Daesh, aka the Islamic State, has become the most notorious religious extremist group in the world, even if they aren’t the most deadly. They have carried out numerous terrorist attacks both at home and abroad, the most notorious being those in Beirut and Paris. This has led to a resurgence in Islamophobia in many western nations, up to and including some not-so-subtle Nazi rhetoric from American presidential candidates as well as fear leading to average citizens wanting to slam the doors shut on any and all Muslim refugees, even if those fears are completely unfounded. It has also led to many painting the vast majority of Muslims as extremist, if not in practice then by failing to speak out. This has not sat well with Muslims around the world, who are victimized by terrorist organizations then faced with hate crimes by ignorant people who can’t (or won’t) differentiate between them.
Now Muslims in Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic majority nation, are fed up with both Daesh and those who wish to utilize fear and racism to isolate and denigrate all Muslims. Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), an organization boasting over 50 million Sunni members, is now pushing back in the public sphere, making statements and calling for awareness of Islamic opposition to groups such as Daesh.
“The spread of a shallow understanding of Islam renders this situation critical,” says A. Mustofa Bisri, NU’s leader, “as highly vocal elements within the Muslim population at large — extremist groups — justify their harsh and often savage behavior by claiming to act in accord with God’s commands, although they are grievously mistaken.”
NU aren’t the only Indonesian Muslims speaking out, with the government chiming in with their own message of tolerance and combating the issue of Islamist extremism. They aren’t pulling any punches either, explicitly stating that the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East have directly contributed to the problem, exacerbating it rather than quelling it.
“The Indonesian government has a different attitude,” says Security Coordinating Minister Binsar Panjaitan when asked about violent crackdowns during a press conference. “We promote religious and cultural approaches to addressing ISIL.” He added that they “want all elements of society [to understand] that Islam is a peaceful religion” under normal practice.
This understanding has sadly not permeated all areas of society, least of all in the United States. American Muslims are saying that the current climate is as bad, or even worse, than in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The fact that several of the leading candidates for the highest office in the land are openly advocating hatred and intolerance and it leading to higher poll numbers rather than getting run out of town on a rail shows exactly how bad the perception problem is here. It’s almost as though Christianity has a similar problem with supposed followers straying from the message of their own religion.
Still, with highly visible and large groups joining in the war of ideas and helping to educate those who don’t understand their religion it should help to deligitimize Daesh even further, as well as to gain more sympathy for innocent Muslims worldwide, especially refugees who are literally dying to get into western nations. Indonesia is also leading the charge in de-radicalizing those who have returned after leaving the Middle East.
“According to the Sunni view of Islam,” Bisri says, with a message that could be regarding any religion, “every aspect and expression of religion should be imbued with love and compassion, and foster the perfection of human nature.”