I was born and raised in Indonesia as a Muslim, and for as long as I could remember, my elders always describe Islam as something to be both feared and respected.
The same sense of intimidation echoed throughout my elementary school classrooms as my religion teachers warned of hellfire and eternal torment for bad girls, along with kafir people or non-Muslims. Non-Muslims are the enemy, they said. Buddhists, Christians and Hindus are misguided souls that will face eternal damnation, they said. The idea was, if you get too chummy with your non-Muslim peers, you are no different from them and you, too, will be dragged deep into the depths of holy inferno.
My younger self somehow knew that there was something off about this idea of exclusivity, but I was conflicted: weren’t the adults around me supposed to know best? After all, I was just a child.
I was fortunate to be raised by a mother who is progressive. Every time my religion teacher taught something that raised some doubt in my mind, I would speak about it to her and she would immediately debunk it, and that gave me a real sense of relief that somehow I’m not wrong for thinking this way.
Today I am 21 years old and deeply concerned for Indonesia’s future as rising radical Islamist movements are threatening to push the country off the edge. It’s easy to talk to your friends or co-workers about this particular issue, when they’re likely to agree with how appalling it is to live among people who think wearing Santa hats or sending Christmas cards earns you a one-way ticket to hell. It’s a different story entirely, however, when you’re trying to describe this narrative of the country to the outside world.
By now you must be familiar with the anti-Muslim rhetoric in Donald Trump’s America as well as in other parts of the western hemisphere. On the hand one, it is important to get international attention in order to prevent things from escalating, or at least to slow it down. But on the other hand, it makes it difficult for Indonesia to continue to convey an image as a country where – as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once put it – Islam and democracy could coexist peacefully.
Advertising Islam as a peace-loving religion to the world simply won’t cut it anymore.
It is true that ugly stains of bigotry and radicalism still persist within our Muslim communities, and there are people out there who would justify their hateful views by quoting the Quran. Some Indonesian Muslims can sometimes be afraid of what they can’t understand. Fear-mongering, politically-charged imprisonment, online harassment and widespread hoaxes are now commonplace, some even petitioned to imprison “sexually incorrect” people in order to restore the so-called wholesome Eastern values in Indonesia.
But at the same time, it’s not easy to speak out about radical Islamism without strangers chiming in, taking your statement as a proof that it is right of them to be fearful of Muslims and Islam as a whole. Speaking out might be met with generalization and I-told-you-so’s, but staying silent would make you a complicit face in the crowd, and that is simply not an option. The issue of radicalism comes with a double-edged sword that will maim everybody involved in some way or another.
As the biggest Muslim-majority country in the world, at what point will Indonesia find that perfectly balanced spot where the world acknowledges what we’re going through, while still viewing the majority of Indonesian moderate Muslims as law-abiding, nonviolent, civilized citizens?
It is an unpleasant truth which we have to live with and advertising Islam as a peace-loving religion to the world simply won’t cut it anymore. Will we ever manage to stave off radicalism without tarnishing the benevolent image of Islam and Indonesia altogether? As of this point, only time will tell.
Fernanda Azaria is a 21-year old English literature undergrad student who likes to critically consume media whilst scratching the ears of one of her 6 cats on a rainy night. She also enjoys satire news shows and podcasts.