Hard-Line Faith Draws Indonesia’s Youth: Author

The Jakarta Globe

Islamic fundamentalism is getting a foothold in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest number of Muslims, mainly through its younger generations, a Japanese author said.

Hisanori Kato, who has lived in Indonesia and studied Islamic fundamentalism here, said the country’s youth can be easily lured by fundamentalism as they try to determine a sense of self.

“I say that fundamentalism in Islam has a strong influence on youths because many of them are still in the process of seeking their identity and giving a meaning to life,” Kato said.

Fundamentalists, he said, have been actively reaching out to younger generations with their Islamic teachings.

“In searching for identity and the meaning of life, they [the youth] can find answers to their questions in Islam,” Kato said.

He added that many Muslims in Indonesia lack a deep understanding of their religion, so they may be more susceptible to fundamentalist teachings.

Islamic fundamentalism has a long history in the country, Kato said, but it was repressed in the past and could not propagate so freely — especially during more than three decade’s of rule under former authoritarian President Suharto.

Religious restrictions were lifted during the reform era, and fundamentalists today have more freedom to gather and spread their teachings, he said.

Kato wanted the international community to understand that Islam has many interpretations, so he decided to write a book on the subject.

“The Clash of Ijtihad: Fundamentalist Versus Liberal Muslims: The Development of Islamic Thinking in Contemporary Indonesia,” sheds light on the various interpretations of Islam among Muslims in Indonesia.

The 214-page book, which Kato wrote in four years, is meant to help readers understand that Islamic teachings cannot be viewed in any single way, and that different practitioners throughout the country possess different beliefs about their religion.

“Through this book, I want people to know that there are many interpretations of Islam so that non-Muslims can understand that this is the case in Indonesia,” he said.

Kato, a Buddhist, first became familiar with Islam when he came to Indonesia to work as a teacher at an international school here.

He became interested in the pervasiveness of Islam in everyday life, so he took a postgraduate course about democratization in Indonesia and its relationship to Islam.

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