Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Islam in Mexico

Official data estimates that there are 318,608 Muslims in Mexico, representing 0.3 percent of the total population. There is very little information about the origins of Islam in Mexico, but most sources claim it arrived with either Turkish or Syrian immigrants. Although the Muslim community in Mexico is quite small, the panorama is already showing considerable diversity: There are roughly equal numbers of Muslims of foreign origin and indigenous Mexican converts. Today, most Mexican Islamic organizations focus on grassroots missionary activities which are most effective at the community level.

The Centro Cultural Islámico de México (CCIM), a Sunni organization headed by Omar Weston, a British convert to Islam, is active in several big cities in northern and central Mexico. It has established a dawah (call for conversion) centre near Mexico City with the aim of offering a place for recreation, prayer and Islamic learning. Apart from CCIM there is a Sufi order called Nur Ashki Jerrah in Mexico City which is headed by two women, Shaykha Fariha and Shaykha Amina, whose beliefs and practices are considered by many to be a fairly unorthodox mixture of Islam, mysticism, and feminism.


Islam in Chiapas

The Spanish Murabitun community, the Comunidad Islámica en España, based in Granada in Spain, has the strongest ties to the Chiapas community. The Spanish missionary Muhammad Nafia (formerly Aureliano Perez), now emir of the Comunidad Islámica en México, arrived in the state of Chiapas shortly after the Zapatista uprising and established a commune in the city of San Cristóbal. Since then there have been reports of indigenous Mayans and Tzotzil-Indians converting to Islam in large numbers. President Vicente Fox has voiced concerns about the influence of the fundamentalism and possible connections to the Zapatistas and the Basque separatist organization Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), but it appears the Indians have no interest in political extremism. In San Cristóbal, the Mayan Muslims run a pizzeria and a carpentry workshop. In a Quran school (madrasa), children learn Arabic and five times a day they pray in the backroom of a residential building.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Islam in Indonesia


Islam in Indonesia is the dominant religion by far with the greatest number of religious adherents. The high number of Muslims makes Indonesia the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world.

The Indonesian Central Statistic Bureau (BPS) conducts a census every 10 years. The latest data available, from 2000, drew on 201,241,999 survey responses; the BPS estimated that the census missed 4.6 million persons. The BPS report indicated that 88.22 percent (210 million in 2004) of the population label themselves Muslim, 5.87 percent Protestant, 3.05 percent Catholic, 1.81 percent Hindu, 0.84 percent Buddhist, and 0.2 percent "other," including traditional indigenous religions, other Christian groups, and Judaism. The country's religious composition remains a politically charged issue, and some Christians, Hindus, and members of other minority faiths argue that the census undercounted non-Muslims.

Most Muslims are Sunni, although some follow other branches of Islam, including the Shia, who number approximately 100,000 nationwide. In general the mainstream Muslim community belongs to two orientations: "modernists," who closely adhere to scriptural orthodox theology while embracing modern learning and modern concepts; and predominantly Javanese "traditionalists," who are often followers of charismatic religious scholars and organized around Islamic boarding schools.


Demographics of Muslims in Indonesia
Muslims constitute a majority in most regions of Java, Sumatra, West Nusa Tenggara, Sulawesi, coastal areas of Kalimantan, and North Maluku. Muslims form distinct minorities in Papua, Bali,East Nusa Tenggara, parts of North Sumatra, most inland areas of Kalimantan, and North Sulawesi. Together, these non-muslim areas originally constitute more than one third of Indonesia prior to the massive transmigration effort sponsored by the Suharto government and recent spontaneous internal migration.

Internal migration has altered the demographic makeup of the country over the past 3 decades. It has increased the percentage of Muslims in predominantly Christian eastern parts of the country. By the early 1990s, Christians became a minority for the first time in some areas of the Moluccas. While government-sponsored transmigration from heavily populated Java and Madura to less populated areas contributed to the increase in the Muslim population in the resettlement areas, no evidence suggests that the Government intended to create a Muslim majority in Christian areas, and most Muslim migration seemed spontaneous. Regardless of its intent, the economic and political consequences of the transmigration policy contributed to religious conflicts in Maluku, Central Sulawesi, and to a lesser extent in Papua.

