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Indonesians are laughing at their religiosity

The Star - April 14, 2019

Muhammad Asad – Of late, we've seen many incidents of intolerance throughout Indonesia, especially hatred on social media over religion.

The case of the Saracen syndicate being paid for hateful online content a few years ago is one piece of evidence. Even though some of its members were arrested, expressions of hostility over religious identity continue.

Although former Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who now goes by BTP, is free after serving out his two-year sentence for blasphemy, hatred towards him and his supporters remains. Slogans of "do not vote for the party or president who supports the blasphemer of religion" still crop up.

Fortunately, Twitter has several accounts that tweet funny things about our religiosity, even our fanaticism over certain beliefs or believers. One is NU Garis Lucu (@NUgarislucu) or "NUfunny path", which joined Twitter in May 2015.

The name suggests it is related to Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Islamic organisation, which emerged almost as the same time with NU Garis Lurus (true path NU), a conservative group within NU that denounces liberalism.

However, NU Garis Lucu does not seem to want to react too seriously to different interpretations of religion. Instead, it tries to loosen up our serious religious discourse with laughter and humour, following the famed character of its former leader, the late president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid.

Here's a sample tweet: "To be Indonesian, you have to be funny." This was a reaction to rampant labelling of clerics as heretical for having different opinions from "celebrity ustaz" (Islamic teacher) airing more conservative views. This tweet was clearly teasing the many "repentant" celebrities who have turned into influential ustaz especially thanks to cyberspace. The real clerics who have studied religion for most of their lives, lacking star power, seem to lose touch.

Other tweets are about today's political tensions and our tendency to use our mobile phones to share hoax information or attack electoral candidates or his/her supporters. One account tweeted: "Your smartphone is your gun. Use it to the max by making people laugh so that they forget their disagreement!" Such tweets can make your day after a long, stressful week.

An item in the Huffington Post on July 27, 2017, cited studies showing that a religious discourse or criticism explained with humour can break through prejudice. Humour can build social ties and bond different people with diverse points of view. Indeed, NU Garis Lucu helps break our prejudice, especially against those of different religious identities or interpretations.

Finger-wagging believers need to note that humour is permissible in Islam as long as it does not provoke conflict with others. The tradition of humour within the vast NU circle is strong. Gus Dur was known for his love of jokes, which his followers have collected into a book, and one of his ever-popular statements is "gitu aja repot" (why worry over a trivial thing).

Interestingly, the creation of Twitter account NU Garis Lucu has now been followed by others such as Muhammadiyah Garis Lucu (@MuhammadiyahGL) that represents the second largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia.

As the two biggest Islamic organisations differ on some religious issues, their tweets usually discuss their differences humorously. When I was a child, I sensed the tension among their followers, sometimes triggered merely by, for instance, differing dates for the beginning of the Ramadan fasting month and, consequently, the following Aidil Fitri celebrations. Now I can laugh, reading how they treat their differences with humour and jokes.

Other similar accounts have emerged. Two of them are Gontor Garis Lucu (@GontorGarisLucu) and Hizbut Tahrir Garis Lucu (@HizbutTahrirGL). They represent respectively the well-known Gontor modern Islamic boarding school and the banned Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI). Although formally banned, the group's supporters seem to continue to campaign for their ideal of a caliphate, or Islamic state, including through humorous ways.

It's a relief that social media can not only be used to spread hoax information or hatred in the name of religion but to also illuminate and amuse our friends or even adversaries. As stated by NU Garis Lucu: Speak the truth even though it is funny. – The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

[Muhammad Asad is a lecturer at the University of Hasyim Asyari, Pondok Pesantren (Islamic boarding school) Tebuireng, Jombang, East Java.]

Source: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/regional/2019/04/14/indonesians-are-laughing-at-their-religiosity/