“TRUE ISLAM”, APOSTATE LEADER AND ISLAMIC RADICALISM: The Emergence of Laskar Jihad in Indonesia

Luthfi Makhasin



Soon after the Prophet Muhammad passed away, the Islamic community in Madina fell into dispute. The main if not the only cause was political rather than religious one about who the Prophet’s successor would be. Fortunately, an open conflict did not emerge as both communities agreed to choose Abu Bakar As-Siddiq as the first caliphate.[1] It was not to be the case for his successors however.[2] The political conflict over caliphate then divided Islamic community into different religious streams.[3]

This early Islamic historical precedent shows that politics was and is likely to remain a source of conflicts among Islamic communities. Under a particular circumstance, the conflict has the potential to transform some elements into radicals who tend to resort to violence actions. It was the case within the Islamic community in Indonesia following the collapse of the authoritarian regime. Interestingly, all parties involved in the political conflict were interested to look for religious justification to strengthen their stance against their opponents and legitimize their political power over the Islamic community.

In the late 1990s, Indonesia underwent an unprecedented emergence of Islamic radicalism. The emergence of radical Islamic groups such as Islamic Defender Front (FPI), Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI), Forum Komunikasi Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah (FKAWJ)/Laskar Jihad, and Hizbut Tahrir could not be separated from the democratic breakthrough brought on by gerakan reformasi (reform movement) of 1998. Reformasi enabled each group to establish and voice its own version of what kind of Indonesia in the future should be. In the case of Islamic radical groups, they shared a view that Islam should be formalized within the political system. Unlike other groups, the radical groups are not reluctant to pursue their cause through violence actions.

To address the question why Islamic radicalism emerged in Indonesia, I argue that radicalism is a result of the dynamic contestation within the Islamic community itself following the collapse of the authoritarian regime. It involves a triangle of relations amongst salafist, traditionalist, and modernist Muslims.[4] In the case of Laskar Jihad, it could not be understood simply as an expression of religious resentment (Islam against Christian). Rather, it was a matter of competing religious interpretations between salafist and mainstream Islam (traditionalist and modernist) to determine the “true Islam” for Indonesia.

I will focus on Laskar Jihad as an example of radical Islamic group.[5] As well as other radical groups, Laskar Jihad was determined to perpetrate violence action. Unlike other radical groups, however, Laskar Jihad was not reluctant to show off its intention to do so.[6] However, by focusing on Laskar Jihad as an example, I do not pretend to provide a comprehensive analysis of Islamic radicalism in Indonesia.[7]

Laskar Jihad/Forum Komunikasi Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’ah (FKAWJ)

            Laskar Jihad was born at a rally on 30th January 2000 in Yogyakarta. However, Laskar Jihad had not yet mobilized its militias until April 2000 when its members rallied in Jakarta and opened a military training camp in Bogor. Laskar Jihad was the paramilitary wing of the Forum Komunikasi Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah (FKAWJ) or Sunni Communication Forum. The Forum itself was founded following tabligh akbar in Solo, Central Java on 14 February 1998.[8]

Laskar Jihad was led by Ja’far Umar Thalib, a descendant of Yemeni-Madurese family.[9] Jafar was born on 29 December 1961 in Malang, East Java (Hasan, 2002: 151). He spent his childhood at his father’s Pesantren of Al Irsyad, Malang. He finished his formal secondary education at PGA (Religious Teacher School) Malang. After that, he attended Pesantren Persatuan Islam (Persis) in Bangil, East Java and LIPIA (Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies) in Jakarta.[10] He then went on to pursue his studies at Maududi Institute in Lahore, Pakistan. As with his previous studies at Persis and LIPIA, Jafar never finished his studies in Pakistan.[11]

He eventually joined up with a mujahidin faction to fight against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in 1987.[12] After the Soviet troops fled from Afghanistan in 1989, he left for Indonesia and taught at Pesantren Al Irsyad in Salatiga, Central Java. In 1991, he left for Mekka to widen his Salafi’s knowledge from some well-known Salafi-scholars there.[13] On his return to Indonesia in 1993, he built his own pesantren (Ikhya’us Sunnah Tadribud-Du’at) in Degolan, about 12 km northern Jogjakarta (Fealy, 2001).

Laskar Jihad was commonly regarded as a direct response to atrocities against Muslims in Maluku. Laskar Jihad claimed that its only purpose was to protect Muslims who had suffered badly in the religious conflict in Maluku. In relations to that, Laskar Jihad declared Jihad (narrowly defined as holy war) against the Christian community which was regarded by Laskar Jihad as kafir harbi/belligerent infidels, the most dangerous kafir in the Islam doctrine (Fealy, 2001).

Laskar Jihad’s cause for jihad appealed to many volunteers especially from urban areas. Most of its members came from poor urban lower class. However, Laskar Jihad also attracted members from amongst university students, especially from science and engineering fields (Hasan, 2002: 156). It was estimated that Laskar Jihad had as many as 10,000 members. Two to three thousand of them were sent to wage jihad in Maluku. In addition, Laskar Jihad also dispatched its members to Poso, Central Sulawesi and Papua.[14]

            Organizationally, Laskar Jihad was structured just as the military is. It consisted of brigades, battalions, companies, platoons, and teams (Hasan, 2002: 159). In Maluku, each battalion was named according to caliphate’s names: Abu Bakar As-Sidiq, Umar bin Khatab, Usman bin Affan, and Ali bin Abi Thalib (Schulze, 2004: 60). Laskar Jihad even had its own intelligence services. Before leaving for Maluku, Jafar Umar Thalib claimed that he had deployed an intelligence team to find out exactly what happened there.[15]

            Ideologically, Laskar Jihad/FKAWJ followed Salafi teaching as propagated firstly by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab in Saudi Arabia.[16] Salafi-Wahabi insisted to follow as-salaf-as-salih generations as the example of true Islam.[17] Azra (2005:2) describes the formation of Laskar Jihad as a form of “radicalization of militant groups”.[18] On the other hand, Hefner labeled Laskar Jihad as “neo-salafi/neo-fundamentalist” which is different with earlier variants of Salafi as developed in Saudi Arabia (Mulyadi, 2003: 81).

            Together with other radical groups, Laskar Jihad believed that Jews and Christian lead a conspiracy to destroy Islam (Fealy, 2004: 106). Consequently, Laskar Jihad was determined to call for Jihad against them. Despite that, Laskar Jihad was mainly concerned with upholding Syari’ah (Islamic law) in Indonesia (Fealy, 2004: 107).

Laskar Jihad rejected democracy as incompatible with Islamic values (Platzdasch, 2001). Laskar Jihad believed that the principle of democracy – one man one vote – was un-Islamic (Schulze, 2002: 59; Hasan, 2002: 161). Instead, Laskar Jihad proposed the so-called ahlu-halli wal aqdi (expert council) as the supreme decision making body. However, Laskar Jihad strongly opposed the idea of an Islamic state as proposed by other radical groups such as Darul Islam (DI), Jema’at Islamiyah, and Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI).

In addition, Laskar Jihad was nationalist in the way that it considered Indonesia’s nation-state was final. In his “Declaration of War”, Ja’far Umar Thalib asserted Laskar Jihad’s nationalist credential by saying,



…we have done all this in the name of exercising our duty and obligation as citizens of the Republic of Indonesia to defend it. Moreover, we have done all this in the name of exercising our religious obligation, namely defending the integrity of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia…[19]



            Laskar Jihad also disregarded the principle of equal citizenship for all groups. According to Laskar Jihad, Indonesia with its Islamic majority should denote other minority religious groups as kafir dhimmi (protected minority). The state had to protect them so long as they obeyed the authority.

