25 Okt Countering Radicalization with Local Wisdom
Hanging above a small street connecting two kampongs, around 12 kilometers from Bukittinggi, a banner — colored in black, yellow and white — says “Anda memasuki kawasan wajib berperilaku Islami” (You are entering an area where you must obey Islamic rules). As all of the villagers are Muslims, based on the demographic data available there, the banner is indeed socially appropriate.
On the same street, around 200 meters from the first banner, another banner can be seen with the same message written on it. Yet, on the right and left sections of the
banners there are logos of the company and institution that sponsors the programs. The two sponsors are a small construction company operating in the district and a voluntary youth organization with
an Islamic label.
Not far from the second banner, on a corner of an intersection splitting the center of the kampong, across from a Muhammadiyah mosque, there is an empty posko (post) where the youth organization overseeing the implementation of the rules is stationed.
It resembles the posts erected by vigilante groups like the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Betawi Brotherhood Forum (FBR) or Pemuda Pancasila (PP) in Jakarta.
Historically, in the same subdistrict where the banners are hung, one is reminded of the puritanism movement led by Tuanku Nan Renceh in the late 18th century. In the same spirit as the Wahhabi movement on the Arabian Peninsula with its radical Islamic teachings, the extremely firm religious leader decided to fight any teachings contradicting his beliefs.
Renceh carried out his movement violently. He would kill anybody who was against him and even intentionally killed one of his own aunts because she chewed tobacco. Now, people visit his burial site every day to recite prayers asking for good luck, a practice that he would have deemed heretical and might have wiped out with an iron fist while causing bloodshed.
Although the current effort to impose hard-line Islam on public life is not that harsh, it is, however somewhat disturbing. Why should there be a type of “police” or “policy” that interferes with people’s private lives, which actually makes them uncomfortable or forces them to be pretentious individuals?
Compared to the circumstances several years ago, especially before politics and harder puritan religiosity penetrated deep into the villagers’ lives, there are still examples of brighter aspects. The youths, for example, in their teenage and maturing years can express themselves more freely according to their psychological development.
Moral appropriateness, such as how someone should dress, is still something interpreted naturally with the guidance of principles of how to live. The highest moral action is any attempt to ensure harmony in the agrarian social life.
Theoretically, the alam and rantau perspectives in Minangkabau cultural dialectics can possibly explain the phenomenon better. Alam means the existing or old entities, such as values or customs, before the newer ones penetrate, negate or mingle with them. New values or practices are viewed as things that come from rantau (overseas).
Religious radicalism, in this sense, is identified as something that originates from rantau, a belief that is adopted by the religious teachers that were educated in the places where radicalization had been present. Nowadays, as religious programs on television or radio are available on a daily basis, radicalism is more instantly and intensively instilled.
After around two months wandering in both rural and urban areas, looking at the “weird” banners everywhere and listening to the religious services and Friday preaching in the mosques, the process of radicalization was strongly felt. The religious clerics seem to have read the same books and delivered their understandings colorlessly. The local authorities, comprising more of the corrupt and hedonist hypocrites, issued the inline regional ordinance (Perda).
Being a good Muslim is more recognized by physical appearance with veil and long skirts or loose trousers for women. Men pray in large groups at the mosques whereby the spaces for women are increasingly getting smaller, although they are actually more diligent. Shops have to close nearing the dusk prayer and raising a dog is reproached.
Not any longer, in the future, we may see more religious restrictions. Even today, one can hear religious preachers telling the edict that prohibits using an ojek (motorcycle taxi), threatening a male and a female to shake hands with hell fire and prohibiting music and dances.
In fact, more than a decade ago, in my secondary school years, at a famous Islamic boarding school (pesantren) for six years, things were much free and there was greater liberty. We could cheerfully play music and perform dances, traditional or modern, or play sports without fear due to certain religious understanding.
In my nagari (traditional communal polity larger than a village but smaller than a subdistrict), we were free to enjoy traditional performances such as saluang (traditional flute blown following songs with rhyming lyrics), which created a very dynamic and animated atmosphere. Or we could enjoy dangdut show, which were usually performed after the Idul Fitri holiday.
After all, realizing that the contemporary puritan movement happens to be the continuation of the endeavors threatening and eradicating cultured Islam, everyone must support any countering movements based on local wisdom in the spirit of cultural values and practices. Cultural programs, such as the development and dissemination of traditional arts both at formal and informal education and sponsoring communal events with locally appreciated activities are therefore among the best choices.
In the case of Minangkabau, it means that the existing “better” local wisdom will be empowered by the proper support on the dissemination of cultural values and practices. Hopefully, it will continue in the cultural dialectics and radicalism can be significantly weakened.
The writer is a researcher at the Center for the Study of Religions and Peace (PUSAD), at the Paramadina Foundation, Jakarta.