Marchio Irfan Gorbiano, Jakarta – Democratic and Islamic values are intrinsically aligned in Muslim-majority Indonesia, experts and activists have said, amid growing concerns about a rise in religious conservatism that seeks to undermine the country's democratic institutions.
Muhammadiyah secretary-general Abdul Mu'ti said during a webinar over the weekend that he viewed democracy not only as a political system but also as a system of values, in which "prosperities" could be built upon.
To wit, he identified three core values of democracy – emancipation, meritocracy and pluralism – and said they were aligned with Islamic values.
"Emancipation puts emphasis on egalitarianism and humanism, while meritocracy also allows democracy to give room to appreciate achievements and ensure fairness [among people], and pluralism guarantees mutual responsibility, coexistence and collaboration," said Abdul.
"I can say that democratic values can implicitly be found in the teachings of Islam and are part of the reason why a good Muslim will also support a true democracy."
The statement from Abdul, who is part of the country's second largest Muslim grassroots group, comes against the backdrop of rising religious conservatism in Indonesia, a phenomenon that many analysts have noted appeared after the large-scale rallies of the 212 Movement in 2016.
The government, meanwhile, banned Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), an Islamist organization seeking to establish a caliphate in the country, in 2017, deeming its values contradictory to the 1945 Constitution and its presence a threat to public order. The move, however, also prompted concern among human rights activists about threats to freedom of association and expression.
Last year, a joint-decree signed by 11 ministries and state bodies was also issued to regulate the kind of content that civil servants are allowed to post on social media. The decree stipulates that civil servants must not express opinions containing "hate speech" against the state ideology Pancasila, the 1945 Constitution, the national motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), or the government itself.
The policy was issued amid growing concerns that many civil servants have been exposed to religious extremism.
According to a 2019 survey conducted by Jakarta-based pollster Alvara institute, 16.9 percent of 1,567 respondents in the survey believed that an Islamic caliphate was the "right" mode of government for Indonesia.
A committee member for the Indonesian Anti-Slander Society (Mafindo), Anita Wahid, said there was a growing narrative of advocating for the "purity" of Islam that justified discrimination against other groups based on a strict interpretation of religious texts.
"By using religious [texts] as a point of reference that pits Islam against democracy, it's as if Islam is not aligned with democracy. We have to respond with a counternarrative that highlights democratic and just values in Islam," Anita said during the same webinar hosted by the AE Priyono Democracy Forum.
Meanwhile, women's rights activist Lies Marcoes Natsir said the current wave of growing religious conservatism could be viewed as a result of measures taken by the New Order regime in the past to suppress such groups, which resulted in a lack of opportunities for dialogue.
"The New Order pressured them in such a way that we never got to discuss [...] why they rejected birth control or agreed with child marriage," Lies said.
"After [the reform era], we only became aware that [religious conservative groups] had surfaced and were challenging ideas that we previously thought were settled, like gender and reproductive rights."
Islamic scholar Budhy Munawar Rachman pointed out that previous works of Muslim intellectuals such as the late Nurcholish "Cak Nur" Madjid and late president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid had paved the way for an interpretation of Islam that had inherently democratic values.
"We are thankful that we already have Islamic arguments in favor of democracy so it became something that is inherent in our [religion]," said Budhy.
"The works of Cak Nur and Gus Dur have helped society, particularly in the post-reform era, to be accepting of democracy."