Jumat, 04 Desember 2009

Indonesian Young Muslim Radicalisation


Some Structural Prerequisites and Functional Requisites[1]

Prof. Dr. H. Mudjia Rahardjo, M.Si.[2]

Taking Indonesia as its context, and the process of young muslim radicalisation as a patterned behavior, this study is aimed to: (1) identify causes of radicalisation, that cover both the structural prerequisites and functional requisites of the behavior, (2) identify the social functions of the radicalisation, that consist of manifest and latent consequences, and (3) identify the nature of consequences, that covers both functional and dysfunctional consequences. The structural prerequisites of muslim youth radicalisation cover marginalization of religion in public discourse, secularization of political, economic, social, and educational sector, the imperfect Islamic values enculturization, the failure in socializing the ideology of tolerance, the lack of social control and the media exposure. The functional requisities of muslim youth radicalization cover the provision of “promising future” both to individual and collectivity, the provision of personal and collective identity, and the sense of being meaningful. The process of radicalization is potential to be terrorism. This worrying process will work whenever the technical conditions, both leadership and unifying ideology, the political condition or the capacity to organize, and the social conditions or the ability to communicate are met. Anticipating the possible further future of radicalisation, there should be efforts to develop new strategies and approaches to internalize the values of religions in social life.


Religious life throughout the world, regardless of the specific tradition, exhibits both personal-psychological and communal-social aspects. Persons within the diverse religious traditions of the world perceive the spiritual dimension of their faith as transcending both the individual psychological and emotional as well as the corporate and social aspects of their faith’s expressions. Nonetheless, two major academic strands of religious studies over the last century have focused primarily on either the psychological or the social dimensions of religion. Studying the social consequences of religious life, therefore, should cover both its psychological and the social dimensions.

With an estimated 1.2 billion adherents, constituting about 20 percent of the world population (1998), Islam is the second largest religion. Approximately 900 million Muslims live in forty-five Muslim-majority countries. Indonesia, according to World Development Report published annually by the World Bank, is classified as the biggest “muslim” country.

Having discussed the specialty of Islam and Muslim in Indonesia, this paper will focus on the structural prerequisites of muslim youth radicalization, the functional requisites of muslim youth radicalization, and the consequences of radicalization.

The Specialty of Islam and Muslim in Indonesia

Through his anthropological studies, Geertz made significant contributions to the sociology of Islam, in this case of religious life in Indonesia. His work illustrates the modes of incorporation of Islam into already existing and well-developed cultures and shows how those incorporations manifest themselves in the different Islamic traditions that over time come to characterize them (Geertz, 1968).

In the tropical heartland of Indonesia, with its productive peasant society and Indic cultural heritage, once Islam was incorporated, it found a distinctive cultural and religious expression. In Indonesia, Islam did not construct a civilization but enriched it, since before Islam, there were other previous religions. The Javanese social structure was shaped by a centralized state and a productive and industrious peasantry. The social structure was highly differentiated and developed, and when Islam came, its expression was influenced profoundly by the context. The Indonesian Islamic tradition was malleable, tentative, syncretic, and multivocal.

In Indonesia, Islam was a powerful force for cultural diversification and sharply variant and even incompatible worldviews and values. The gentry, which was acculturated to Indic ritualism and pantheism, developed a subjectivist and illuminationist approach to Islam. The people absorbed Islamic concepts and practices into their folk religion and developed a distinctive contemplative tradition. The trading classes were exposed to Arabian Islam and, because of their greater exposure to the Meccan pilgrimage, cultivated a doctrinal religious tradition. Islam in Indonesia therefore developed as a syncretic and multivocal religious tradition whose expression differed from one sector of the society to another (Geertz, 1960).

Geertz’s work provides a framework for explaining the diversity of religious traditions in Muslim societies and indeed the existence of religious diversity in all religions. As Geertz observes, ‘‘Religious faith, even when it is fed from a common source, is as much a particularising force as a generalizing one, and indeed whatever universality a given religious tradition manages to attain arises from its ability to engage a widening set of individual, even idiosyncratic, conceptions of life and yet somehow sustain and elaborate them all’’ (Geertz 1968: 14).