Islamic organizations

The leading national "modernist" social organization, Muhammadiyah, has branches throughout the country and approximately 30 million followers. Founded in 1912, Muhammadiyah runs mosques, prayer houses, clinics, orphanages, poorhouses, schools, public libraries, and universities. On February 9, Muhammadiyah's central board and provincial chiefs agreed to endorse the presidential campaign of a former Muhammadiyah chairman. This marked the organization's first formal foray into partisan politics and generated controversy among members.

Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest "traditionalist" social organization, focuses on many of the same activities as Muhammadiyah and indirectly operates a majority of the country's Islamic boarding schools. Claiming approximately 40 million followers, NU is the country's largest organization and perhaps the world's largest Islamic group. Founded in 1926, NU has a nationwide presence but remains strongest in rural Java. The Islam of many NU followers has heavy infusions of Javanese culture, and followers tend to reject a literal or dogmatic interpretation of Islamic doctrine. Many NU followers give great deference to the views, interpretations, and instructions of senior NU religious figures, alternately called "Kyais" or "Ulama." The organization has long advocated religious moderation and communal harmony.

The Indonesian Islamic Propagation Institute (LDII) has long been misunderstood by many Indonesians, with the enormous amount of black propaganda launched against them. Nevertheless, the number of the adherers of this organization continue to grow [citation needed]. LDII has a bi-monthly magazine named Nuansa Persada that includes a lot of news about activities and/or events that have been held by its adherers.

A number of smaller Islamic organizations cover a broad range of Islamic doctrinal orientations. At one end of the ideological spectrum lies the Islam Liberal Network (JIL), which promotes a less literal interpretation of Islamic doctrine. At the other end of this spectrum exist groups such as Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which advocates a pan-Islamic caliphate, and the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI), which advocates implementation of Shari'a as a precursor to an Islamic state. Countless other small organizations fall between these poles. Some lie beyond this line altogether, one of particular note among them the controversial (and arguably violent) Front Pembela Islam (FPI).

Separate from the country's dominant Sunni Islam population, a small minority of persons subscribe to the Ahmadiyah interpretation of Islam. However, this group maintains 242 branches throughout the country. In 1980 the Indonesian Council of Ulamas (MUI) issued a "fatwa" (a legal opinion or decree issued by an Islamic religious leader) declaring that Ahmadiyah is not a legitimate form of Islam.

In addition there are small numbers of other messianic Islamic groups, including the Malaysian-affiliated Darul Arqam, and the syncretist Indonesian Jamaah Salamulla group (also called the Salamulla Congregation or The God's Kingdom). Its leader, Lia Eden, is currently facing charges of disdaining Islam and many Islamic organizations in Indonesia consider them as a heretic form of Islam.


Islam in Indonesian society

To a significant degree, the striking variations in the practice and interpretation of Islam — in a much less austere form than that practiced in the Middle East — in various parts of Indonesia reflect its complex history. Introduced piecemeal by various traders and wandering mystics from India, Islam first gained a foothold between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries in coastal regions of Sumatra, northern Java, and Kalimantan. Islam probably came to these regions in the form of mystical Sufi tradition. Sufism easily gained local acceptance and became synthesized with local customs. The introduction of Islam to the islands was not always peaceful, however. As Islamized port towns undermined the waning power of the east Javanese Hindu/Buddhist Majapahit kingdom in the sixteenth century, Javanese elites fled to Bali, where over 2.5 million people kept their own version of Hinduism alive. Unlike coastal Sumatra, where Islam was adopted by elites and masses alike, partly as a way to counter the economic and political power of the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, in the interior of Java the elites only gradually accepted Islam, and then only as a formal legal and religious context for Javanese spiritual culture.

These historical processes gave rise to enduring tensions between orthodox Muslims and more syncretistic, locally based religion — tensions that were still visible in the early 1990s. On Java, for instance, this tension was expressed in a contrast between the tranditionalist santri and abangan, an indigenous blend of native and Hindu-Buddhist beliefs with Islamic practices sometimes also called Javanism, kejawen, agama Jawa, or kebatinan. The terms and precise nature of this opposition were still in dispute in the early 1990s, but on Java santri not only referred to a person who was consciously and exclusively Muslim, santri also described persons who had removed themselves from the secular world to concentrate on devotional activities in Islamic schools called pesantren--literally the place of the santri.