            Laskar Jihad was a very exclusive group. Its members could be easily identified through their very distinct appearance, such as the long white shirt, baggy trousers gathered above the ankle, long beards, and headgear (Hasan, 2002: 154-55). They are extremely puritanical in rejecting all distractions: music, photographs, cinema, TV, perfume, etc. Female members wore long black dresses, and covered their faces with veils (Hasan, 2002: 155). A male was not allowed to have contact with a female unless in the presence of muhrim – close relatives whom they are not allowed to marry – (Hasan, 2002: 155)

            Laskar Jihad disbanded itself on the mid-October 2002, few days after the Bali bombing. However, Jafar Umar Thalib claimed that the decision to disband Laskar Jihad was made on 7 October 2002 (Fealy, 2004: 115). According to an ICG report (2004: 17-8), the decision to disband Laskar Jihad/FKAWJ was made following a fatwa from some salafi scholars in the Middle East.


Laskar Jihad: Salafi and Radicalism 

            Given the moderate character of the Islamic community in Indonesia, radicalism is regarded as an anomaly and something that was imported from another part of the Islamic world, the Middle East. Scholars were preoccupied with the relations between the literal interpretation of Salafism and its influence on shaping a radical stance. In the case of Laskar Jihad, radicalism was considered as a manifestation of this literal interpretation in understanding the communal conflict between Islam and Christian in Maluku (Schulze, 2002: 57-69; Fealy, 2004: 104-21; Hasan, 2002: 145-69; Sirozi, 2005: 81-120; Mulyadi, 2003: 75-110).

            Fealy (2004: 107) asserts that radical Islamic groups in Indonesia were influenced by Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwanul Muslimin) and Wahabi thinking. In the case of Laskar Jihad, Jafar Umar Thalib frequently referred to Salafi scholars such as Skeikh Muqbil ibn Hadi al-Wadi of Yaman and Skeikh Mufti al-Hadi Husain to justify his actions (Fealy, 2004: 115).

Meanwhile, Schulze portrayed the presence of Laskar Jihad in Maluku and its radical stance as a challenge to the mainstream interpretation of Islam in Indonesia. Yet, the conflict and radicalism which followed it represented elite’s political contestation in Indonesia (2002: 57-69). However, she maintains that Laskar Jihad and its radical stance is a “fundamentally un-Indonesian ideological framework” (2002: 69).

            Mulyadi (2003: 75-110) shows that the phenomenon of Laskar Jihad represents a manifestation of the violence culture in Islam. Through his account on Laskar Jihad and Laskar Kristus, Mulyadi concludes that the causes of violence stem from both religious militants and religious doctrines (Mulyadi, 2003: 99). In the case of Laskar Jihad, the former refers to the actions of individuals and groups who committed violence, whereas the latter deals with the literal interpretation of a specific religious doctrine, that is, the narrow interpretation of Jihad merely as a physical struggle with sword and warfare (Mulyadi, 2003: 100).

            Meanwhile, Hasan (2002: 145-69) reveals that Laskar Jihad with its radical stance was a direct response to the Muslim-Christian conflict in Maluku. Laskar Jihad viewed this conflict as an international conspiracy between Jews and Christian to undermine Islam in Indonesia. This plot was carried out locally by the remnants of RMS – a Maluku’s rebellion movement against the central government that was active in the 1950s – (Hasan, 2002: 165). As a response, Laskar Jihad declared a jihad against Christian as a compulsory matter for Muslims (Hasan, 2002: 166). In addition, Hasan shows how Jafar Umar Thalib relied on fatwas issued by some prominent Salafi scholars to legitimize Laskar Jihad’s cause in Maluku.

            On the other hand, Sirozi (2005: 81-120) emphasizes the relationship between educational experience and the radical movement in Indonesia. By focusing on Jafar Umar Thalib, Sirozi reveals that the non-formal and formal education from which Jafar Umar Thalib received his training shaped his radical view. He especially paid attention to educational institutions in Pakistan where Jafar Umar spent 4 years. According to Sirozi, the educational institutions in Pakistan where Ja’far conducted his study were not designed for academic purposes. Rather, they were designed to support a particular school of thought/movement, Salafi-Wahabi (Sirozi, 2005: 101).

            However, all these accounts raise further questions rather than providing a comprehensive answer. Salafi-Wahabi and its literal interpretation of the Qur’an and Haditz does not necessarily mean radical. An ICG report (2004) reveals that the Salafi community is primarily concerned with individual piety rather than political activities. Yet, the communal conflict (Islam vs. Christian) in Maluku itself did not automatically stimulate radicalization among Salafi communities. In fact, the communal conflict between Muslims and Christians in Maluku had erupted sporadically from February 1999. Therefore, it did not make sense that radicalism as shown by Laskar Jihad was simply a response to it.


Abdurrahman Wahid: An Apostate Leader and Waging Jihad in Maluku

            The rise of Abdurrahman Wahid to the presidency in October 1999 was initially considered as evidence of Islamic ascendancy in Indonesian politics. In fact, he assumed power with support from the Islamic coalition of Poros Tengah (Central Axis).[20] Moreover, his credential as a prominent Islamic scholar and activist for democracy were highly respected not only in Indonesia but also overseas.

He insisted on the importance of “Islamic universalism”, “cosmopolitanism”, and “pribumisasi” (Islamic contextualization) as the true Islam (Mujiburrahman, 1999: 342). He strongly opposed the idea of an Islamic state and any other forms of Islamic formalization in the political system. Instead, he supported democratic ideals and secular state as the best political system for Indonesia. Moreover, he emphasized a pluralist view rather than an exclusivist one regarding to minority groups. He believed that as long as democracy works properly, Muslim interest will be automatically satisfied (Mujiburrahman, 1999: 346).

Barton (1997: 34-75) describes him as a typical of neo-modernist liberal since his visionary ideas encompass both traditionalist and modernist views as well. As a modernist liberal, Abdurrahman Wahid considers “Islam is merely a source of inspiration and motivation, and is not itself a social system which should be applied in its entirety” (Riddell, 2002: 68).

As a politician however, Abdurrahman Wahid is a traditionalist. His main political base was and is likely to remain in the NU community. Most of his proponents lived in Java, especially Central and East Java/Madura. He mainly relied on moral legitimacy from Kyai (Islamic Scholar). Abdurrahman Wahid was a typical – at least for his followers among the traditionalists – not only “ulama”/Islamic scholar but also “umara”/leader (Bruinessen, 1990: 52-69). During his presidency, he used to gather his followers in the so-called istighotzah (mass gathering to pray which is led by Kyai). Istighotzah provided both the religious justification and the political support, which was unique among the traditionalist community.

Radicalism among the salafists is likely to emerge as they charge a leader committed apostasy. Among radical groups, charging someone as an apostate is well known as takfir doctrine. The intellectual roots of takfir doctrine can be distinguished into two streams of thought, Sayyid Qutb’s “Manichean view” and Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab’s. (Wiktorowicz, 2005: 81). According to Wiktorowicz, Qutb’s view on apostasy is influenced by both Al Maududi’s “modern jahilliyah” and Taimiyyah’s “tauhid doctrine”. Wiktorowicz writes,


…the unity of God requires that Muslim follow divine law, creating a synthesis that reinforced the stark distinction between the Party of God and the Party of Satan: all those who do not put faith into action through an Islamic legal system and strictly obey the command of God are part of the modern jahilliya and no longer Muslims (2005: 79).


