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1 Paper Presented in National Symposium on ‘Memutus Mata Rantai Radikalisme dan Terorisme’ Jakarta 27-28 July 2010

ROOT-CAUSES OF RELIGIOUS-LINKED VIOLENCE AND TERRORISM*

Azyumardi Azra**

Is there any connection between religion—particularly Islam—with radicalism and terrorism? Arguably there are certain verses in the Holy Books that could contain or incite radicalism, but they must not be taken as the perfect representation of religions, for there is not doubt that the essence of religions is peace on earth. Or, there are individuals in the name of certain religion who wage violence, terrorism, and even war; but, again, they are no representatives of that particular religion; in fact they are misleading and are on the fringe of that religion. The bulk majority of adherents of any religion are peace-loving people who respect diversity and pluralism. Therefore, I would suggest that religion as the sole root-cause of radicalism and terrorism could be very misleading. One should try not to associate any particular religion with violence and terrorism. Radicalization of adherents of certain religions—as I will discuss below—is the result of various factors that often have nothing to with religion and God.


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Root-causes of Violence and Terrorism There is little doubt that root-causes of radicalism, violence or terrorism in the name of religion are very complex; in fact there are some kind of combination of various factors including politics, economics, and to some extent also certain teachings or interpretation of religions. In most cases, politics seems to be the most important factor (cf Azra 2005a). To take the some cases of terrorism in Indonesia such the Bali I (2002), Jakarta Marriot (2003), Kuningan Jakarta (2004), Bali II (2005), and Marriot II and Ritz Carlton (2009) bombings, it is apparent that politics, both domestic and international, are the main root-cause of terrorism. At the domestic level, the perpetrators of the bombings have been motivated by their anger and hatred to Indonesian political system that they regarded as being ‘unIslamic’. This is particularly true when Megawati Soekarnoputri was the president of the Republic of Indonesia (2001-2004); for them it is unlawful for woman to become the leader (imam) of state whose bulk majority of population is Muslim. In the latest case of bombings at American-chained hotels (2009), there was evidence that the perpetrators of the bombings made President Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono as a new target. As for international politics, it is clear that even before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, in the USA, the Muslim perpetrators of terrorism have condemned certain injustices in international politics and relations. For them the US and other Western countries are the enemies of Islam and Muslims. Western countries, particularly the US are basically hostile to Islam and the Muslim world. In fact, they believe, the US and other allied-Western countries—under the influence of what they call as ‘Jewish Zionist lobbies—have conspired to destroy Islam and Muslims. A number of international cases such as the US continued support to Israel at the expense of the Palestinian, the US military campaign in and


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occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq that continue up until today have only added fuel to their anger and hatred to the US and its allies. Therefore, religion—in this brief paper, Islam—is seldom becomes the main, let alone the only, cause, of terrorism. Political, economics, and other nonreligious factors, however, in turn could easily get religious justification when the perpetrators of any kind of terrorist act put forward certain interpretations and understanding of religious teachings. The use, abuse, and manipulation of religious justification are potentially larger in Islam which does not have a single body of religious authority. From doctrinal point of view, I realize of course that certain doctrines of Islam could be used and abused by certain Muslims for justifying acts of violence and terrorism. Certain verses of the Qur’an and the Tradition (Hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad are prone to be interpreted that way; indeed, there exist religious interpretation and understanding in line of that way. The absence of a single authority in Islam—particularly among the Sunni—makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to issue religious ruling (fatwa) that would decide once and for all that terrorism as jihad is religiously unjustifiable and invalid. Radical and terrorist leaders take only certain verses that fit to their own purposes and ignore the others. This is what they do with Qur’anic verses related to jihad for instance. Therefore, they can easily take and preach misleading and onesided doctrine of jihad, as justification by to conduct violence and holy war against any perceived enemies, including even Muslims, particularly the top leaders whom they perceived as ‘thaghut’ (‘Pharaonic leaders). Not least important is the precedent in Muslim history of radical acts that can be included in the definition of terrorism. The radical acts and terrorism conducted by the Kharijis (Seceders) in the post-Prophet Muhammad period, for instance, have in fact continuously inspired many, if not most, contemporary


