Given that 88% of Indonesians are Muslim, why is political Islam not dominant?

Essay by TtGUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, November 2005

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In answering the above question, there are two major themes that come to mind: the role of the state government, and the role of the Indonesian Muslim community.

From the period of the Guided Democracy under Sukarno, and following that, Suharto's New Order, Islamic parties have been subjected to repression and manipulation by the state for over forty years. During the period of the New Order, the government was especially hostile towards the manifestation of Islam in politics, and was clear in its intention to systematically depoliticise Islam through its de-Islamicisation policies and tight control over Islamic political activities. In relation to the role of the state, it is important to look at these periods in Indonesia's political history and analyse the impact of state influence on the issue of what type of role Islam should play in Indonesia's political arena.

The second issue important in considering the question of why political Islam is not dominant is the makeup of Indonesia's Muslim community itself and also the changes in attitude that have emerged throughout the years.

The first thing to note is that the statistic of an 88% Muslim majority needs to be taken with caution, partly because of the method that was adopted in religiously categorising the population, and partly because it overshadows the diversity within the Muslim community itself. The diversity within the community into branching categories of santri, abangan, traditionalists, and modernists, also meant division within the Muslim majority, and differences in views has led to tension among Islamic political parties themselves. Post-1998, however, has seen changes not only in the patterns of political Islam and the approaches of political parties, but also in the perception of the Muslim majority of Islam and preference of its role as 'cultural Islam' to that of a political role. All...