While Al Maududi suggested a gradual reform within an established political system, Qutb prescribed jihad against those do not adopt Islamic law. Qutb viewed the main objective of Muslims is to establish God’s rule on earth (Wiktorowicz, 79). Therefore, waging jihad at home against an apostate leader was not only justified but also a compulsory matter.

On the other hand, ibn Abdul Wahab inspired radical groups through his work, The Ten Voiders of (or Nullifier) of Islam.[21] (Wiktorowicz, 2005: 81). Of the ten voiders as identified by ibn Abdul Wahab, three are well known among radical groups: “associating others with God in worship”, “judging by non-Islamic laws and believing these are superior to divine law”, and “supporting and helping non-believers against Islam” (Wiktorowicz, 2005: 81).

Laskar Jihad was likely to follow Muhammad ibn Wahhab’s fatwa as the basis for charging someone as an apostate. Nevertheless, Sirozi made an interesting point when he wrote that previously, Ja’far Umar Thalib was an admirer of Sayyid Qutb (2005: 95). If it was the case, Ja’far Umar Thalib is a jihadist with a perfect intellectual basis.

However, charging someone as an apostate is very serious in Islam. The Prophet, as quoted by Imam Bukhari, said “no man accuses another man of being a sinner, or being a kafir, but it reflects back on him if the other is not as he called him” (Wiktorowicz, 2005: 77). Of course, it is a very subjective matter of interpretation to charge someone with apostasy. Given the Abdurrahman Wahid’s statements and deeds however, it was sufficient for Laskar Jihad to charge him as an apostate leader.

Abdurrahman Wahid had been known for his habit of visiting tombs. In fact, visiting tombs is common among traditionalist Muslims. Soon after being sworn in as President, Abdurrahman Wahid was highly publicized as he visited the tomb of Ahmad Mutammakin in Pati, Central Java. He said that Ahmad Mutammakin told him to do so in a dream and blessed him (Azra, 2002: 87). During his presidency, the President did this many times. For salafist however, this custom is strictly prohibited. Salafists strongly believed that visiting the tombs was similar to syirik/idolatry (associating others with God in worship). What the President did was regarded by salafists as a clear apostasy; they expelled him from true Islam.

During his presidency, Abdurrahman Wahid consistently maintained his view that syari’ah (Islamic law) had no place in politics. Instead, the President insisted that Indonesia should be governed in accordance with democratic principles. Moreover, he also asserted that the secular Indonesian nation state was final and it was not necessary to change it. In contrast, Laskar Jihad disregarded democracy as incompatible with Islamic values. For radical groups like Laskar Jihad, implementing non-Islamic law (democracy) and believing in its supremacy over syari’ah mean apostasy. Radical Islam commonly referred to Ibn Taymiyya’s Unitarian account on tauhidtauhid rububiyah/unity of lordship and tauhid uluhiyah/unity of worship – (Awwas, 1999; Fox, 2005: 7; Wiktorowicz, 2005: 82).  Based on this account, belief requires both intention and action.

            Laskar Jihad strongly believed that Abdurrahman Wahid supported and even helped unbelievers against Islam. At least, there were three Presidential statements that confirmed the charge of apostasy against him. Firstly, a month after being sworn in as President, Abdurrahman Wahid publicly said that the government was considering opening trade relations with Israel.[22] For the President, this was a logical consequence of the “free and active” principle of the Indonesia’s foreign policy. The President reportedly said, “If we have diplomatic relations with communist states (China and Russia) that strongly opposed God, we should do so with Israel that even still recognizes God”.[23]

Instead of responding to this logically, radical Islam tended to consider it as an open challenge to Islam. Radical Islam used to quote Al Qur’an verse, “Oh, you who believe, take not the Jews and Christians for your friends and protectors, they are but friends and protectors to each other” (Qur’an 5:51).

            Secondly, the President reportedly said that the conflict in Maluku erupted as Muslims benefited overwhelmingly at the expense of Christians.[24] In addition, the President asserted that the conflict should be solved by the Maluku people themselves without any government interference.[25] For the President, the communal conflict that took place in Maluku had nothing to do with religion. Rather, it was purely a communal conflict that involved local elites in competing for resources.[26]

On the other hand, Laskar Jihad portrayed the conflict as a purely religious conflict, Islam against Christian. Laskar Jihad accused Christians in Maluku of attempting to re-establish RMS (South Maluku Republik) which seceded from the central government. From the point of view of the Laskar Jihad, Abdurrahman Wahid’s government was clearly unwilling to protect the Islamic community (Fealy, 2001). More seriously, Laskar Jihad accused President Abdurrahman Wahid of taking sides with Christians to undermine the Islamic community.[27] Consequently, Laskar Jihad/FKAWJ was committed to wage a jihad in Maluku and bring him down (Fealy, 2001).

Finally, in March 2000, the President insisted on invoking Tap MPRS No. 25/MPRS/1966 banning communism. Abdurrahman Wahid even publicly confessed that many NU members were involved in the mass killings of 1965. Abdurrahman Wahid viewed this measure as important to promote national reconciliation between ex-communists and Indonesian society in general, and particularly the Islamic community.[28]

Again, by using religious justifications Laskar Jihad strongly opposed this idea. For radical groups, communism was simplified to a merely anti-God idea. Proposing this idea meant promoting the biggest sin against Islamic doctrine, kufur. Communism therefore was in a diametric position to very basic principle of Islam, tauhid. Among others, tauhid is the most uncompromising principle of Islam.

When he met President Wahid at the Palace, Ja’far Umar Thalib angrily protested against the President’s proposal for invoking Tap MPRS No. 25/1966. In addition, Ja’far Umar Thalib accused the President of intentionally damaging the Islamic community.[29] At the same time, hundreds of Laskar Jihad members demonstrated outside the palace (Mulyadi, 2003:83).

In Laskar Jihad’s view, Israelis, Jews, Christians, and Communists were considered as “hostile powers” against Islam (Hasan, 2002: 164). Thus, the President’s statement just confirmed their suspicion that the President had some intimacy with these “hostile powers”.

The President’s habit of visiting tombs, his insistence on upholding a non-Islamic law (democracy), and his intimacy with “hostile powers” were more than enough to charge him as an apostate leader. However, Ja’far Umar Thalib emphasized the President’s intimacy with “hostile powers” as a basis of his allegation.[30] He reportedly asserted the President’s faults/crimes as an apostate leader by saying, “based on syar’i, Gus Dur’s statements and deeds were clear signs of kufur.[31]

By waging jihad in Maluku, salafists were attempting to discredit mainstream Islam (traditionalist and modernist) that emphasizes pluralism, non-literal religious interpretation, and moderation. Instead, salafists put forward their own interpretation of true Islam based on literal religious interpretation, exclusiveness and extremism, and even its violent nature.

Even though they differ in many ways, salafists share a view with the modernists in the way that they both “draw inspiration from the writings of Ibn Taimiyyah” (Fox, 2004: 7). While traditionalists emphasize sufism as the basis of their religious life, salafists and modernists are mainly concerned with purifying tauhid by avoiding deviations such as syirik (idolatry), bid’ah (innovation), and khurafat (superstition).