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radical Muslim groups—they are could be called as ‘neo-Khariji’ groups. There indeed exist certain radical ideologies among Muslims which basically believe that it is religiously valid to conduct such radical and terrorist acts. Therefore, there is an urgent need among concerned Muslim scholars (‘ulama’) to rethink, reinterpret, reformulate certain interpretation of classical and medieval ‘ulama’ concerning jihad, for instance. For that purpose the ‘ulama’ and Muslim in general first of all must discard the defensive and apologetic attitude that apparent when they respond to terrorist acts conducted by certain individuals or Muslim groups. They should admit that there are indeed terrorists among Muslims who—based on their understanding of Islam—conduct terrorism. Admitting this problem, then the ‘ulama’ could proceed to address the issue objectively from religious point of view. Religious-linked violence and terrorism, like those ones happened in Indonesia, basically is not associated with the state, creating state terrorism. Most of radical groups in contrast are opposed of the state; they are originally non-state activists of obscure backgrounds. Moreover, they are as a rule outside of mainstream Muslim movements and organizations. In fact, they have bitterly criticized mainstream Muslims as having too accommodating and compromising to what they regarded as ‘un-Islamic’ political, social, cultural, and economic realities (cf Azra 2006). There was a tendency, however, that certain radical individuals or groups could be recruited by or have certain links or connections with persons in the government or military. This is not new in Indonesia. The terrorists hijack of Garuda Indonesia airplane in Bangkok during Soeharto period, for instance, was conducted by terrorists of ex-Islamic state movements (NII, or Negara Islam Indonesia) in the 1950’s that were recruited by certain Soeharto’s generals to launch the so-called ‘komando jihad’ (jihad command). There have been a lot of


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indications that certain military have incited and manipulated certain radical groups in the post-Soeharto period in order to discredit Islam and Muslim organizations. Religious-linked violence and terrorism is clearly not unique to Islam only. One can find throughout human history a great number of terrorist groups conducting various kinds of terrorism that in one way or another linked with certain religion. With the increased globalization and instant flow of information and news that created a great deal of anomalies, the radicalization of religious individuals and groups tends to have accelerated. Again, religions without central authority are of course more prone to violence and terrorism. But, religions with central authority could also become prone, because of the decline of their religious authority and de-centering of religious authority and leadership. It seems that literal and sharia-oriented (zahir) understanding of Islam is also more prone to radicalism. This kind of religious understanding as a rule makes some clear boundaries even among Muslims. Those who are opposed to their understanding are in fact regarded by them as having gone astray and, therefore, are targets of jihad (war). This can be seen clearly in the cases of the Wahabis in the late 18th century Arabia and the Padris of West Sumatra in the early decades of the 19th century. The Salafi groups today that subscribe to literal and puritanical understanding of Islam are equally prone to be radical. The non-literal understanding of Islam, such as represented by Sufism, is more immune to violence. This is mainly because of the strong emphasis of Sufism puts on inclusiveness and the ‘inner’ (batin) aspect of Islam. Even though the Sufis—like the literalists—also often appeal for purification of religious acts, but they do it in peaceful manner through spiritual exercises rather than by using force like the way of the literalists. There were of course cases of ‘radical’ Sufi groups


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and tariqah people that launched jihad against the colonial rulers during the age of colonialism; but that kind of ‘Sufi radicalism’ is almost absent in the post-colonial Islam.