Gellner has advanced a theory of muslim social formation that is based on his conceptualization of ‘‘two strands of Islam.’’ One strand is characterized by ‘‘scripturalist puritanism’’ and represented by the Ulema. This is the Islam of the ‘‘fundamentalists.’’ The other strand is characterized by a ‘‘hierarchical escatic mediationist style and is represented by the ‘Saints.’’ These two strands have evolved historically as representing two major social structural features of Muslim society: the city and the countryside. Gellner combines these strands of Islam with the political orientation of the elites and proposes a model of Muslim social formations. If one contrasts fundamentalism with laxity along one dimension and social radicalism with traditionalism along another, according to Gellner, one gets four types of Muslim societies or social formations.

The old-style puritanism prevails in areas where a traditional elite survives but is still fairly close to its origin in an Ibn-Khaldunian swing of the pendulum that brought it to power in a fusion of religious enthusiasm and tribal aggression. The new-style puritanism with its elective affinity for social radicalism prevails in areas where colonialism destroyed old elites and a new one elite came from below rather than from the outer wilderness (Gellner 1983: 89). An elaboration of Gellner’s typology of Islamic social formations is shown in the following figure.

This theory holds that religious fundamentalism is one of the consequences of the modernization process. Tamney (1980) proposed that one way in which modern people are different from traditional people is that they practice purer religious styles. The relationship between modernization and religious purity can take two forms. In its general sense, purification is the opposite of syncretism: It is the elimination of religious elements originating in a traditional religion. Purification means the differentiation of religious traditions at the personality level, so that the individual’s religious lifestyle reflects one style of tradition. If being modern means that people are more conscious about the history and the internal structures of various religions, modern people can realize the inconsistencies in a syncretic lifestyle, feel uneasy or even insincere, and seek to purify their lives by deliberately eliminating elements from religious traditions other than their own. Using this conceptualization, Tamney hypothesizes that modernization is associated with religious purification. His empirical examination of this hypothesis in Indonesia tends to support his theory. Studies by Hassan (1984) and Irfani (1983) provide some support for this theory.

Using the model developed by Gellner, Indonesian muslims tend to be moderate, both in term of their political orientation and religious orientation. The recent situation is, however, rather different. If the term ‘‘fundamentalism’’ is defined to mean a high degree of devotional religiosity, these heartlands are becoming fundamentalist (Hassan 2000). What are the causes of muslim youth radicalization? What are the implications of this for Islamic radicalism? Does this mean increasing support for the militant Islamic movements that are agitating to establish their versions of the Islamic state? Would this increase militancy against the groups or countries they regard as enemies of Islam?

Structural prerequisites[3]

The following description provides a major clue to the structural prerequisites of the muslim youth radicalization. For a long time, Islam and muslim in Indonesia have been felt as being marginalized from the public discourse. When the slogan “Islam Yes, Partai Islam No” was very popular, it reflects how everything that is formally related to Islam and muslim have been rejected, or at least undervalued. At that time, being true muslims was identical to the so-called right extremists.

Such marginalization, sometimes, was legitimated in the name of Pancasila. It was so clear during the New Order periode where the state and the ruling elites gave higher appreciation to the Pancasila than the religion, especially Islam. Most of muslim, at that time, had no confidence to express their identity as muslims. The public official sometimes gave no permission to the women to wear jilbab. Fanatism was labelled as wrong. Everyone felt proud to be “nasionalan” and not “fanatic”.

Indonesia never claims or is claimed as being secular. The realitity is, however, very different. The process of secularization occurred not only in political, economic, social sector, but also in educational sector. So many Islamic educational institutions, both formal and nonformal, were undervalued and received a very little governmental attention and financial aids. Most of those Islamic educational institutions survive from their own resources and apply a self-financial management. They grew and developed naturally, and of course unonservable. Both government and common people never know what happen in some of Islamic seminary. This situation also reflects the lack of social control.