Indeed, the relationship between traditionalists and modernists frequently fluctuates rather than shows stability. The differences between traditionalist and modernist in their religious principles (madzhab-based ideas vs. Abduh’s reform ideas), learning systems (pesantren vs. modern school), and mass base (rural vs. urban areas) are likely to remain unchanged. This difference is also manifested in the political arena. For instance, while PAN has a very strong Muhammadiyah’s feature, PKB is commonly identified with NU. Despite these differences, however, traditionalists and modernists share a view on the need to present Islam as “rahmatan lil ‘alamin” (goodness for the universe) rather than as a violent religion.

Abdurrahman Wahid provided a good opportunity for salafists to exert their own interpretation of true Islam to the Islamic community in Indonesia. Abdurrahman Wahid represented mainstream Islam (traditionalist and modernist). His very moderate and liberal stance in interpreting Islam had long irritated radical groups.[32]

In the salafi tradition, adherents are not allowed to rebel against a ruler unless he/she has committed apostasy. Such apostasy becomes a pre-condition for whether Salafi transforms to Salafi-Jihadi or not. In the case of Laskar Jihad, waging jihad in Maluku was not only against Christians, but more importantly against an apostate leader, President Abdurrahman Wahid.

Given the President’s statements and deeds, salafists certainly believed in Abdurrahman Wahid’s apostasy. However, this belief was not immediately manifested as a radical stance. Charging someone as an apostate remains a very serious matter in Islam. Despite Ja’far Umar Thalib strongly believed in the President’s apostasy, he could not mobilize the militias until he received confirmation from/the sanction of the religious authority which is highly respected within the salafist community.

Ja’far Umar Thalib requested a fatwa from the salafi scholars in the Middle East to justify Laskar Jihad’s cause in Maluku.[33] It was interesting to seek an answer why Ja’far Umar Thalib went to the salafi scholars in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and Yemen) to justify his call for a jihad in Maluku. However, there is no single answer regarding the influence of the Middle East’s salafi scholars over the salafists community in Indonesia.

First, it is probably because of strong kinship ties between the Hadrami/Arab descendants in Indonesia and their homeland.[34] These kinship ties create a strong, distinct cultural identity among the Hadramists that has been preserved over generations through education, endogamous marriage, and business relations.[35] Ja’far Umar Thalib is a second-generation “muwallad” (Kesheh, 1999) referring to a Hadrami/Arab descendant who was born in Indonesia.

Considering his family’s background, it is safe to assume that Ja’far Umar Thalib is likely to identify himself with those having a similar background to his. Sirozi shows how his intellectual formation was strongly influenced by his Arab fellows rather than his indigenous counterparts (2005: 81-120). For instance, his leadership talent was developed in the Al Irsyad student organization during his studies at LIPIA (Sirozi, 2005: 94).[36] In addition, none of the scholars from whom he learnt intensively salafi teaching between 1991 and 1993 are indigenous. His main teacher, Syaikh Muqbil bin Hadi Al-Wadi’I, originates from Dammaz (Sa’adah) of Yemen, the same place where his father came from.[37]

Second, this influence reflects the material dependence of the salafi communities in Indonesia on the flow of funds from the Middle East (mainly from Saudi Arabia).[38] The salafi scholars are not only pure religious scholars but also form an official religious authority. Moreover, they represent an official political ideology (Wahabism) which underpins the political establishment.[39]

Despite their anti-Christian/America rhetoric, salafi scholars in Saudi Arabia kept silent over the presence of America’s troops in Saudi Arabia.[40] Their allegiance to the regime was shown by labeling their opponents as “sururi/sururiyyah” (ICG, 2004: 13).[41] It is not a coincidence that Ja’far Umar Thalib’s teacher, Syaikh Muqbil is closely related with Islah’s Islamic party of Yemen which is funded by the Saudis (Hasan, 2002 153).

Considering their intimacy with the regime, the salafi scholars provide not only moral guidance but also “transnational networks” among which people, money, and ideas move (Bruinessen, 2002). Bruinessen writes,


The nature of Muslim political movements appears to be a response to the changing political environment (and the availability of foreign funding)…Saudi money has undeniably played a role in shaping debates in Indonesian Islam and in promoting certain interpretations and attitudes rather than others…[42]


The spread of salafi-wahabism in Indonesia and all over the world cannot be separated from the generous charities, both from the government (mainly from the Saudi Arabia) and private. In the case of Indonesia, these funds flow to building mosques, providing scholarships, etc. In fact, Ja’far Umar Thalib himself received a scholarship from the Saudi’s fund for his unfinished studies both at LIPIA and Maududi Institute of Lahor, Pakistan (ICG, 2004: 12). Moreover, he confessed that Laskar Jihad/FKAWJ received funds from the Middle East (Saudi Arabia).

Even though recognizing the importance of transnational networks, Bruinessen asserts that it is not the single determining factor of the influence of Arabs over the salafist community in Indonesia (2002). He identified another factor – the so-called “transnational communications” and the religious prestige of Arabs – that determines why Arabs play an important role in Indonesia.[43] Unfortunately, Bruinessen does not explain to what extent this influence is exerted.

Finally, the influence of Arab/Hadrami reflects both the basic tenets and nature of salafiwahabism itself. In terms of the basic tenets, the influence of the Arabs is a consequence of salafi-wahabi’s literal interpretation. The literal interpretation is not only a matter of interpreting religious texts, but also that of following a unique sunni intellectual tradition. The sunni intellectual tradition emphasizes strictness of knowledge of genealogy to determine the validity of religious texts. Hadist transmission for instance, recognizes the so-called isnad – chains of transmitters which were used to prove the legitimacy and validity of the teaching and learning one received.[44] Based on the isnad system, the sunni intellectual tradition recognizes the distinction between sahih (valid) and da’if (weak) status of religious texts.

Salafi-wahabism is characterized not only by its literal interpretation but also its strictness in following a particular intellectual tradition. Haj (2002: 333-70) argued that salafi-wahabism cannot be understood simply by using binary opposition such as “literal vs. non-literal/scriptural vs. non-scriptural”, “radical vs. moderate”, “traditional vs. moderate”, “religion vs. reason” and so on, just as the “orientalists” tend to propose. Rather, salafi-wahabi grew and developed within a discursive tradition in which “it engaged in a rational discourse founded on disputation, argument and counter argument” (Haj, 2002: 335). Haj writes,


…I want to situate ibn Abdul Wahab within an Islamic discursive tradition, which has historically evolving discourses embodied in the practices and institutions of the community (2002: 335).


The influence of syaikh over the salafi community in Indonesia should be understood as a part of its basic tenet to follow as-salaf-as shalih generation. The salafist community is likely to consider that the salafi-scholars in Saudi Arabia and Yemen have direct linkage to the previous generations of Islamic scholars within a very strict isnad system of the sunni intellectual tradition.[45]

Meanwhile, their basic nature has to do with the Arab-ness of salafi-wahabi itself. While the traditionalists and modernists are representatives of contextualized-Islam,[46] salafi-wahabism represents Islam with strong Arabic features. The salafist community tends to associate Islam with all its Arabness – its cultural features, such as style of clothing, language, way of life, etc. They are almost obsessive in imitating everything coming from/belonging to the Arabs. The distinct appearance of clothing, patterns of strict social relations between male and female, the obligation to grow long beards for males, translating “aku” and “kamu” to “ane” and “ente” respectively (from Arabic word, “anna” and “antum” which mean respectively I and you) in daily conversation show how obsessive the salafists are with the Arab-ness features. To some extent, the salafist consider all these cultural features of Arab-ness [as a part of] essential to an expression of their (?)religious devoutness.

