Cancellation of Hijrahfest signals concern over changes in religious authority

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Participants at a Hijrahfest “Roadshow” event in Medan, North Sumatra, in 2019. Photo by Septianda Perdana for Antara.

After hosting successful events in 2018 and 2019, ‘Born Again’ Muslim and former MTV VJ Arie Untung and his team had big plans for ‘Hijrahfest’ in Surabaya from October 14-16, 2022.

Hijrahfest bills itself as a gathering for boom-goers hijrah movement in Indonesia. Hijrah refers to the migration of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina. But in Indonesia, the hijrah trend generally refers to nominal Muslims adopting (or “migrating to”) more pious lifestyles. Followers of the movement typically wear Islamic clothing and often pepper their conversations with Islamic words to emphasize their Muslimness.

Celebrities like Arie Untung, Teuku Wisnu, Irwansyah, Dude Herlino, Dimas Seto, Natta Reza and Mario Irwinsyah, have been prominent supporters of the movement and regularly publicize their shift to more conservative interpretations of Islam to their millions of followers. followers on social networks.

Hijrahfest 2022 was supposed to mark the return of in-person activities after Covid-19 forced the festival online in 2020 and 2021. Entrance tickets were sold out and small vendors selling halal lifestyle products were already on display. gathered at the East Java Convention Center, Jatim Exhibition.

But a day before the event, Hijrahfest was canceled.

The event was canceled following major protests from senior Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) officials, including Akh Muzaki, the secretary of NU East Java, and Ahsanul Haq, a deputy head of NU East Java and head of the branch of East Java from the Indonesian Council. Ulama (MUI).

They complained that the NU and MUI logos had been used in publicity material for the event without permission. Akh Muzaki also expressed concern that the event could feature appearances by Islamic preachers who were previously members of the banned Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI). He said HTI espoused views incompatible with Pancasila state ideology and the concept of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI).

This issue could have been resolved with better communication between Arie Untung’s team and NU East Java leadership. Indeed, Arie Untung soon realized his mistake and issued a public apology to NU and MUI. He claimed his team was in talks with NU and MUI, but admitted their logos were used before formal approval was secured.

This unethical conduct by the organizers, while unprofessional, seems somewhat out of step with the strident dismissal of the event by these senior NU officials. A more likely explanation is that the mainstream NU feels threatened by the growing prominence of the more conservative hijrah movement.

The growth of the Indonesian middle class and increased use of social media has provided fertile ground for renewed interest in Islamic lifestyles. Preachers like Hanan Attaki, Handy Bonnie, Evie Effendi, Abdul Somad and Adi Hidayat have capitalized on this, attracting huge numbers of young Muslims by taking a pop culture approach to propagating Islamic teachings (da’wa). This type of approach is particularly popular among adherents of the hijrah movement and young urban Muslims, who seek clear guidelines on what is permitted (halal) and prohibited (haram) in their daily lives.

These preachers are not closely affiliated with major Indonesian Islamic organizations such as NU and Muhammadiyah, and generally promote more conservative interpretations of Islam. Some, like Hanan Attaki, Abdul Somad and Adi Hidayat, have graduated from Islamic universities in the Middle East and rely on their training to attract their audiences.

Along with the rise of new religious influencers, Indonesia has also seen other conservative movements gain strength, including the HTI, Salafist-influenced groups and the Tarbiyah movement. Although they have different religious orientations, they have all challenged the dominance of mainstream groups like NU. Conservative activists in these groups actively recruited new supporters on college campuses. In addition, some Salafist-linked groups – supported in part by funds from Saudi Arabia – have established Islamic educational institutions in the regions of Central Java, East Java and South Sulawesi, expanding still the basis of the Salafist movement.

Historically, the traditionalist NU has dominated regional areas of Java, especially East and Central Java. Most of their preachers favor older approaches to da’wa, involving in-depth exploration of Islamic texts. A sign of the NU’s continued influence in some areas is the emergence of grassroots tensions between NU members and Salafi groups, and the recent rejection of visits by conservative preachers Hanan Attaki and Felix Siauw to parts of the country. east of Java.

But many other Indonesian Muslims would be happy to invite these new conservative preachers to their areas. And NU leaders clearly view them as a formidable threat to their authority.

This tension will continue to grow as the digital divide narrows. A 2019 survey by the Indonesian Association of Internet Service Providers (APJII) found that internet penetration was 74.1% in urban areas and 61.6% in rural areas (it is this is the most recent year for which an urban-rural breakdown is available). The increase in Internet penetration may well lead to further changes in religious authority at the regional level.

Either way, NU’s efforts to shut down the Hijrahfest seem to have failed. Yes, strong statements from senior NU officials forced the effective cancellation of Hijrahfest. But it also galvanized supporters of the hijrah movement. The Hijrahfest Instagram account, for example, was flooded with expressions of support from followers, many of whom presented the cancellation as a test or lesson on the path to “true” Islam.

NU has long had a close relationship with the political elite and has become accustomed to wielding some influence and power over the Indonesian Muslim community. Rather than treating these new Islamic authorities as enemies, NU should think about why it struggles to attract the interest of young Muslims. NU clearly needs to adjust its approach so that it better reflects the tastes and lifestyles of young Muslims.

Instead of seeking to muzzle these new religious authorities, NU should consider working more closely with them. NU is one of the oldest religious organizations in Indonesia and has an immense wealth of Islamic knowledge and experience. NU leaders should use these assets to encourage these new religious influencers to become more accepting of Indonesia’s diverse religious communities and, in particular, traditional understandings of Islam.



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