Suicide Bombings Despite all the explanation of the true meaning of ‘jihad’ as espoused by mainstream `ulama’, Muslim intellectual figures and organizations, it is clear that radical groups that operates openly and terrorist groups that work underground continually abuse and manipulate the doctrines of ‘jihad’ for achieving their ends. Worse still, they manipulate the doctrines to justify the act of suicide bombings that in the end have victimized a good number of innocent people, including Muslims. Suicide acts, as mentioned earlier and also as Jamhari (2005) shows, is not new phenomenon. Suicide acts in order to kill enemies or even innocent people were conducted since classical and medieval times by a number of radical groups. For instance, there was Jewish radical sect who conducted suicidal acts in their confrontation with Rome. The Shi’ite Assassins also used terrorism to assassinate their opponents. In fact the very words ‘assassinate’, ‘assassination’ and ‘assassin’ came from this particular ghulat (Shi`ite radical group) (Lewis 1967). Then, in modern times we had the Japanese ‘kamikaze’ pilots in their Pacific war against the US. There are also suicide bombers among the Sri Lankan Tamil, whom have become in fact the prototypes of later suicides bombing, including among Muslims. The list can be very long. Radical Islamic groups in the Middle East in their confrontation with the Israelis, in particular, have accepted suicide bombing as a justified method. They regarded suicide bombing as the ‘willingness to die as an act of ultimate devotion [to God] in a defensive holy war’. To support this view, Fathi Shiqaqi, a founder


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‘Islamic Jihad’, in 1988 formulated guidelines for martyrdom (shahid) using human bombs. Quoting Qur’anic verses (3:40-45), Shiqaqi asserted that God admires martyrs (including suicide bombers), but not those who commits suicide for personal reasons (Jamhari 2005). The phenomenon of suicide bombings in Indonesia is relatively new. These began with the Marriott bombings, followed by bombings at the front of Australian Embassy and Bali II and beyond. The perpetrators of the bombings were clearly suicide bombers. And it is clear as well from the video produced and left by the bombers of the Bali bombing II (2005), and Marriot-Ritz Carlton (2009) that their ruthless acts were also inspired by the misunderstood and twisted meaning of ‘jihad’. Many Indonesian would hate to believe that there are suicide bombers among themselves. First of all, the bulk majority of Indonesian Muslims themselves believe that the kind of Islam they subscribe to is an ‘Islam wasatiyah’ (middle path, or rather moderate), that gives only a little room for extremism and radicalism. Secondly, Indonesian Muslims by large believe that suicide bombings are haram, prohibited, by Islam; there is a great deal of Islamic teaching that emphatically prohibit Muslims to commit suicide as well as to kill innocent people, regardless their religion. Thirdly, there is no reason whatsoever to commit such acts in Indonesia, a Muslim country where Muslims enjoy freedom under the regimes that show no hostility to both Islam and Muslims. Since the second half period of the Soeharto regime in the 1990s up until the current government, Indonesian Muslims in fact have been the largest part and parcel of the government. It is important to point out that following the Bali bombing I (October 2002), the Council of Indonesian Ulama (Majelis Ulama Indonesia/MUI) issued two very important fatwas. First is a fatwa prohibits terrorism in the name of

jihad. It is


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stated that the equation of jihad with the conduct of violence, let alone terrorism, run contrary to the very nature of Islam as a religion of peace. The second fatwa is the emphatic prohibition of suicide bombing, precisely because Islam prohibits committing suicide and killing non-combatant and innocent people. It is regrettable that for certain reasons the two important fatwas failed to reach wider audience of Indonesian Muslims. As a result, Indonesian Muslims in general have a very obscure idea about the true meaning of jihad in the midst of continuing violence and terrorism, committed among others through suicide bombings in Indonesia and in other Muslim countries and somewhere else. It is not surprising therefore that they seemingly assume as if terrorism and suicide bombings conducting in the name of defending Islam and Muslims from increased encroachment of certain Western countries are somewhat acceptable or at least can be condoned; that is also why there seems not enough strong condemnation coming from mainstream Muslims against violence and terrorism conducted in the name of Islam. The momentum for the reassertion and reconfirmation of the two fatwas gained momentum in the aftermath of the Bali bombing II (October 1, 2005). In conjunction with the celebration of Id al-Fitri, the Indonesian Vice-President Muhammad Jusuf Kalla invited a number of Muslim leaders to his official residence (November 17, 2005), during which occasion he showed the audience the video of the four perpetrators of the bombing. In the video, the four suicide bombers asserted that they would conduct jihad by putting bombs somewhere in Indonesia, and that they would go to paradise to meet bidadari; and later would be accompanied by 70 members of their families and relatives. The unexpected revelation obviously stunned all of the Muslim leaders present in the residence of Vice-President; in the end they agreed to form the Tim Penanggulangan Terrorisme through Religious Approach (TPT, or Anti-Terrorism Team—through