The basic tenet of following the ahlussunnah wal jamah tradition and Arab cultural features made the salafists feel superior to mainstream Islam (traditionalist and modernist) in Indonesia. In behaving  this way, the salafist was asserting its credentials as the only true Islam. Interestingly, over the generations, the Islamic community has been trapped in competing religious interpretations about whom the Prophet referred when he said,


“My ummat will split into more than 70 firqah (currents/sects), all in [the] hell but one”.[47]



The hadits is considered sahih given its chain of transmitters. The hadits provide a strong religious justification over their claim on the truth. The salafist strongly believe that they are the ones to whom the Prophet referred. This belief makes them not only superior but also religiously comfortable to charge someone and other groups as apostate.[48] To some extent, radicalism among salafists has less to do with how they perceive “others” (Christian and Jews), and more to do with how they perceive themselves and “others” within the Islamic community itself.

Salafi-wahabism is ideologically cohesive. This cohesiveness is underpinned not only by a set of strict doctrines, but also a distinct religious authority. The salafi-scholars in the Middle East are as the kyai is for the traditionalists. A call for a jihad in Maluku clearly showed competing religious interpretations between two different religious authorities, local kyai versus salafist-syaikh. On the one hand, Kyai, the traditionalist’s religious authority, insisted that Abdurrahman Wahid was a legitimate leader.[49] On the other hand, Ja’far Umar Thalib basing their authority on fatwas from syaikh, denounced the President as an illegitimate leader .

Whatever the case, it is misleading to assume that salafi-scholars in Saudi Arabia or Yemen engineered and instructed the formation of Laskar Jihad. Laskar Jihad was and is likely to remain a local initiative of the salafist community in Indonesia. The fatwa from salafi scholars about a jihad in Maluku was a response to Ja’far Umar Thalib’s request rather than order or instruction to wage a jihad in Maluku. In fact, the fatwa was issued by some salafi-scholars after receiving unilateral information provided by Ja’far Umar Thalib (ICG, 2004: 16).

Of the seven Salafi scholars to whom Jafar Umar Thalib referred in requesting a fatwa to wage a jihad in Maluku, two scholars put emphasis  on the apostasy of the leader as a pre-requisite of jihad.



Syaikh Akhmad An-Najmi said:


…first step, should be to choose someone to meet with those in authority and invite them to discuss the problem (Maluku). If they agree to defend the Muslim, they deserve obedience. if they refuse, and if you had the necessary resources and strength, then it is permissible for you to rebel against them and form a separate Muslim government…[50]



Similarly, Syaikh Muhammad bin Hadi Al-Madkhali said,


“…three steps that you had already taken were true. If your government tries to prevent you from waging jihad to protect your brothers, then you must not obey”.[51]



The measures taken by Ja’far Umar Thalib exactly reflected those fatwas. On Thursday, 6 April 2000, some representatives of Laskar Jihad (Ja’far Umar Thalib, Ayip Syafrudin, Rustam Kastor, Abubakar Wahid Al Bajjari, Ma’ruf Bahrun, Ali Fauzie, and Tasrif Tausikal) met with the President at the Merdeka Palace.[52] At this meeting, Ja’far Umar Thalib conveyed his harsh criticism of the President’s policy in handling Maluku’s conflict and his idea of revoking Tap MPRS No. 25/MPRS/1966. President reportedly got angry at their criticism and drove them out.[53]

The President’s response convinced Laskar Jihad to perpetrate its violent action. Ja’far Umar Thalib then arranged and coordinated military training at a training camp in Bogor, West Java.[54] In the end of April, Laskar Jihad’s militias headed to Maluku, though President Wahid prohibited them from going.[55] For Laskar Jihad itself, waging jihad in Maluku was simply upholding the truth of religion. Given the literal religious interpretation, it was purely religiously-driven and Ja’far Umar Thalib repeatedly rejected the conviction held by others (?) that Laskar Jihad was supported by the military or served any political interest.

Without charging President Abdurrahman Wahid with being an apostate leader, Laskar Jihad was unlikely to wage jihad against Christians in Maluku. Indeed, it was not about Abdurrahman Wahid personally. Rather, it was an attempt by the Salafist community to undermine the mainstream interpretation of true Islam held by the Islamic community in Indonesia.

For Laskar Jihad, Maluku was not only the place to fight Christians. More significantly, Maluku was a place where they had a chance to enforce strict religious doctrines based on salafi’s principles. It was also a place where they could impose syari’ah (Islamic law). For instance, Laskar Jihad imposed hudud in April 2001, by stoning a member who was charged with committing adultery.[56]


Waging Jihad in Maluku: Religion and Politics

Indeed, waging jihad against Christians in Maluku as carried out by Laskar Jihad boosted the salafist’s influence over mainstream Islam for a while. Ironically, waging jihad in Maluku was then hijacked by the political elites. Laskar Jihad provided the political elites with “a sudden opportunity to bolster their own careers by playing the Islamic card” (Schulze, 2002: 65). Under these circumstances, religion and political motivation were blurred.

Davis (2002: 12-32) stated that the emergence of Laskar Jihad showed the capacity of conservative modernists to exert their political influence. In addition, he pointed out that “Laskar Jihad was an attempt to shore up the position of conservative Islam and to hamper the unwelcome democratic transition in whatever way possible” (Davis, 2002: 28). Moreover, Davis believed that Laskar Jihad was being used by conservative modernists (DDII/KISDI/PBB) to undermine other Islamic groups and democratization in Indonesia simultaneously (2002: 21). However, he did not explain to what extent the conservative modernists used Laskar Jihad.

Indeed, the toppling of Abdurrahman Wahid as President had nothing to do directly with Laskar Jihad. The President was overthrown using a constitutional procedure. However, Laskar Jihad played an important role in undermining the legitimacy basis of the President. By charging him as an apostate leader and waging jihad in Maluku, Laskar Jihad caused Abdurrahman Wahid to lose much credibility in the eyes of the Islamic community in general. By portraying Maluku in a Muslim vs. Christian framework, Laskar Jihad rallied support from Muslims in general and undermined simultaneously Abdurrahman Wahid, whom they considered to be an apostate leader.

Of course, the process was not as simple as appeared on the surface. It involved many actors and political interests as well as high political maneuvers. Traditionalist and a few activists for democracy viewed the process as part of a grand scenario by pro status quo groups (Golkar, the military, and Suharto’s loyalists) in collaboration with modernist, salafists and the campus-based tarbiyah movement (KAMMI). Given this perception, it was not surprising that Abdurrahman Wahid’s die-hard supporters in East Java targeted Muhammadiyah members, HMI and KAMMI activists in expressing their anger.[57] Abdurrahman Wahid seemed to confirm this perception given his unsuccessful last-minute decision to disband the Golkar Party.[58]

On the other hand, the public in general viewed this process as being triggered by the failure of the President himself to mobilize political support. Moreover, the failure was also credited to the erratic style of leadership shown by the President. In addition, the President was popularly considered as incompetent and incapable as a leader in handling very complicated problems of the nation.

