Should Malaysians be worried that the controversial Indonesian cleric appears to have spent time here recently?
There’s no escaping the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) when discussing Indonesian politics.
On Monday, I had breakfast with Indonesian Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch at Shaaz Curry House in Bandar Sunway.
We were chatting about Ahok (the nickname of jailed Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama), blasphemy, a pornography case involving a firebrand Indonesian and the rise of radical Islamism, and inevitably, FPI was mentioned.
For those not familiar with FPI, which was founded by firebrand cleric Rizieq Shihab (pic) in 1998, here’s its curriculum vitae.
> FPI is the face of hardline Islam in Indonesia;
> FPI raided bars selling alcohol during Ramadan;
> FPI protested against the Miss World beauty pageant in Indonesia;
> FPI forced the cancellation of “devil’s messenger” Lady Gaga’s concert; and
> FPI organised mass rallies against Ahok for allegedly insulting Islam.
(It is a CV that could make PAS jealous.)
“Why should moderate Muslim politicians worry about FPI and radical Islamism?” I asked Andreas.
“Radical clerics like Rizieq often use the term kafir against moderate Muslims whose views are not similar to theirs. They have attacked Muslim minorities in Indonesia like Ahmadiyah and Syiah,” he said.
“In Indonesia, many Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) leaders are worried about Rizieq and his FPI. They used to attack Abdurrahman Wahid, a former Indonesian president and a former NU leader.”
(Nahdlatul Ulama, said a Human Rights Watch report, is a traditionalist Sunni Islam organisation established in 1926 in East Java. It claims to have 45-50 million members, making it the largest Muslim social organisation in the world.)
There are reports that Rizieq and some members of his family flew in from Saudi Arabia to Kuala Lumpur International Airport on May 5. And he left with Zakir Naik for Saudi Arabia on May 13.
The 52-year-old firebrand is familiar with Malaysia. In 2008, he earned a Masters degree in Syariah law from the International Islamic University Malaysia in Nilai, Negri Sembilan. In 2012, he was admitted to a Dakwah and Management programme at the same university.
Rizieq is believed to have been invited by a Malaysian political party to share his experience and opinion on Indonesian politics, especially on how the Islamism movement brought down Ahok.
“They will use the playbook FPI used against Ahok in Malaysia,” a political observer familiar with Malaysian and Indonesian politics told me.
Jakarta Police are investigating whether the FPI founder is involved in a pornography case where Firza Husein (coordinator of the Suharto-linked Solidaritas Sahabat Cendana foundation) and Rizieq allegedly shared pornographic material in WhatsApp chats.
Police confirmed that the pictures of a naked woman who appeared in the chats were of Firza.
Rizieq ignored two police summons on April 25 and May 10. And police might request Interpol to issue a blue notice to discover Rizieq’s whereabouts.
“Why should Malaysia be worried about Rizieq advising Malaysian politicians?” I asked Andreas.
“I’ll send you what I wrote,” he said. And he WhatsApped me an opinion piece he wrote for The Guardian: “The Ahok verdict endorsed an Islamist narrative of blasphemy. One of the five judges, reciting the Quran’s Al-Maidah 51 verse in Arabic, stressed that Muslims should not elect non-Muslim leaders. The court also adopted the Islamist’s position that non-Muslims should not comment on Quranic interpretations.
“The verdict paints a frightening future for moderate Muslims and non-Muslims who believe in Indonesia’s pluralist society. Non-Muslims will think twice before making comments in public or on social media about diversity and pluralism. Beyond elected officials, public servants and executives of state-owned companies may be next in line.
“Will it be lawful to discuss mandatory wearing of the hijab? Non-Muslims might risk prison time just by venturing into these very ordinary subjects of Indonesian life.
“If someone powerful and once popular like Ahok could be jailed for blasphemy, who is next?”
Andreas warned that this could happen in Malaysia.
“But why do Malaysians need to worry that Rizieq is advising Malaysian politicians?” I repeated.
“Because he is smart, having effective rhetoric. He knows how to play politics and to use Islamic rhetoric,” he said.
Our conversation turned to West Kalimantan governor Cornelis who is under attack by radical groups.
West Kalimantan, according to The Jakarta Post, has been gripped by a filmed speech that went viral on social media, in which Cornelis threatened to oust radical and provocative individuals who had “the guts” to enter his province.
“With regard to intolerance, I frankly challenge those who are radical and intolerant to leave West Kalimantan,” he said in Pontianak.
“What’s FPI’s role in trying to bring Cornelis down?” I asked Andreas.
“It’s just starting. They are using the same method in Jakarta to attack Cornelis, himself a Christian and ethnic Dayak.
“Unlike Ahok, Cornelis is an indigenous person in Kalimantan. Cornelis is also the chairman of the Dayak Customary Council in Kalimantan,” he said.
“These Islamists are increasing their stake against a governor with a power base like Cornelis. He’s not a Muslim. It means their interpretation of Al Maidah 51 will be used against Cornelis in Pontianak.”
The threat of radical Islamism is real in Indonesia, warned Andreas. “They might take state power,” he said.