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religious approach) chaired by KH Ma’ruf Amin, a respected `ulama’, who is also a national leader of the MUI (Council of Indonesian Ulama). Ma`ruf Amin is assisted by a number of vice-chairpersons who represent mainstream Muslim organizations and institutions. As formulated in its first meeting one week later, the TPT aims to: firstly, reformulate and disseminate the true and valid concept of jihad and that terrorism and suicide bombing run contrary to teachings of Islam; conduct research on literature that contain misleading concept and understanding of jihad such as outlined in a book written by Imam Samudra, one of the perpetrators of Bali bombing I that has been sentenced to death by a Bali court. The TPT, as in the words of Ma’ruf Amin, will produce contra-argument and pocket-books that succinctly delineate the true meaning of jihad. Since its formation, the TPT has been active not only in research and writing of the true doctrine of jihad, but also in conducting public lectures and seminars particularly among pesantren circles in a number of places in Java and Sumatra. The seminars are attended by kiyais, and teachers of pesantrens as well as by representatives of Muslim organizations. The seminar that was conducted in Yogyakarta towards the end of January 2006 that involved representatives of Abu Bakar Baasyir’s Ngruki Pesantren, for instance, is worth mentioning as case in point. The seminar began with strong suspicion about and hostile attitude towards the TPT, followed by heated debates among the audience that in the end resulted in some kind of understanding that terrorism and suicide bombing are absolutely prohibited in Islam; and that all-related institutions should do their best to prevent students and young Muslims from being recruited by terrorist groups to become suicide bombers. The formation and activities of the TPT, I would like to argue, is very important for several reasons. Mainstream `ulama’ and Muslim organizations had


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been the target of strong criticism for their rather passive attitude to confront increased violence and terrorism conducted by certain individuals and groups in the name of jihad and Islam. Their passivity for certain critics seems to indirectly condone such ruthless acts. The TPT realizes that it is probably very difficult to win back those who are already misled by misleading understanding of jihad for they have been brainwashed by certain intellectual actors of terrorism; but the TPT feels necessary to protect young Muslims from being misled and converted to suicide bombers by terrorist groups.

Conclusion The phenomenon of religious radicalism, violence and suicide bombing is a complex one. It is related not only to misleading and invalid understanding of jihad, but also to other factors such as the increased disorientation and dislocation among the most vulnerable segments of society, particularly the youth. Therefore, preventing young people from being suicide bombers needs concerted efforts by various leading sectors of the state and society. It is also clear that the doctrine of jihad throughout Indonesian history has been used and abused for different purposes. A number of factors have been responsible for the appeal of jihad, including internal crises within Muslim society and government, and external factor like the perceived war against Islam and Muslims conducted by certain Western powers. The use and abuse of jihad has taken place in the past, and could continue among Muslims in the future. To anticipate that, it is necessary for `ulama’ and other concerned Muslim leaders to reformulate a more contextual kind of jihad. Otherwise, the jihad would and could be equated with radicalism, violence and terrorism like the tendency today.


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*This paper is an updated version of earlier papers presented at ‘International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security’, Madrid, Spain, 6-11 March 2005; and CATR Roundtable, Denpasar, Bali, 19-21 October, 2005.

