In recent years, there have been in recent years indicators of a growing religiosity in Indonesia across all religious groups, as well as forecasts that the country will become more Islamic.
But such trends are unlikely to lead to the establishment of an Islamic political system, said Prof. Merle Ricklefs at the inaugural public lecture of the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore, which RW attended on Sept. 23. Following the fall of Suharto, Indonesians were looking for political solutions, and this gave the opportunity for radical Muslim organizations to become very visible. But during the past few years, mainstream Muslim organizations have come to see the rise of the radical groups as a challenge and have clearly distanced themselves from them.
Moreover, while there was some sympathy toward anti-American and anti-Western stances, the bomb attacks in Indonesia have provoked a strong reaction from most Indonesians against such groups. Average Indonesians have come to feel threatened both in their personal safety and in their economic interests by such extremism.
There is indeed support for a greater role of Islam in public life, but it would be wrong to equate this with a longing for a sharia-based system: Islam is rather seen as a way to moralize public life and to fight against widespread corruption. But increasingly, people want to distinguish between their religious commitments and their political choices: preachers are respected as religious persons, but are not expected to dictate political behavior to their followers.
Moreover, observed Ricklefs, there are wider changes currently taking place within Indonesian Islam: for instance, there is currently a Sufi revival, but it is taking place outside the traditional Sufi brotherhoods.