Islamic Hijrah movement changing Indonesian society

Its goal is to get people to give up on lifestyles perceived as non-Islamic. Born-again believers are part of a popular current. However, for one activist, many “have become intolerant not only towards other religions but also towards Muslims from different communities." As conservatism grows, many businesses seek halal certification and engage in Islamic marketing.

Sep 06, 2019

JAKARTA: The most conservative interpretations of Islam are bringing profound changes to Indonesian society and the economy. Preachers who use the new media extensively are rekindling religious fervour in the world’s most populous country. This can be seen in the entertainment industry where more and more celebrities perform Hijrah, and make public their discovery of, or return to, Islam.

Born-again believers are leading an influential movement that encourages everyone to respect Syariah (Islamic Law), including Muslim-only residential development and Islamic banking activities.

Hijrah is an Arabic word that means exodus, migration or journey. According to Islamic tradition, it refers to the journey the Prophet Muhammad and his followers made from Makkah to Madinah to escape the oppression of the Quraish tribe.

In Indonesia, the term now alludes to an individual’s effort to abandon a lifestyle perceived as non-Islamic and move towards a “religious” code of conduct (in behaviour and clothing), in addition to performing all the rituals, both mandatory and recommended.

For Dewi Kartika Maharani Praswida, a Muslim student from Wonogiri, a regency in Central Java province, Hijrah is a positive concept, as long as it comes from a sincere conversion of the heart.

She explains that this change must help us “improve ourselves, not make ourselves feel holier than others.”

The 23-year-old woman is an activist for interfaith dialogue with Gus Durian, a youth movement affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s and the world’s largest moderate Islamic organisation, with over 90 million members.

Young people represent the population group in which the Hijrah movement has been most successful. The movement has succeeded “because it engages mostly young people who feel sorrow and dark”. It is thus a spur to feel better through the comfort of religion.

“Some friends have told me that it is something they must join, but others believe it is only the programme of people who enjoy a particular notoriety.”

For some experts, there is a connection between Hijrah’s popularity and the Islamist forces that have recently played a greater role in Indonesia’s public affairs.

This idea “is acceptable in most cases, but not in all. It is true that some of my acquaintances, who joined the movement, have completely changed their way of thinking; the sad truth is that they have become intolerant, not only towards other religions but also towards Muslims from different communities.”

Indonesian Islam is traditionally moderate and over time has assimilated elements of mysticism and local customs. But the number of conservatives is now increasing and more and more businesses have pursued halal certifications and engage in Islamic marketing.

Restaurants compete for halal certificates, proof that they comply with religious law. In some hospitals, there are even halal drugs and some shampoos that claim to be suitable for those wearing headscarves. Sharp, a Japanese multinational that makes appliances, now sells refrigerators with the halal label.

This new marketing trend has come in for criticism. For Dewi, “I have the impression that some people want to capitalise on people’s religious sentiment. This reduces religion to a brand and a means, like others, to make money.” -- Asia News

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