Bibliography Azra, Azyumardi, 2008a, ‘Addressing Challenges of Radical Islam’, paper presented at Second World Peace Forum, Central Board of Muhammadiyah, CDCC and Cheng Ho MultiCulture Trust, Jakarta, 24-26 June 2008. Azra, Azyumardi & Wayne Hudson (contributing editors), 2008b, Islam beyond Conflict: Indonesian Islam and Western Political Theory, London: Ashgate. Azra, Azyumardi, 2006, Indonesia, Islam, and Democracy: Dynamics in a Global Context, Jakarta & Singapore: ICIP & Equinox. Azra, Azyumardi, 2005a, “Terrorism: Religious Factor”, paper presented at International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism, and Security, [in conjunction with one year commeration of Madrid bombing], Madrid, Spain, 8-11 March, 2005

Azra, Azyumardi, 2005b,’Radicalization of Political Islam in Southeast Asia: Dynamics of Leadership and Organization’, paper presented at International Conference on ‘The Dynamics and Structures of Terrorist Threats in Southeast Asia’, The Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), the US Pacific Command, Southeast Asia Regional Center for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT), Kuala Lumpur, April 18-20, 2005 Azra, Azyumardi, 2003, “Bali and Southeast Asian Islam: Debunking the Myths”, in Kumar Ramakrishna & See Seng Tan (eds), After Bali: The Threat of Terrorism in Southeast Asia, Singapore & London: IDSS & World Scientific. Azra, Azyumardi, 1996, “Jihad dan Terorisme” (Jihad and Terrorism), in his Pergolakan Politik Islam: Dari Modernisme sampai Fundamentalisme (The Struggles of Political Islam: From Islamic Modernism to Fundamentalism), Jakarta: Paramadina. Azra, Azyumardi, 1988, “The Rise and Decline of the Minangkabau Surau: A Traditional Islamic Educational Institutions in West Sumatra”, MA Thesis, Columbia University, New York. Jamhari, 2005, “Suicide Bombings: The Indonesian Case”, paper presented in International Workshop “The Anatomy of Terrorism and Political Violence in South and Southeast Asia”, Denpasar 19-20 October, 2005.


12 Lewis, Bernard, 1967, The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam, London: Phoenix. TPT-Team Penanggulangan Terorisme (Dengan Pendekatan Keagamaan) or Anti-Terrorism Team: Religious Approach, 2007, “Meluruskan Makna Jihad’ (To Make Right the Meaning of Jihad), manuscript for booklet. TPT-Team Penanggulangan Terorisme (Dengan Pendekatan Keagamaan) or Anti-Terrorism Team: Religious Approach, 2006, “Jihad dalam Islam” (Jihad in Islam), manuscript for booklet.

