FPI shapes Indonesian society by force


On August 17, 2010, Indonesia celebrated 65 years of independence. Yet the phrase “the older, the wiser” is not entirely applicable in this case. Violence and brutality by radical groups, most notably the FPI (Front Pembela Islam or Islam Defender Front), cast a dark shadow over the most populous Muslim country in the world. In her 65 years of independence, numerous churches have been destroyed and religious symbols devastated without any significant response from the government.

Using knives, arson, brutality and violence, the FPI has targeted Christians, Muslims and others in its mission to defend God at any cost. But just who is the FPI? This article traces its tortuous path.


ON A RECENT FRIDAY morning, the sun was not shining. It was gloomy, dark and somber, probably because I received two unusual e-mails. Both were very sad.

The first e-mail was a forwarded note from a friend, and the second was from Mr. Theophilus Bela, President of Jakarta Christian Communication Forum, who is also Secretary General of Indonesian Committee on Religion and Peace and Ambassador for Peace.

Mr. Bela informed me of a special service that was to be held in front of “Merdeka” Palace in Jakarta on Sunday, August 15th, 2010. This e-mail immediately grabbed my eyes, heart, and soul. The Sunday service was a protest against the attacks on Christian churches in Bekasi and other parts of Indonesia. This explains why the service would be attended by Christian congregations from Bekasi, Tangerang, Bogor, Parung, Ciawi and other parts of the country where churches have been attacked.

It was heartbreaking to open the first e-mail with the title, “We are ready to be buried alive”. "What was going on?" I asked myself. The letter was from Mr. Djohan Effendy, the Minister of State Secretary of President Abdurrahman Wahid's administration. Mr. Effendy wrote to the current Indonesian leaders from President to mayors - and to anybody who has a conscience, integrity, and concern for the problems of humanity.

Mr. Effendy started his letter by quoting a letter from Ahmadiyah followers in the island of Lombok to the Mayor of Mataran, the capital of Lombok, near Bali. The quotation, translated to English from Bahasa Indonesia reads:

“Give us a place anywhere, Mr. Mayor, as long as it is in the territory of Mataram City. In the suburbs, or even in the cemeteries, which are haunted. What most important for us is to leave this shelter and get back to normal life. We want to regain our own freedom and independence.

Or, if we have truly tarnished a religion and have violated Act No.1/PNPS/1/1965, as we have been accused, then please send us to jail, Mr. Mayor. All of us Ahmadiyah followers that have been forced to take refuge (fleeing from our own home and land) - man, woman, old, young, and children - are ready to be jailed physically, spiritually, and voluntarily even without due process of law.

Or if there is absolutely no place for us, in jail or even in the cemetery, then please dig us our graves. We, the displaced people of Ahmadiyah followers - man, women, old, young, and children - are ready to be buried alive.”

My breath caught in my throat. I sat down and began to reflect. It was so hard to believe that neither Christians nor Muslims could freely express their own beliefs.


SUNDAY MORNING, August 8, 2010 - just one week before the planned protest service - all members of the HKBP (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan) Church gathered at Pondok Timur Indah, Ciketing Asem, a small village at Mustika Jaya district, Bekasi, one hour drive to the east of Jakarta.

The gathering was not in a church or a building, but on a vacant lot. They hold their Sunday services on vacant land because the local government rejected their permit to build a church.

The Sunday service was about to begin when hundreds of people suddenly attacked the members of the community. The attackers were members of radical group known as the FPI (Front Pembela Islam or Islam Defender Front). The 400 police that were present did not bother to stop the radicals from entering the service area.

“We hadn't yet started our church service when all of a sudden FPI groups took over the church service by forcing their way through police barricade,” said Hendrik Siagian, an HKBP Church leader, as quoted by tempointeraktif.com. “When we decided to go home, the FPI mob hunted us down and beat us. The situation was chaos. . . I saw them right in front of me, beating up a housewife,” Hendrik declared.

Dozens members of the community, most of them housewives, were wounded.

The local police confirmed this sort of thing was common. “This is not the first time. It's almost every week,” said Ajun Commisioner Imam Sugianto, Chief Metropolitan Bekasi Police Resort City to the AFP. Only a week earlier, the FPI attacked the same church and hit Pastor Luspida Simanjuntak in the face.

The attacks were part of a series of assaults conducted by the FPI beginning in early 2000. As noted by Mr. Theophilus Bela, from 1998 to 2010, some 1,200 churches were destroyed, burned down, closed down or had their licenses canceled by local authorities.

Bela pointed out that, during the Soekarno administration, the first Indonesian president (1945-1967), only two churches in the area controlled by the hard-line group Darul Islam were burned. This figure increased in the Soeharto regime (1967 – 1998), when at least 460 churches were forced to close.