It is beyond my concern in this essay to discuss further the political turbulence surrounding the overthrow of Abdurrahman Wahid. My concern is to focus on how Islam was exploited as a “playing card” in this process. The military used Laskar Jihad to strengthen its bargaining position over the civil government just as the modernists did, although for different reasons. Ironically, playing the “Islamic card” sacrificed the very basic Islamic tenet of  moderation as commonly acknowledged in Indonesia.

“Pawai Sejuta Umat” (A million people rally) in January 2000 was evidence of the salafist temporary ascendancy. This rally was attended by some prominent political elites such as Amin Rais (Chairman of People Assembly), Hamzah Haz, Didin Hafidudin (PK), Ahmad Sumargono (KISDI/PBB), Hartono Mardjono (PBB), Husein Umar (DDII) etc.[59]

Those attending the rally represented both radical and mainstream Islam (modernist) in Indonesia. Interestingly, they all endorsed the salafist cause for waging jihad against Christians in Maluku.[60] The endorsement from mainstream Islam, as shown at the rally, encouraged the salafists to manifest their radical stance. The presence of Amin Rais – former chairman of Muhammadiyah and a leading modernist leader – and his personal endorsement contributed quite significantly in further radicalizing the salafists. Amin Rais reportedly denounced the President’s stance on the Maluku issue.[61] On the other hand, Abdurrahman Wahid played down the rally and considered it as simply part of plot to topple him.[62] In his account about the rally, Davis pointed out,


The attitude towards Laskar Jihad of mainstream modernist Muslim parties and associations, however, has been far more equivocal…conservative activists’ exploitation of a public outcry over the death of Muslims in Halmahera, combined with the post-election disarray of modernist Muslim politicians, enabled them to push more mainstream leaders into supporting calls for jihad. (2002: 21)


Davies tended to portray the rally in a purely political framework, “who gets what”. However, it was unlikely to be the case since Laskar Jihad had not been founded at that time. Indeed, it was unclear whether Ja’far Umar Thalib and FKAWJ were involved in the rally. Given the hostility of the salafist community toward any hizbiyah, ikhwani, and sururriyah tendencies, Ja’far Umar Thalib and FKAWJ were unlikely to be involved in a highly political maneuver like the rally. Interestingly, Abu Haidar (coordinator of the rally from As Sunnah, Bandung) is the one who was charged as “sururri/sururriyah” by the salafists.[63]

Probably there was a close relationship between salafist/Laskar Jihad and “conservative groups” like KISDI and DDII as suggested by Davis, however, it did not necessarily mean they shared a religious interpretation or political purpose. Salafists remain and will always remain an exclusivist group with a closed-mindset, strict religious interpretation, and their own epistemic community.

Following the rally, the salafists were not only radical in their beliefs but also radical in action. In fact, Laskar Jihad was formed not so long after the rally.  The rally was like an official confirmation of the salafist cause against both an apostate leader (Abdurrahman Wahid) and Christians. More importantly, the rally asserted its superior interpretation over other Islamic groups.

The case of Laskar Jihad shows the difficulties in determining boundaries between religion and politics. Even though Ja’far Umar Thalib repeatedly refuted his and Laskar Jihad’s allegiance with any political interest, he did so unconvincingly. There are some examples to undermine his statement. Soon after his  arrest by the police in early May 2002, he was visited in jail by Vice President Hamzah Haz who morally supported him.[64] Moreover, he also got support from some politicians (Hidayat Nur Wahid, Ahmad Sumargono, Hartono Mardjono).[65] It was likely that because of all these demonstrations of open support from prominent political elites, the police eventually freed him without any charge.[66]

However, Laskar Jihad and its insistence on waging jihad in Maluku resulted in a deep concern within the salafi communities. They were convinced that Ja’far Umar Thalib and Laskar Jihad had violated salafi principles. They believed that Laskar Jihad was more and more involved in political activities (ICG, 2004: 17). Eventually, they requested fatwa from salafi-scholars in Saudi Arabia regarding the Laskar Jihad. An ICG report (2004: 18) summarized the fatwa from Syaikh Rabi’ in Madina which was used as a basis for disbanding Laskar Jihad,


…we had previously issued a fatwa permitting jihad but we had set forth conditions for that jihad…then they went ahead and rushed into a jihad that violated my conditions…I hope you understand this, that you realize the political games being played and not get taken in by them…



The fatwa affirmed that Ja’far Umar Thalib had brought Laskar Jihad into politics, something that was strictly prohibited in the salafi communities. The decision to disband Laskar Jihad therefore was inevitable. After receiving this fatwa, Ja’far Umar Thalib eventually disbanded Laskar Jihad and Forum Komunikasi Ahlu Sunnah wal Jama’ah (FKAWJ) as well. Interestingly, the accusation against Ja’far Umar Thalib of being involving in political activities continued among the salafists. This accusation even further isolated him among the salafi communities.[67]



The case of Laskar Jihad shows the dynamic contestation within the Islamic community in determining true Islam for Indonesian society. Radicalism reflects competing religious interpretations between salafist and mainstream Islam (both traditionalist and modernist) in Indonesia. This competing religious interpretation manifests itself in political conflict. In this process, religious doctrine is used to justify their cause and strengthen their stance against opponents. Use of the takfir (apostasy) doctrine by Laskar Jihad against Abdurrahman Wahid shows how salafists used religion to undermine both traditionalist and modernist stances in interpreting true Islam for Indonesia.

Ironically, modernist Muslims tended to identify with the salafist cause though just for a short time. At the same time, traditionalists seemed to be alone in advocating Islam as “rahmatan lil ‘alamin”. Political competition is likely to be the sole source of the split between these two mainstream interpreters (traditionalist and modernist) of Islam. However, this split is unlikely to remain open in the future. Even though they have their differences in politics, they share a view of Islam as rahmatan lil alamain, which puts them in a stance diametrically opposed to the salafist cause.





[1] Either Muhajirin  (those converted in the early phase of Islam and mostly coming from Mekka) or Anshor (those converted during the Prophet’s stay in Madina and mostly was native Madina people) preferred the successor/caliphate came from their own group. Abu Bakar As-Siddiq was chosen since he was highly respected companion of the Prophet by both groups (K. Ali, 1971: 79).   

[2] Unlike the first caliphate Abu Bakar as Siddiq, his successors (Umar ibn Khatab, Usman ibn Affan, and Ali ibn Abi Thalib) were killed tragically through political plots carried out by their political opponents.

[3] Khawarij, Mu’tazilah and Syi’ah for instances, emerged during the political turbulence in Madina following the death of the Caliphate Usman ibn Affan. Khawarij was the most radical stream in the way that they interpreted Qur’an literally and saw themselves as the only true Muslim community (Hodgson, 1974: 216). Mu’tazilah on the other hand tended to interpret Qur’an as rationally as possible. Meanwhile, Syi’ah considered Ali ibn Abi Thalib and his descendents as the only legitimate successor of the Prophet.

[4] Traditionalist refers to Nahdatul Ulama (NU), a Javanese-based Islamic organization founded in 1926 by Hasyim Asy’ari, whereas modernist is Muhammadiyah, an urban-based Islamic organization founded in 1912 by Ahmad Dahlan. Salafist on the other hand refers to new variants of Islam inspired by Saudi’s Wahhabist movement which developed significantly in the 1970s/1980s.

