Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has ignored the protests of Muslim groups and continues to list and publish the names of preachers who are qualified to give religious instruction, in a bid to counter rising radicalism.
Mastuki, the ministry’s spokesman, told ucanews.com on May 29 that they would not change their policy as it was designed for “the good of Muslims and the nation.”
“We will not revoke [it] but will evaluate the mechanism after getting public feedback,” he said, adding that it has now placed over 500 preachers on the recommended list.
On May 18, less than a week after a series of suicide bombings targeted three churches in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second city, Religious Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin released a list of 200 competent preachers.
A few days later, legislators approved a stalled anti-terrorism bill on May 25 which gives police greater powers to arrest suspects.
He said they met the ministry’s requirements regarding their understanding of Islamic teachings, preaching experience and commitment to preserving national unity.
He added that the names were then submitted to Indonesia’s Ulema Council (MUI), which supports the policy, for certification.
Cholil Nafis, one of the MUI leaders, said this policy could prevent the emergence of preachers who do not really understand Islam, which could ultimately give people a wrong understanding about it.
“The MUI will be responsible for the certification,” Nafis told ucanews.com.
He said the council could also remove a preacher from the list if they deviate from the accepted norms of Islamic teaching.
The policy has sparked criticism, especially from two large Muslim moderate organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah.
Said Aqil Siradj, chairman of Nahdatul Ulama, said the ministry should switch its attention instead to blacklisting problematic instructors.
“The government should focus on [listing] radical preachers,” he said.
By way of example he cited Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, founder of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a hard-line group.
Danhil Anzar Simanjuntak, chairman of the Muhammadiyah Youth and one of the preachers on the recommended list, disagreed with the initiative, saying it will only further divide Muslim scholars.
“To prevent division and slander, it’s better to annul the list because it will still cause various prejudices,” Simanjuntak said.
“Outside of the list there are lots of preachers who have a high degree of religious knowledge and a sound sense of morality,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lutfhie Assyaukanie, an Islamic scholar and lecturer at Paramadina University, said the government should list the criteria of what makes a good preacher so that Muslims can use this as a reference guide and “choose [the one] of their preference.”
“The government does not need to list their names as that will spur conflict,” he said.
The move to control Muslim clerics is not a new one.
In April last year, Minister Saifuddin issued an appeal against sermons that promote religious or ethnic intolerance, in response to complaints during the Jakarta governor election, which was marred by religious and ethnic friction.
This article first appeared in UCA News on May 30, 2018.