The figure surged drastically under the current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administration, the first president to be democratically elected in Indonesia. In 2007 alone, Mr. Bela recorded 100 cases of churches being attacked, set on fire, or closed down. In 2008, he registered another 40 cases, and in 2009, he reported 10 cases.

“But from December 2009 to August 2010, just 9 months, there were already 23 cases of churches being attacked. That means the figure keeps growing,” Bela said. “Most of the cases of attacks happened in West Java province, in places such as Bekasi, Parung, Bogor, Ciawi, Purwakarta, Bandung and Karawang,” he added.

The history of violence by the radical groups has cast a long dark shadow over the country for years. The lack of effective measures from the government has allowed FPI to become very powerful. In recent years, the FPI controlled almost every segment of life. In 2001, the FPI members demanded that Parliament change the Ideology of Five Silas (Pancasila) to the Jakarta Charter which allows Islamic Shari'a Law as national law.

In addition to churches, in 2002, FPI started to destroy bars and cafes during the Muslim holy month, Ramadan. On June 26th, 2003, they destroyed cafes and bars at Jalan Jaksa, Jakarta, which is very close to the Jakarta Governor's Office. FPI was just carrying out a protest march, rejecting Sutijoso as Governor of Jakarta, and dozens of cafes, bars, and restaurants were destroyed. They killed, beat, or burnt anything they captured.

The FPI even reported Indonesian Miss Universe 2005 Nadine Chandrawinata, who is Catholic, to the police. Her participation in the Miss Universe contest was seen as maksiat, or immoral.

The FPI tried to destroy the Dragon Statue in Pontianak, West Kalimantan. This time they failed when the Dayak, the indigenous ethnic group of Kalimatan, protected the Chinese compound. FPI then devastated the Buddha statue at Asahan, North Sumatra.

Last June, the radical group vandalized three statues of Parahyangan Ladies at Bekasi, West Java. The FPI said the statues symbolized Virgin Mary that were haram to the Muslim place. This occurred even though the statues were the creation of I Nyoman Nuarta, one of Indonesia's greatest sculptors.

It is believed that the FPI was also behind the mob attacks on Jamaah Ahmadiyah at Kampung Neglasari, desa Sukanda, Gianjur, West Java, September 19, 2005. In 2006, the Jemaat Ahmadiyah in West Lombok regency, West Nusa Tenggara province were forced to leave their homes and land.

The Ahmadiyah were attacked, their homes were burnt, and their mosques were destroyed by their own Muslim neighbors that could not tolerate their views. They are now staying at the Mataram Transmigration Transit Center.

“We are displaced in our own country. We're Indonesians too, and we want to be free,” said Zainal Abidin, another Jemaah Ahmadiyah leader to the Jakarta Post. The letter quoted above is full of their pleas, from the depths of their hearts.


INDONESIA WAS FORMED from the ideology of Pancasila or Five Sila and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Diversity in Unity) as its basic foundation. To guarantee freedom of religion, Indonesia put “Ketuhanan Yang Mahaesa” (Believe in the one and only God) as the first sila in the Pancasila. It was strengthened by 1945 Constitution Article 29 Paragraph 2.

In reality, all the talk of religious freedom is false. Oppression of minorities continues. The oppression and violence escalated right along with the emergence of the FPI.

So who are the FPI?

The Muala (Cross Religion Society) said FPI was formed on August 7th, 1998, at 24 Rabius Tsani 1419 H at the Pondok Pesantren (Islamic Boarding School) Al Um, Kampung Utat, Ciputat, Tangerang, Banten Province. It was founded by ulemas, habib, ubaligh, all of whom are Muslim activists.

The charter was witnessed by hundreds of santri (students or followers within Islamic Schools) from Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang, and Bekasi. Their original goal was to preserve the “amar ma'ruf nahi mungkar” in life, which means "to increase grace and goodness and to resist grave temptations and avoid grievous sin."

Amar ma'ruf nahi mungkar is the only way to keep some distance between kezholiman and kemungkaran. Without amar ma'ruf nahi mungkar, it is impossible for these two things to vanish from people's life,” the FPI stated on their website. The FPI would make any effort to ensure that people practice the “amar ma'ruf nahi mungkar” in all aspects of their lives.

FPI was founded on the organizational structure of Majelis Syura (Shura Assembly). KH Muhammad Armin Syarbini is trusted to be the sole Chairman of the Majelis. He supervised five Chief of Boards: Shari'a Board (Chaired by Al-Habib Ali bin Sahil), Board of Honor (KH Muhammad Munif), Board of Supervisors (KH Ma'shum Hasan), Advisory Board (KH Mahmud Sempur), and Supervisory Board (KH Al-Habib Sholeh Al-Habsyi).