In contrast to the Mecca-oriented philosophy of most santri, there was the current of kebatinan, which is an amalgam of animism, Hindu-Buddhist, and Islamic — especially Sufi — beliefs. This loosely organized current of thought and practice, was legitimized in the 1945 constitution and, in 1973, when it was recognized as one of the agama, President Suharto counted himself as one of its adherents. Kebatinan is generally characterized as mystical, and some varieties were concerned with spiritual self-control. Although there were many varieties circulating in 1992, kebatinan often implies pantheistic worship because it encourages sacrifices and devotions to local and ancestral spirits. These spirits are believed to inhabit natural objects, human beings, artifacts, and grave sites of important wali (Muslim saints). Illness and other misfortunes are traced to such spirits, and if sacrifices or pilgrimages fail to placate angry deities, the advice of a dukun or healer is sought. Kebatinan, while it connotes a turning away from the militant universalism of orthodox Islam, moves toward a more internalized universalism. In this way, kebatinan moves toward eliminating the distinction between the universal and the local, the communal and the individual.

Another important tension dividing Indonesian Muslims was the conflict between traditionalism and modernism. The nature of these differences was complex, confusing, and a matter of considerable debate in the early 1990s, but traditionalists generally rejected the modernists' interest in absorbing educational and organizational principles from the West. Specifically, traditionalists were suspicious of modernists' support of the urban madrasa, a reformist school that included the teaching of secular topics. The modernists' goal of taking Islam out of the pesantren and carrying it to the people was opposed by the traditionalists because it threatened to undermine the authority of the kyai (religious leaders). Traditionalists also sought, unsuccessfully, to add a clause to the first tenet of the Pancasila state ideology requiring that, in effect, all Muslims adhere to the sharia. On the other hand, modernists accused traditionalists of escapist unrealism in the face of change; some even hinted that santri harbored greater loyalty towards the ummah (congregation of believers) of Islam than to the secular Indonesian state.

Despite these differences, the traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama (literally, Revival of the Religious Scholars, also known as the Muslim Scholars' League), the progressive Consultative Council of Indonesian Muslims (Masyumi), and two other parties were forcibly streamlined into a single Islamic political party in 1973--the United Development Party (PPP). Such cleavages may have weakened Islam as an organized political entity, as demonstrated by the withdrawal of the Nahdlatul Ulama from active political competition, but as a popular religious force Islam showed signs of good health and a capacity to frame national debates.

Religious freedom

The Constitution provides "all persons the right to worship according to their own religion or belief" and states that "the nation is based upon belief in one supreme God." The Government generally respects these provisions; however, some restrictions exist on certain types of religious activity and on unrecognized religions.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs extends official status to six faiths: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Religious organizations other than the six recognized faiths can register with the Government, but only with the Ministry for Culture and Tourism and only as social organizations. This restricts certain religious activities. Unregistered religious groups cannot rent venues to hold services and must find alternative means to practice their faiths.

Although it has an overwhelming Muslim majority, the country is not an Islamic state. Over the past 50 years, many Islamic groups sporadically have sought to establish an Islamic state, but the country's mainstream Muslim community, including influential social organizations such as Muhammadiyah and NU, reject the idea. Proponents of an Islamic state argued unsuccessfully in 1945 and throughout the parliamentary democracy period of the 1950s for the inclusion of language (the "Jakarta Charter") in the Constitution's preamble making it obligatory for Muslims to follow Shari'a. During the Suharto regime, the Government prohibited all advocacy of an Islamic state. With the loosening of restrictions on freedom of speech and religion that followed the fall of Suharto in 1998, proponents of the "Jakarta Charter" resumed advocacy efforts. This proved the case prior to the 2002 Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), a body that has the power to change the Constitution. The nationalist political parties, regional representatives elected by provincial legislatures, and appointed police, military, and functional representatives, who together held a majority of seats in the MPR, rejected proposals to amend the Constitution to include Shari'a, and the measure never came to a formal vote. The MPR approved changes to the Constitution that mandated that the Government increase "faith and piety" in education. This decision, seen as a compromise to satisfy Islamist parties, set the scene for a controversial education bill signed into law in July 2003.

