Jakarta – Despite allegations that many of Indonesia's Islamic boarding schools are breeding grounds for religious militancy, the government will not restrict the activities of the pesantren. However, the government plans to launch a "war of ideas" against extremists with the help of mainstream Muslim clerics.
Indonesian media reports had earlier quoted Vice-President Jusuf Kalla as saying that restrictions would be placed on the country's 17,000 pesantren after the resort island of Bali was rocked by three suicide bombers on Oct 1.
However, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the official religious authority, said on Oct 20 that Mr Kalla had denied making such remarks.
"The Vice-President has said that there are no plans at all by the government to limit the activities of pesantren as reported by the media," said MUI secretary-general Ichwan Syam after a meeting with Mr Kalla.
However, Mr Kalla said there is a need to monitor closely Islamic boarding schools that promote religious extremism and radicalism. He had said earlier that out of the 17,000 boarding schools, there was only one or two that were extreme or violated Islamic teachings.
These schools allegedly have brainswashed their students by claiming that suicide is allowed in Islam for jihad (holy war), Mr Ichwan quoted Mr Kalla as saying.
"Such teachings have sown the seeds of terrorism. The MUI will support the government in educating the public that such an evil act (suicide) is against Islam," said Mr Ichwan.
As the debate over pesantren continues, a senior anti-terrorism official said that the government plans to engage in a "war of ideas" as part of its battle against terrorists.
"We need to enlist mainstream Muslim clerics who can debunk the teachings of the extremists, and expose the flaws and deviation from Islam," Police Major-General Ansyaad Mbai, head of the anti-terrorism desk at the Coordinating Ministry for Security, Political and Legal Affairs, told The Straits Times in an interview on Oct 21.
Members of the Centre for Moderate Muslims, a think-tank in Jakarta, will be helping the government in this. Fighting terrorism in mainly Muslim Indonesia is tough because many Muslims in some parts of the country still view terror suspects as "mujahids or heroes of God, and not what they are – terrorists".
He pointed out that Indonesia's two most-wanted fugitives – alleged bomb-maker Azahari Husin and his associate, Noordin Mohammed Top – received support and shelter from people in remote villages even though notices about the two Malaysians were placed nationwide by the police.
* Jakarta's hearts and minds bid to beat terror (The Straits Times, Oct 24)
* Govt won't restrict Islamic schools: Kalla (The Jakarta Post, Oct 21)