Although the state tried to spread Pancasila as the ideology of tolerance and pluralism, the operation of educational activities in a closed system constrained the process of internalization. This is not only proven in some of Islamic seminary, but also happened in wider society. The cognitivist approach to enculturize the ideas and values of tolerance and pluralism was ineffective.

In addition, the media exposure also gave a success story of Islamic revolution. That is why some of muslim youth regard the state and major Western countries as anti-Islamic. The primary reason for this attitude sometimes is not religion, but the perceived inaction of Western countries toward protecting the Muslim populations throughout the world. The impact of these situation is making the militant movements highly secretive and more violent. The new militancy is not motivated by attitudes toward colonialism and struggles to win the hearts and minds of Muslim populations. Instead, it is fueled by a sense of powerlessness, revenge, and religious fanaticism.

Religious devotion appears to be associated with a decline in the support for militant Islamic movements. A large majority of Muslims do not belong to radical Islamic group. In fact, most of them approved of moderate political leaders who are leading political and social movements for democratic and tolerant societies and political cultures. The declining support for radical and militant movements is paradoxically further radicalizing these movements and transforming them into more violent and secretive organizations. The nature and ruthlessness of violence reflect their desire to gain public attention and are symptomatic of their desperation.

The new form of violence is different from the earlier form that was carried out by organizations often with tacit support from political structures. The new militancy appears to be fueled by a sense of desperation and humiliation caused by the spreading and the domination of a non Islamic values and practices, such as the increasing economic, cultural, technological, and military hegemony of the non-muslim people.

This pattern represents a kind of paradigm shift in the nature, causes, and targets of terrorism carried out by the new militant groups. The old form of militancy attempted to establish the legitimacy of political goals; the new form is guided by religious fanaticism, destruction, and revenge. The old form of militancy identified enemies. The new enemies are the generalized non-muslim conspiracies.

Religion finally became an idiom for political expression. In the face of intense foreign and destabilizing internal conditions and tensions, the underpressured masses took refuge in religion. Resentment against Western domination fed revolutionary enthusiasm. Young people rediscovered a “new idea” as they sought a religious source for their social and cultural identities.

Functional requisites

Interviewing with some muslim youth activists give us a clear picture on how they view Islam. As for most of muslim, they see Islam as certainly not, and never has been, just a `religion'. Rather, it is a complete way of life, with instructions on moral, political and economic behaviour for individuals and nations alike. The `way of Islam' is based upon the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as revealed in the Koran, which is regarded by all Muslims as the revealed word of Allah, and the Sunna, or `beaten path', the traditional customs observed by devout Muslims and said to be based upon the Prophet's own life. For them, being devoted muslim means imitating all traditions, life style and physical performance of the Arabs.

They do not only know that throughout the history of Islam there has been a conflict between religion and politics, but also want to finish such conflict. The solution they want to realize is not in concurent with the Islamic leaders who were often secularminded and flexible in their application of Islamic principles to political life, but fundamentalists who believed in strict adherence to the principles and life-style of the Prophet. The reason they point out is that muslim community has given enough time to the secularminded and flexible Islamic leaders to realize the ideas of Islam. The achievement is, however, not promissing. They see fundamentalism in Islam as the movement to be “back to the original teaching or the true Islam”.

Being back to the true Islam is, of course, not enough just by believing in the literal truth of the Koran, for this is accepted by all Muslims, and in that sense all Muslims are fundamentalists. Instead, it means an intense and militant faith in Islamic beliefs as the overriding principles of social life and politics, as well as of personal morality. Islamic fundamenitalists wish to establish the primacy of religion over politics. In practice this means the founding of an `Islamic state', a theocracy ruled by spiritual rather than temporal authority, and applying the shari'a, divine Islamic Law, based upon Principles expressed in the Koran.

The shari'a lays down a code for legal and righteous behaviour, including a system of punishment for most crimes as well as rules of personal conduct for both men and women. In common with other religions, Islam contains doctrines and beliefs that can justify a wide range of political causes. This is particularly true of Islamic economic ideas. The Koran, for example, upholds the institution of private property, which some have claimed endorses capitalism. However, it also prohibits usury or profiteering, which others have argued indicates sympathy for socialism.

