Indonesia watchers are saying that the recent violence by Islamic radicals in the 13,000-island nation may actually be driving people from Islam.
About 80% of Indonesia's 212 million population is Muslim. Carl Cady, U.S. Director for International Friends of Compassion, says that of these only about 70 million are registered at local mosques. Another 100 million are "casual" Muslims who do not attend the mosque regularly and don't have strong devotion to Islam.
"These are the ones who are questioning Islam," Cady said. "The radicals who have bombed and killed in the name of Islam are not winning many of these. In fact, I have spoken to pastors in Central Java after 9-11 and they said that large numbers of Muslims are coming to the churches in Central Java saying, 'If running into buildings and killing innocent people is what Islam is all about, we don't want anything to do with it.'"
Radical fundamentalists have targeted Muslims in the 'pool of poverty' for their recruitment message. "It is to their advantage to destabilize the economy in Indonesia," Cady said. "The bombings around the country serve to discourage investment and travel. This floundering economy is a needed component in the advancement of the fundamentalist message.
"The leaders of Indonesia know this and also recognize that if they are not careful how they deal with the radical wing of Islam they could actually spark a fundamentalist revival. We need to pray for the leadership of Indonesia as they handle with great care the complex issues regarding their economy and human rights."
This year's three-day Idul Fitri (the festival celebrating the end of Ramadan--the Muslims' month of fasting), was curtailed both in material goods and in spirit, according to a December 9 article in the Jakarta Post entitled "Indonesia Marks Idul Fitri with Anguish and Simplicity."
On the first day of Idul Fitri, a bomb explosion at a McDonald's restaurant in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province, killed three people, and two people were killed by snipers in Poso, Central Sulawesi, an area of high tension between Muslims and Christians.
The Jakarta Post article also said, "The Oct 12 Bali terror attacks that claimed almost 200 people, along with the bomb blast in Makassar, have been a slap in Islam's face for many here, as the prime suspects are all Indonesian Muslims."
An Indonesia observer told Christian Aid, "A major part of the anguish is the dawning realization and admission that most of the nation's woes have been caused directly by the evil deeds of Indonesians, and fervent Muslims at that! This may not be surprising news to Americans, but it's horribly surprising to many Indonesians.
"When any perceived insult to 'the faith' [Islam] comes from outside, people know what to do: get all upset, throw fits, launch lawsuits and riot. But when the 'slap in Islam's face' comes straight from conservative Indonesian Muslims, how can they respond? Tens of millions right now are groping for an answer.
"A great many of the sermons on Idul Fitri were very irenic in tone, encouraging Muslims to do good deeds that are truly good in the eyes of all people; to nurture a sense of brotherhood with people of other religions and nationalities, and to avoid activities that bring shame on the name of Islam."
A devout 70-year-old Muslim man who heard one of these sermons said, "That was the best Idul Fitri sermon I've ever heard! And it's the first time I've ever heard them preaching what I've always believed--that we should be friends with people of other religions, because we all come from one prophet." [Muslims consider Adam, as well as Abraham, the spiritual father of Jews, Christians and Muslims, both prophets].
Pray that the strong moderate 'backlash' would continue, paving the way for better relations between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia, and building bridges for the gospel.