[5] By radical I mean those having broad set of characters – is literal interpretation of Al Qur’an and Haditz, uncompromising approach in dealing with others, reactive nature in terms of rhetoric/language, ideas, physical violence against those identified as infidels and other deviationist forces (Fealy, 2004: 105).

[6] Instead of hiding its activities, Laskar Jihad had internet website as well as periodical publication showing their activities. Yet, Laskar Jihad appeared publicly through its militias/volunteers collecting money/donations from people on the streets in some cities/towns across Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi.

[7] Islamic radicalism can not be understood as a single entity. Rather, it covers very broad entities (individuals and groups) with their own goals and methods of struggle (Singh, 2004: 58).  For instance, the radical groups such as Jema’ah Islamiyah (JI) or Darul Islam (DI) are not as open as Laskar Jihad in running their activities.

[8] It was believed that emergence of FKAWJ was a part of mobilizing process to support Habibie during tense political competition among elites in the late Suharto era (International Crisis Group, 2004: 15). 

[9] His father (Umar Thalib) is an Islamic preacher from Yemen. He left for Indonesia for business reasons. He took up arm during the revolutionary era (Mulyadi, 2003: 81). Like his fellows who come from Hadramaut, Umar Thalib is an activist of Al-Irsyad, an Islamic organization of Hadrami descents founded by Achmad Soorkati in 1914 (Kesheh, 1999: chapter 3).

[10] Persis is an Islamic modernist movement founded by Ahmad Hassan in Bandung. It has very puritanical orientation and strict religious interpretation based exclusively on Qur’an and Hadits. For detail account on Persis, see Howard M. Federspiel, Islam and Ideology in the Emerging Indonesian State: The Persatuan Islam (Persis), 1923 to 1957 (Leiden: Brill, 2001). Pesantren Persis Bangil is well known as a training centre for radical Muslim preachers (Sirozi, 2005: 94). On the other hand, LIPIA is a Saudi-funded institution and local branch of Imam Muhammad bin Saud University, Riyadh. With its status, LIPIA plays an important role in disseminating the salafi principles in Indonesia (International Crisis Group, 2004: 7-8).  

[11] Either in LIPIA or Maududi Institute, Jafar Umar Thalib involved in unending quarrel with his lecturers, so he decided to leave his formal studies. Both failures were credited to “rebellious” character of Jafar Umar Thalib (Sirozi, 2005: 93)

[12] There were a number of factions within the Afghan’s mujahidin that received funding from Saudi Arabia. Ja’far Umar Thalib joined with Jem’at al-Da’wa ila al-Qur’an wa Ahl-i Hadith, a strict salafi faction led by Jamil al-Rahman who applied the doctrine of takfir (apostasy). The doctrine requires Muslims to excommunicate any sovereign considered apostate (Hasan, 2002: 152, Sirozi: 2005: 90-1).

[13] Some Salafi-scholars to whom he learnt were Syaikh Muqbil bin Hadi al-Wadi’i of Yaman and Abdullah bin Baz.

[14]Bernhard Platzdasch, Radical or Reformist?: How Islamic Will Be the New Movements Make Indonesia? (October-December 2001 [cited 25 May).

[15]Laskar Jihad Kirim Tim Intelijen Ke Ambon (http://www.tempointeraktif.com, 2004 [cited 15 June 2005]).

[16] A full account about ibn Abdul Wahab and Wahabism, see Samira Haj, “Reordering Islamic Orthodoxy: Muhammad Ibn ‘Abdul Wahhab,” The Muslim World 92, no. 3/4 (2002). 333-70

[17] In Sunni tradition, as-salaf-as-salih refers to the three generations after the Prophet Muhammad: sahabat (companion), tabi’in (follower) and tabi’it-tabi’in (follower of the follower). Those considered as an exemplary for Islamic community.

[18]Azyumardi Azra, “Contemporary Islamic Militant Movements: Challenges to Democracy in Indonesia” (paper presented at the International Conference of the Future of Islam, Democracy, and Authoritarianism in the Muslim World, Jakarta, 6-7 December 2004).

[19] The declaration was broadcast by Radio SPMM (Voice of the Maluku Muslim Struggle) on 1-3 May 2002. See, Ja’far Umar Thalib’s Declaration of War (http://www.angelfire.com/rock/hotburrito/laskar/spmm010502.html, 2002 [cited 10 June 2005]).

[20] Central Axis was a broad coalition of Islamic political parties led by Amin Rais that refused to support either Habibie or Megawati for Presidency following the general election 1999.

[21] The ten voiders according to ibn Abdul Wahab are polytheism, using mediators for God, doubting that non-Muslims are disbelievers, judging by non-Islamic laws and believing there are superior to divine law, hating anything the Prophet Muhamad practiced, mocking Islam or the Prophet Muhamad, using or supporting magic, supporting or helping non-believers against Muslims, believing that someone has the right to stop practicing Islam, turning away from Islam by not studying or practicing it (Wiktorowicz, 2005: 81).

[22] Gatra, 15 January 2000

[23] Quoted from Ahmad Sumargono, Masalah Hubungan Diplomatik Dengan Israel (http://www.hamline.edu/apakabar/basisdata/1999/06/19/0042.html, 1999 [cited 29 May 2005]).

[24] “Pasukan Jihad Dari Dogelan,” Tempo, 23 April 2000.

[25] Gatra, 22 January 2000

[26]  Gatra, 22 January 2000

[27] “Pasukan Jihad Dari Dogelan.”

[28] “Dagang Politik Palu Arit,” Gatra, 8 April 2000.

[29] “Aksi Jalanan Mulai Terentang,” Gatra, 15 April 2000.

[30]“Kudeta Haram Hukumnya,” Gatra, 6 May 2000.

[31] “Kudeta Haram Hukumnya,”

[32] The clash between Abdurrahman Wahid and radical groups erupted following the Islamisation policy during the Suharto era and developed further since then. His criticism of the regime angered the so-called ’regimist Islam’ which supported Suharto and Habibi’s bid for presidency. See, Robert W. Hefner, Civil Islam: Muslim and Democratisation in Indonesia (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2000).

[33] The salafi scholars of whom Ja’far Umar Thalib requested a fatwa are Syaikh Abdul Mukhsin al-Abbad, Syaikh Ahmad An-Najmi, Syaikh Muqbil bin Hadi Al-Wadi’i, Syaikh Rabi’ bin Hadi Al-Madkholi, Syaikh Shalih As-Suhaimi, Syaikh Wahid Al-Jabiri, and Syaikh Muhammad bin Hadi Al-Madkhali. See, Fatwa Para Ulama Tentang Jihad Di Maluku (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/laskarjihad/message/73, 2000 [cited 29 May 2005]).

[34] The Hadrami people migrated to Indonesia (East Netherlands-Indies) in the 18th century for business reasons because of the poor condition of their homeland (Kesheh, 1999: chapter 1). For a detailed account of the Hadramaut region, see D. Van Der Meulen & Dr. H. Von Wissmann, Hadramaut: Some of Its Mysteries Unveiled (Leiden: Brill, 1964).

[35] For a full account of the emergence of Hadrami’s identity in Indonesia, see Natalie Mobini-Kesheh, The Hadrami Awakening: Community and Identity in the Netherlands East Indies, 1900-1942 (Ithaca, New York: Southeast Asia Program-Cornell University, 1999).

