Deradicalization through ‘pesantren’

by; Muhammad Asad is home to the largest Muslim community in the world and has a population of more than 200 million. This number is far larger than what can be found in any country in the Middle East, where Islam was born.

As a Muslim dominanted country, Indonesia is also known by the mainstream view that people from other religions can live peacefully and side by side with their Muslim counterparts. Many observers have confirmed this idea by concluding that Indonesia is a very tolerant country.

However, in the last 10 years, and especially since the reformation era, the assumption that Indonesia is a country full of tolerant Muslims seems misleading with the re-emergence of radical Islam.

Countless acts of violence have helped justify the view that Indonesia is a bastion of extremism.

The series of bomb attacks that have occurred almost every year from 2000 to 2005 hammered home that Indonesia has changed.

The worst of these attacks took place in Bali on Oct. 12, 2002 , killing more than 200, most of whom were Australian tourists.

After the second Bali bombing in 2005, it looked as though Indonesia had settled the issue of Islamic extremism.

However, the last J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bombings in July 2009 and recent terrorist activity have proved that terrorism in the name of Islam is a major problem within Indonesian Islam that must be solved.

Faced with the problem, many stakeholders have tried to find the best way to eradicate or deradicalize this problem.

Nevertheless, the solution employed by the government has been mostly centralized in the militaristic approach. We can see this through the raids by the Indonesian Police’s antiterror unit, Special Detachment 88, which are often broadcast on our televisions.

In general, this approach has not been very successful in eliminating radicalism in Indonesia as there are always new groups emerging to take their place.

It is like shaving our own beard; it grows again after we shave it.

The militaristic approach has not been effective in reducing radicalism. What has happened is the

Beside the militaristic approach, there is another method which would be, in my opinion, more effective and essential in eradicating radicalism in Indonesia.

The method is through cooperation with Islamic institutions such as traditional Islamic boarding schools, known as pesantren in Indonesia. As we know, Indonesia has plenty of pesantren, most of which are affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest Islamic organization.

Furthermore, traditional pesantren are well known for their moderate thinking such as their work in interfaith dialogue and pro-democratization, among others.

We can see this for instance in the work of P3M (Center for Pesantren and Community Development), which has for years had a program creating discussion among traditional religious leaders upon several contemporary discourse such as on the issue of the compatibility of Islam and democracy, pluralism and interfaith dialogue.

This fact is supported by Robin Bush, who said that pesantren are “in favor of civil society, democratic institutions and pluralism that were deeply rooted in Islamic teachings and perspectives” (Mun’im Sirry: 2010).

By incorporating the many pesantren we can have another voice to counter that of the terrorists. This idea needs support not only from the government but from the mass media.

As we know that the supporters of radical Islam have the resources and knowhow to publish their ideas through media and especially the Internet.

Employing their secular background such as engineering or multimedia, they can easily access a wide audience by creating new websites and blogs to spread their teachings.

This is contrary to the voice of the pesantren. With their basic training in religious studies, what they do is to teach what is right and wrong according to the Koran and hadith. Disseminating these teachings via modern media such as the Internet is a different matter.

To support this idea, there must be a comprehensive effort to help the students of traditional pesantren to publish their ideas through the mass media.

The effort can be either to train them to write religious discourse in local newspapers or to give them adequate skills in developing websites or blogs.

We can imagine if this attempt is successful there will be many resources, such as websites created by students of mainstream Islam, promoting peace and pluralism instead of violence.

This action is needed in order to give adequate information to the youngsters that Islam does not support violence or terrorism.

By giving them an abundant source of mainstream Islamic teachings, they will not be able to find other sources to support radicalism. (source:

The writer is a lecturer at the State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN) Surabaya.


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