the program as being for the protection of health for low-income families.
In other news, an Indonesian non-government organisation made world headlines this week for honouring North Korea's autocratic leader Kim Jong-un with an award for statesmanship. The award came from the Sukarno Education Foundation, headed by former president Sukarno's daughter, Rachmawati Sukarnoputri. Under the media spotlight, Rachmawati defended the award, saying that human rights abuse allegations against Kim were only 'Western propaganda', and that there were parallels between him and her father for their 'fight against neo-colonialist imperialism'. She did not reveal how the foundation would deliver the award to the reclusive dictator.
Photo by Flickr user Frank Yuwono.