**AZYUMARDI AZRA, born on March 4, 1955, is Professor of history and Director of Graduate School, Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Jakarta, Indonesia (January 2007on); and was Deputy for Social Welfare at the Office of Vice-President of the Republic of Indonesia (April 2007-October 20, 2009). He was rector of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University for two terms (1998-2002 and 2002-2006). He earned his MA in Middle Eastern Studies, MPhil and PhD degrees in history all from Columbia University in the City of New York (1992) with the dissertation “The Transmission of Islamic Reformism to Indonesia: Networks of Middle Eastern and MalayIndonesian `Ulama’ in the 17th and 18th Centuries”. In May 2005 he was awarded Doctoral Degree Honoris Causa in Humane Letters from Carroll College, Montana, USA. He was also a Honorary Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne, Australia (20049); a member of Board of Trustees, International Islamic University, Islamabad, Pakistan (2004on); a member of Academic Development Committee, Aga Khan International UniversityInstitute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC), London (2006-9); and Chief, Auditory Board, Bogor Agricultural University (Bogor, Indonesia, 2008-on). He has been involved as a member of selection committees for research awards, such as SEASREP (Southeast Asia Studies Research Exchange Program), The Nippon Foundation & The Asia Center, Tokyo (1998-9). He is also a member of Advisory/Management Board of Asian Research Foundation (ARF), Bangkok (2005-on); Asian Scholarship Foundation (ASF), Bangkok (2007-on); The Habibie Centre Scholarship (Jakarta, 2005-on); Asian Public Intellectual (API) Fellowship Program, The Nippon Foundation, Tokyo (2007-on); and Indonesian International Education Foundation (IIEF, Jakarta 2007-on). He is also a member of Indonesian National Research Council (DRN, 2004-on); and a life-time member of Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI). In addition, he is a member of advisory board of a number of international institutions such as Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia (2004-on); the Multi-Faith Centre (MFC), Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia (2005-on); the US Institute of Global Ethics and Religion (2004-on); Centre for the Study of Contemporary Islam (CSCI), University of Melbourne, Melbourne (2005-09); Centre for Islamic Law and Society, University of Melbourne (2008-on); the UN Democracy Fund/UNDEF, New York (2006-08); US LibforAll (2006-on). He is also member of the Tripartite Forum [governments, UN offices and Civil Society organizations] for Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, Development and Human Dignity, launched at the UN in New York on March 24, 2006; member of the Board of International IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Stockholm 2007-on); member of Board of


13 Governors, Bali Democracy Forum (BDF)/Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD), Jakarta/Bali, 2008-on); and member of Council of Faith, World Economic Forum, Davos (2008on). He is editor-in-chief, Studia Islamika: Indonesian Journal for Islamic Studies (1994-on); advisory board of Journal of Qur’anic Studies (SOAS, London, 2005-on), Journal Usuluddin (Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, 2005 on); Journal Sejarah (Universiti Malaya (2006-on); Australian Journal of Asian Law (2008-on); Journal of Islamic Advanced Studies (Kuala Lumpur, 2008-on); Journal of Royal Asiatic Society (JRAS, London 2009-on); and Journal of Islamic Studies (Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, 2010-on). He has been international visiting fellow at the Azhar University, Cairo; Leiden University; Oxford University; University of Philippines; New York University; Columbia University; University of Melbourne, and many others. He regularly presented papers on various subjects at national and international conferences. He has published 23 books; numerous chapters in internationally edited books; his English books are The Origins of Islamic Reformism in Southeast Asia, Crows Nest, Australia: Asian Studies Association of Australia and Allen & Unwin; Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press; Leiden: KITLV Press, 2004; co-editor, Sharia’ and Politics in Indonesia, Singapore: ISEAS, 2005; Indonesia, Islam and Democracy, Jakarta & Singapore, ICIP & Equinox, 2006; Islam in the Indonesian World: An Account of Institutional Development, Bandung: Mizan International, 2007; contributing editor, Islam beyond Conflict: Indonesian Islam and Western Political Theory, London: Ashgate, 2008; and co-editor, The Varieties of Religious Authority: Changes and Challenges in 20th Century Indonesian Islam, Singapore: ISEAS, 2010. He is also co-chair of United Kingdom-Indonesia Muslim Advisory Council, formed at the end of 2006 by British PM Tony Blair and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He has been regularly invited to meet top level foreign dignitaries who visited Indonesia, among others: President George W Bush (October 2003); US State Secretaries, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton; Prince Charles; Australian Prime Ministers John Howard, and Kevin Rudd; New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark; and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. In conjunction with the commemoration of Indonesian independence (August 17, 1945), on August 15, 2005, he was awarded by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono the ‘Bintang Maha Putra Utama’ [lit, the Star of the Greatest Son of the Soil], the highest star for Indonesia civilian, for his outstanding contribution to development of moderate Islam in the country. Early that year, in conjunction with its 50th year anniversary, The Asia Foundation (TAF) also awarded him for his outstanding contribution to the modernization of Islamic education in Indonesia.

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