They believe that there will be a time for all of muslim people in their own land to be successful. They wonder and appreciate the story of success like the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was founded by Hassan al Banna with a view to revitalizing what he believed to be a corrupted Islamic faith and providing the faithful with a political voice, a party of Islam. The Brotherhood sought to found an Islamic government that would provide an alternative to both capitalist and socialist forms of development. Such a government would transform the social system by applying Islamic principles to economic and political life as well as personal morality. This process of spiritual purification will also involve the liberation from foreign control, and the Brotherhood envisaged the ultimate liberation and unity of all Islamic peoples. The Islamic Iranian revolution headed by Imam Khomeini is, of course, the other inspiring story of success.

Those spirits motivate some of young muslims to be the voluntary persons in various efforts, including to join a program that trains them physically and militarily to prepare them for the coming jihad, crudely translated as `holy war', through which they would achieve their objectives.

Some of potential actitivists believe that their participation in such efforts will contribute to the promising future, both to individual and collectivity. They do not want to be heros or heroiness, but only try to be meaningful. This participation is also felt as giving them a clear identity as muslim.

The short description above highlights the proposition that in term of the potential activitists, their voluntary participation is functional. All makes the pattern of behavior maintain. What we have to note here is that even though radicalization could be found in most of potential activists, only a very small portion of them committs to the terrorism. Terrorism as the use of terror for furthering political ends which is characterized by creating a climate of fear and apprehension, is rejected as the way to the desirable ends. They still view other means and strategies to realize the idea of “Islamic state”. The locus of radicalization process is in ideas and minds, not in physical power. They claim themselves as radical, but not terrorists.

The Consequences of radicalisation

The process of radicalization is potential to be terrorism. This worrying process will work whenever the technical conditions, both leadership and unifying ideology, the political condition or the capacity to organize, and the social conditions or the ability to communicate are met.

The emergence of radicalization --- and specifically terrorism --- performs a latent but functional consequences. Viewing radicalization and terrorism as the social enemy, people will voluntarily develop a mechanism to increase a national integration or societal cohesion. Furthermore, this situation also stimulates the national defense system is always in allert condition. For the muslim and Islamic educators, this phenomena also motivate them to reform their efforts. Radicalisation as well as various religious deviances, as discussed by most muslim and Islamic educators, give a valuable lesson for further improvement and revision of the religion educational process. There should be efforts to develop new strategies and approaches to internalize the values of religions among the young people.


Geertz, Clifford 1960 The Religion of Java. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Geertz, Clifford 1968 Islam Observed: Religious Developments in Morocco and Indonesia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gellner, Ernest 1983 Muslim Society. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hassan, Riaz 1984 ‘‘Iran’s Islamic Revolutionaries: Before and After the Revolution.’’ Third World Quarterly, 6(3)0675–686

Hassan, Riaz 2000. Sociology of Islam, in Edgar F. Borgatta and Rhonda J. V. Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Sociology, New York: Macmillan Reference.

Irfani, Suroosh 1983 Revolutionary Islam in Iran. London: Zed.

Merton, Robert K. 1949 Social Theory and Social Structure: Toward the Codification of Theory and Research. New York: Free Press.

Tamney, Joseph 1980 ‘‘Modernization and Religious Purification: Islam in Indonesia.’’ Review of Religious Research 22(2). 208–218.

[1] A pre-edited working paper presented in 1st International Conference on Muslim Youth as Agents of Change in Indonesia, a joint conference organised by Leiden University, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and Universitas Islam Malang (Unisma).

[2] Mudjia Rahardjo is Master in Sociology, Doctor in Social Sciences, and Professor in Sociolinguistics, and a lecturer of the State Islamic University (UIN) of Malang.

[3] This preliminary study is based on the review of various materials and a focus group discussion with some of muslim youth activisits both in Islamic seminary and in universities.

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