[36] Al Irsyad has been long associated with Hadrami descendants in Indonesia since its founding. Al Irsyad (literally means guidance) was founded following the conflict between “reformers” and “Alawi” over the privilege status of “sayyid” (the Prophet’s descendant). While “Alawi” maintains Jam’iat Khair as its primary institution, “reformers” has Al Irsyad as its rival (Kesheh, 1999: chapter 5).

[37] A full account of Syaikh Muqbil’s biography can be seen on Biografi Syaikh Muqbil (I-Vi) (http://www.salafi.or.id, 2005 [cited 13 June 2005]).

[38] Previously, DDII was the main, if not the only channel of Saudi’s funding in Indonesia. It became possible since the involvement of DDII’s founder, Muhamad Natsir, in Rabithah “Alam Islami” (World Muslim League). Backed-up by Saudi and Kuwaiti funding, DDII sponsored the dissemination of salafi-wahabi and Ikhwanul Muslimin ideas through publications (Media Dakwah and books), sermons, etc  (Bruinessen, 2002). DDII initiated the so-called “tarbiyah” movement which spread in campuses throughout Indonesia (Fox, 2004: 9-11)

[39] Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab, the founder of the salafi-wahabi movement, worked hand in hand with Muhammad bin Saud in building the Al Saud dynasty. He provided a religious justification for Saud’s political ambition to exercise control throughout the region that was to become Saudi Arabia.

[40] Syaikh bin Baz issued a fatwa that justified the presence of “kafir” (American) troops in Saudi Arabia to fight against Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. See, Abu Usamah bin Rawiyah An Nawawi, Sururiyyah Musuh Para Ulama (http://www.salafy.or.id, 2005 [cited 14 June 2005]).  

[41] “Sururi” refers to Muhamad Surur Zainal Abidin, a former Moslem Brotherhood member, who returned to the salafi fold, but in the eyes of the pure salafists, is still considered a deviant. SeeXX

[42]Martin van Bruinessen, Genealogies of Islamic Radicalism in Post-Suharto Indonesia (2001 [cited 16 June 2005]).

[43] Given the fact that the holy Qur’an is written in Arabic affirms the strong position of Arabs in the transmission process of Islamic discourse. The Sunni intellectual tradition asserts that mastering Arabic is one of the pre-requisites to determining whether someone has the authority to interpret the Qur’an and Hadits or not. Consequently, Arabs remain and will always play an important role in the transmission of Islamic discourses. The term “transnational communications” is quite similar to what Dhofier identified as “intellectual chains of Islamic knowledge and learning” in understanding the role of the kyai and more importantly, networks among Javanese kyai (1998).

[44]Azyumardi Azra, The Making of Islamic Studies (http://www.thejakartapost.com/detaileditorial.asp?fileid=20010104.C02&irec=2, 2001 [cited 15 June 2005]).

[45] The salafist has strong allegiance to those considered as “Imam Ahlussunnah” to whom the salafist refers as the model of exemplary generations. See, Muhammad Umar As Sewed, Mengenal Para Imam Ahlussunnah (Ahli Hadits) (http://www.salafy.or.id, 2003 [cited 15 June 2005]).

[46] Abdurrahman Wahid describes it as pribumisasi Islam, that is, Islam with strong Indonesian cultural features. For detail, see Mujiburrahman, “Islam and Politics in Indonesia: The Political Thought of Abdurrahman Wahid,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 10, no. 3 (1999), p. 339-52

[47] The Prophet’s saying as quoted by Imam Abu Hurairah and Ibnu Mas’ud. See, Sewed, Mengenal Para Imam Ahlussunnah (Ahli Hadits) ([cited).

[48] The salafi community seems to have no hesitation  in charging someone/groups as “sesat dan menyesatkan” or committing apostasy. Salafists can easily label someone as “sururi/sururriyah”, “hizbiyah”, and “ikhwani”, that is those having a different perspective or opinion. This often results in conflict within and among the salafist community (ICG, 2004). See also, Muhammad Umar As Sewed, Sururiyyah Terus Melanda Muslimin Indonesia (http://www.salafy.or.id, 2004 [cited 14 June 2005]).     

[49]“Kudeta Haram Hukumnya.”

[50]Fatwa Para Ulama Tentang Jihad Di Maluku ([cited).

[51]“Indonesia Backgrounder: Why Salafism and Terrorism Mostly Don’t Mix,” (Brussels: International Crisis Group, 2004)., p. 17

[52] “Aksi Jalanan Mulai Terentang.”

[53] “Aksi Jalanan Mulai Terentang.”

[54] “Indonesia: Violence and Radical Muslims,” (Brussels: International Crisis Group, 2001), p.13

[55] There was speculation as to why the military and the police let Laskar Jihad go. Many believed that they had an interest in escalating the conflict to undermine the civilian government.

[56]Richard C. Paddock, “Laskar Jihad Leader Offers His Views,” Los Angeles Times, 24 September 2001.

[57] Sporadic unrest broke up in the so-called “Daerah Tapal Kuda”, strongholds of the traditionalist community (NU). 

[58] On the early morning of July 23 July 2001, the President issued a Presidential decree to freeze/suspend (?) the House of Representative, call for a new election, and ban Golkar Party (Malley, 2002: 126).

[59] “Menunggu Abu Lahab Digulung,” Gatra, 15 January 2000.

[60]“Menunggu Abu Lahab Digulung,” Gatra, 15 January 2000.

[61] “Menunggu Abu Lahab Digulung,”

[62] “Konsekuensi Jadi Presiden,” Gatra, 22 January 2000.

[63]Sewed, Sururiyyah Terus Melanda Muslimin Indonesia ([cited).

[64] “Polemik Kunjungan ke Ja’far: Haz Berkilah Hanya Kunjungi Sesama Muslim”, Suara Merdeka, 11 May 2002

[65]Hidayat Nur Wahid: Penangkapan Ja’far Umar Thalib Ketidakadilan Pemerintah (http://www.eramoslem.com, 2002 [cited 31 May 2005]).

[66] The decision to release Ja’far Umar Thalib was reportedly made following a deal between Ja’far Umar Thalib (represented by his lawyer, Eggy Sudjana) and Chief of National Police (General Da’i Bachtiar) in a meeting which was attended by Vice President Hamzah Haz in the Police Headquarters, Jakarta. Laskar Jihad Ditarik Dari Maluku, Polisi Janji Bebaskan Ja’far (http://www.tempointeraktif.com, 2002 [cited 14 June 2005]). However, this was strongly opposed by high ranks of FKAWJ. The press release from FKAWJ firmly stated that there was no deal between Ja’far Umar Thalib and the police or Vice President Hamzah Haz over withdrawal of Laskar Jihad from Maluku. See, “Wapres Dinilai Intervensi Proses Hukum,” Sinar Harapan, 8 May 2002.   

[67]Al Ustadz Qomar Sua’idi, Ja’far Umar Thalib Telah Meninggalkan Kita (http://www.salafy.or.id/print.php?id_artikel=664, 2004 [cited 16 June 2005]).









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Gatra, 15 January 2000


Gatra, 22 January 2000


Gatra, 8 April 2000


Gatra, 15 April 2000


Tempo, 23 April 2000


Suara Merdeka, 11 May 2002





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