Since President Joko Widodo chose Ma’ruf Amin, the head of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and one of the country’s most influential religious figures, his running mate for the 2019 election, people have been speculating on how his conservative and at times views on religion’s role in the government would affect his policy stances as a VP candidate. Over the weekend he expressed his views on some issues that offer insight into what kind of laws he’d support as the nation’s second-in-command.
On Sunday, while speaking at an Islamic boarding school in Banten, Ma’ruf discussed a report from the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) indicating that out of 100 mosques located inside government ministries, institutions and state-owned enterprises that were surveyed, 41 were found to be spreading radicalism
Ma’ruf spoke strongly about “cleansing” these and other mosques featuring radical preachers for the good of the country.
“Those (mosque that have been exposed to radicalism) must be cleansed, returned (to the true path) because radicalism is something that is very dangerous to the integrity of the nation and the continuity of the Republic of Indonesia,” Ma’ruf said as quoted by Detik.
The MUI leader said that all forms of radicalism could potentially lead to conflict, so it was important to guard the country from the efforts of a handful of groups that want to change the foundations of the country.
However, Ma’ruf — who also holds the influential position of Rais Aam (Supreme Leader) at Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) — struck a different tone when asked to comment on the controversy regarding Grace Natalie, the leader of the young and progressive Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), and her statement that PSI would reject all religion-based laws.
After the statement she made at PSI’s 4th anniversary on Nov 11, Grace and PSI were accused of “Islamophobia” by conservative politicians and she was even reported to the police for blasphemy by Eggi Sudjana, a lawyer who also represents notorious Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab.
When asked about the PSI controversy, Ma’ruf demurred on whether their statement constituted blasphemy (even though he’s one of the country’s highest authorities on the subject, having signed the blasphemy fatwa against former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama and testified about it at his trial) but Ma’ruf did say he basically agreed with the idea of religion-based laws being passed at a regional level if that is the will of the people in that area, including laws based on the Bible.
“[About Bible-based law], if the people there have evidence that in that area the Bible entered first, I think that is the right of the region,” he also said on Sunday as quoted by Detik.
It’s no surprise that Ma’ruf would support laws that favors the religious majority over minorities. As noted in a Human Rights Watch report, “Over the past two decades at the MUI, Amin has helped draft and been a vocal supporter of fatwas, or religious edicts decrees, against the rights of religious minorities, including the country’s Ahmadiyah and Shia communities, as well lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.”
However, some have speculated that, as Jokowi’s running mate, Ma’ruf would tone down some of his views in the interests of politics. And indeed he has been getting quite a bit of press for the moderate brand of ‘Middle-Way’ Islam he has been preaching recently.
But if he continues to speak out in favor of laws based on sharia and other religions, how long until he is forced to take a position on, for example, the many regional leaders who are currently clamoring to pass anti-LGBT regulations based on the demands of religious conservatives? Ma’ruf’s middle way may say no to radicalism, but will it also stand against equal protections for all Indonesians?