Shari'a generated debate and concern during 2004, and many of the issues raised touched on religious freedom. Aceh remained the only part of the country where the central Government specifically authorized Shari'a. Law 18/2001 granted Aceh special autonomy and included authority for Aceh to establish a system of Shari'a as an adjunct to, not a replacement for, national civil and criminal law. Before it could take effect, the law required the provincial legislature to approve local regulations ("qanun") incorporating Shari'a precepts into the legal code. Law 18/2001 states that the Shari'a courts would be "free from outside influence by any side." Article 25(3) states that the authority of the court will only apply to Muslims. Article 26(2) names the national Supreme Court as the court of appeal for Aceh's Shari'a courts.

Aceh is the only province that has Shari'a courts. Religious leaders responsible for drafting and implementing the Shari'a regulations stated that they had no plans to apply criminal sanctions for violations of Shari'a. Islamic law in Aceh, they said, would not provide for strict enforcement of "fiqih" or "hudud," but rather would codify traditional Acehnese Islamic practice and values such as discipline, honesty, and proper behavior. They claimed enforcement would not depend on the police but rather on public education and societal consensus.

Because Muslims make up the overwhelming majority of Aceh's population, the public largely accepted Shari'a, which in most cases merely regularized common social practices. For example, a majority of women in Aceh already covered their heads in public. Provincial and district governments established Shari'a bureaus to handle public education about the new system, and local Islamic leaders, especially in North Aceh and Pidie, called for greater government promotion of Shari'a as a way to address mounting social ills. The imposition of martial law in Aceh in May 2003 had little impact on the implementation of Shari'a. The Martial Law Administration actively promoted Shari'a as a positive step toward social reconstruction and reconciliation. Some human rights and women's rights activists complained that implementation of Shari'a focused on superficial issues, such as proper Islamic dress, while ignoring deep-seated moral and social problems, such as corruption.

Some Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist holy days are national holidays. Muslim holy days celebrated include the Ascension of the Prophet, Idul Fitr, Idul Adha, the Muslim New Year, and the Prophet's Birthday. National Christian holy days are Christmas Day, Good Friday, and the Ascension of Christ. Three other national holidays are the Hindu holiday Nyepi, the Buddhist holiday Waisak, and Chinese New Year, celebrated by Confucians and other Chinese. On Bali all Hindu holy days are regional holidays, and public servants and others did not work on Saraswati Day, Galungan, and Kuningan.

The Government has a monopoly on organizing the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and in February, following the latest hajj, the Department of Religious Affairs drew sharp criticism for mismanaging the registration of approximately 30,000 prospective pilgrims after they had paid the required fees. The Government unilaterally expanded the country's quota of 205,000 pilgrims, claiming it had informal approval from the Saudi Government, an assertion that proved incorrect. Members of the House of Representatives have sponsored a bill to set up an independent institution, thus ending the department's monopoly.


Thursday, September 28, 2006


Islam in Russia : by Abdur Rauf


What is the present position of Islam in contemporary Russia and China? In order to provide a perspective answer to this vital question this article presents a summary of an up to date history of Islam in these two famed states of the world.

History of Islam in Russia

The long history of Islam in Russia is grand and glorious as well as doleful and dreadful. Many stringent steps were taken against Islam and the Muslims during and after the Russian Revolution. Those tough and tight measures, however, failed to wipe out the Muslims and their rich cultural heritage. On the contrary, the present position rather confirms the fact beyond doubt that like all other Muslim regions of the world the Russian Muslim areas are also in the grips of a rising wave of awakening. Despite strict Russian censure of the media the entire world has known by now how vigorously the people of the Muslim majority areas of Russia have asserted their separate political identity and revitalized their distinctive cultural heritage. The more recent upsurges in all the Muslim states of Russia are simply eye-opening for everyone. All awakening movements among the Russian Muslims have always been distinctly Islamic in letter and spirit.

Islam and Muslims in Russia

Islam entered on the Russian scene in the seventh century A.D. (first century A.H.). Even during the Rightly Guided Caliphate at Madinah, the Muslim armies had started making penetrations into Russian soil. In 642, Azerbaijan came under Muslim control. The Muslims also occupied the extreme border town of Darbund in 658. After the conquest of eastern Caucasia (Qafqaz) Islam began to spread in these areas without any resistance. The Muslim armies crossed river Oxus in 673. Bukhara fell to the Muslims in 674.