This Assembly and its Boards supervised and advised the leader of FPI Al-Habib Muhammad Rizieq Syihab Lc and Secretary General KH Misbahul Anam.

Secretary General Anam supervised six Field Chiefs: the Front for Legal Aspect (Ust. TB Abdurrahman SH, MA), the Front for Investigative Activity (Ust. TB M. Sidiq AR), the Front for Expertise (Prof. Dr. Habib Segaf Mahdi), the Front to Form Cadres (Ust. Reza Pahlevi ZA), the Front for Anti-Immoral Acts (Ust. Siroj Alwi) and the Front for Anti-Violence (KH TB Entus Hassanuddin).

The FPI Leader Habib Rizieq is assisted by three additional Chiefs: Chief KH Salim Nashir, Chief KH Oman Syahroni, and Chief Al-Habib Abdirrahman Al-Khirid.

First Chief Nashir is responsible for Department of Religion (Chaired by KH Munif Ahmad), Department of Foreign Affairs (Chaired by Ust. Hassanuddin), Department of Internal Affairs (Chaired by Ust. Ahmad Sobri Lubis), and Department of State Defense and Jihad (Chaired by Ust Hassanuddin).

Second Chief Syahroni supervised the Department of Society and Politics (Chaired by KH Syarllah Asfari), Department of Culture and Education (Chaired by KH Al-Habib Muhsin Ahmad Alatas), Department of Economy and Trade (Chaired by Ust. Selamet Ma'arif S, Ag, SE), and Department of Research and Technology (Chaired by Prof Dr Ir Saerul Alam Msc).

Third Chief Al-Khirid is in charge of Department of Food (Chaired by KH Drs Zainuddin Ali Al-Ghozali) and Department of Social Welfare (Chaired by KH Nurzaini Suanda), Department of Information (Chaired by Dr. Iskandar Trilaksono), and Department of Women (Chaired by Ust, Ms. Dra. Nailah Balahmar).

In early 2000, the TNI Watch announced the close relationship between FPI and the Indonesian military. The head of the Indonesian army's Strategic Reserve Command Lieutenant General TNI Djaja Suparman, Major General TNI Kavlan Zein, Major General TNI Zacky Anwar Makarim, Chief of General Staff Leiutenant General TNI Suadi M, Vice Commander General TNI Fachrul Rosi, and former Jakarta Police Chief Major General (Pol) Noegroho Djajoesman were closely linked with the FPI. No rejection nor denial of TNI Watch's analysis has ever been published.

On Saturday, August 7th, 2010, The Jakarta Post Daily reported, “Governor Fauzi Bowo and Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Timur Pradopo attended the 12th anniversary celebration of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) at the organization’s headquarters in Petamburan, Central Jakarta, on Saturday, leading critics to say they both feared the hard-line group.”

The newspaper continued, "Fauzi and Timur’s attendance comes a day after FPI leader Habib Rizieq visited Jakarta Police headquarters to 'offer' the group’s 'services' in enforcing a city bylaw banning some entertainment establishments from operating during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.”

Voices condemning FPI include not only ordinary people but also former Chairman of People's Consultative Assembly and former the Chairman of PKS/Prosperous Justice Party Hidayat Nurwahid, Chairman of Central Muhammadiyah 2004, Ahmad Syafi'i Ma'arif, and Ma'arif's successor Hasyim Muzadi.

Yet the FPI is still going strong. Two prominent figures in the pluralism movement, the late Nur Cholis Madjid, or Cak Nur - a well known Indonesian intellectual - and Abdurrahman Wahid, or Gus Dur, - a Muslim leader and former President of the Republic of Indonesia - both strongly and publicly opposed the FPI.

But FPI showed no respect to either Gus Dur or Cak Nur. Unconfirmed reports said two FPI members visited Cak Nur when he was hospitalized, just one day before Cak Nur passed away. Upon his death, both FPI members accused Cak Nur of being a traitor to Islam.

FPI also turned on Gus Dur. On May 23th, 2006, the FPI and some other militant groups expelled him from the Cross-Cultural and Religious Dialogue at Purwakarta, West Java.

The power and influence of FPI also explains why Habib Rizieq has been so lightly punished. For all he has done and for all FPI has done under his leadership, Rizieq was jailed for only seven months in October 2002.

Is Indonesia going down a paradoxical path of religious intolerance and democratic politics? Only God knows, and we will know in the end. But, as legal philosophers have reminded us in the case of oppressed minorities, “Justice delayed is justice denied”.

*M. Maliq is a political researcher based in the United States.

Asia, ConflictM. Maliq