The series of such conquests went on up to the tenth century when Islam became the most popular religion in the entire central Asia. With the passage of time these very areas began to be considered as the main centres of Islamic civilization and culture. Thereafter Islam’s popularity went on increasing in the whole of Russia. Such developments inspired and encouraged missionary activities of the Sufi saints of central Asia Qafqaz.

Unfortunately, however, Russia had a tight grip over the Muslim territories from the middle of the sixteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth. But despite her oppressive operations there was never any decline in the spread and popularity of Islam in Russia. The pace of Islam’s dissemination maintained a high momentum in eastern Russia. The Russian Muslims of these areas maintained their brotherly links with the rest of the Muslims world for quite a long span of time. Central Asia and Qafqaz played a vital role in promoting the Islamic civilization and its culture for full one thousand years. These areas enjoyed the same honours in the rise and glory of Islam as have gone to the lot of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and the indo-Pak subcontinent. Taimur’s capital was Samarqand. From the literary point of view, Persian became popular in Bukhara for the first time. Khawarizam was the ancestral city of the renowned Muslim physician-cum-philosopher, Avicenna.

Movements for Autonomy

After the Russain Revolution of 1917, the Russian Muslims faced a highly hazardous situation. The leaders of the communist revolution were determined to impose such on authoritarian system over the entire Russia as was totally hostile to the religion and traditions, civilization and culture, politics and polity of the Muslims. Around 1924, a tight iron curtain was imposed on the Muslim areas. Consequently, the Russian Muslims got dissociated from the rest of the Muslims world.

Immediately after the start of the regular official moves against Christianity in Russia, a series of organized onslaughts started against the Muslims in 1928. In Spain, the inimical efforts to eliminate Islam and the Muslims after their downfall had yielded great success. But it was quite different in Russia. All Soviet attempts at uprooting Islam and the Muslims failed flatly. The period of the Russian Iron Curtain from 1928 to 1968 was the most painful tragedy of the Russian Muslim history. During that perilous period attempts to lure Muslims away from Islam and their forcible conversion to communism became a recurring routine with those in power.

Tyranny and oppressive measures gave birth to a wave of new awakening among the Muslims. Movements for independence and self-determination erupted all over the Muslim areas. Among these freedom movements, the guerilla organization called the "Basmachi Movement" is quite well-known. Unfortunately, however, the Russian Muslims got entangled into the wilderness of mutual differences and dissensions, rifts and conflicts. They were then unable to defend themselves as a united block. Consequently, all Muslim areas were forcibly annexed to the Russian territory one after the other.

Ever since Russian occupation of the Muslim territories the Soviet Union had utilized all possible devices to put an end to the distinct spiritual, moral, cultural and political identity of the Muslims. All sorts of traps of atheism, baits of modernization and lures of lewd recreations had been tried in quick succession. These dirty devices, however, failed in toto to dissociate the Muslims from the main stream of their religion and traditions and to get them merged into the blind ocean of communism.

It now appears that no power on earth can diminish or destroy the Russian Muslims’ inherent commitment to their religion and civilization. An illustrative example is the recent upsurge in Azerbaijan which erupted in 1989. It was backed by the most popular political organization of the Soviet Azris, the "Jamiat-i-Watan" (Patriotic Front). Even the most savage ‘Tank Diplomacy’ of the tumbling Russian empire failed rather miserably to quell this historic uprising. In Uzbekistan, a new underground organization, "Islamic Party" had been formed. It called for a federation of all Islamic Central Asian republic independent of Moscow. In 1990, even Tajikistan joined the great upheaval. Its capital, Doshambe, was the scene of the most violent political demonstrations against Russian communism. Thus republic after republic came under the powerful grip of the Islamic awakening. The eagerly-awaited day dawned at last. The year 1991 saw the disintegration of the Soviet Union and complete collapse of world communism. With this, started a new era in the history of the Russian Muslims. The famed Muslim states of Central Asia declared their independence. They are now cementing their broken ties with the rest of the Muslim world. They have been admitted as members of the Organization of Islamic Conference.