By Dandy Koswaraputra
Indonesian police in the past several days have arrested five members of a little-known group espousing an Islamic caliphate – a concept that goes against the Muslim-majority country’s state ideology – including its leader and the main propagandist, who was arrested Monday.
The suspected members of the Khilafatul Muslimin group were taken into custody following a public outcry over a large rally that it staged in Jakarta last month.
It was not immediately known what criminal charges the alleged propagandist was facing after his arrest. On June 7, the group’s leader and founder was arrested on charges of violating a 2017 law banning organizations that oppose Pancasila, Indonesia’s five-pillared ideology.
Khilafatul Muslimin is a “threat to the Pancasila ideology,” Irfan Idris, spokesman for the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), told BenarNews.
Opinion about Khilafatul Muslimin is divided. Some call it a harmless group, and others call it dangerous because many of its members come from the Islamic State of Indonesia, or NII, dozens of whose members have been arrested by police in recent months. In the latest arrest, the suspect, whom police identified only by the initials A.S., was picked up in Mojokerto, East Java, on charges of propagating the caliphate doctrine in schools affiliated with the group, said Senior Commissioner Endra Zulpan, the spokesman for Jakarta police.
A.S. is “responsible for indoctrinating … to convince others that the caliphate can replace the Pancasila ideology,” Endra said in a statement to reporters. Pancasila espouses the belief in one god, humanity, unity, democracy, and social justice.
The suspect is the fifth member of Khilafatul Muslimin to be arrested by police since last week.
Last Tuesday, police arrested the group’s founder, Abdul Qadir Hasan Baraja, in Lampung. He faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.
Abdul Qadir’s arrest followed motorbike rallies in Jakarta, West Java and Central Java on May 29, where members waved flags and posters in support of a caliphate revival, with slogans such as “herald the revival of the caliphate.”
The convoy caused a public uproar and prompted calls for police to take action.
On Saturday, police found 2.3 billion rupiah (U.S. $156,000) in cash during a raid of the organization’s headquarters in Bandar Lampung, Endra said.
Irfan of the BNPT said the agency had monitored the group closely in the wake of the pro-caliphate rally.
Ahmad Nurwakhid, the agency’s director of prevention, claimed last week that Khilafatul Muslimin had around 20,000 followers.
He said most of the group’s leaders and followers were former members of the NII, but a Khilafatul Muslimin leader in Bekasi, a town east of Jakarta, denied that his group was seeking to establish an Islamic state, local media reported.
“There’s no point in establishing a state. Our doctrine is that [Islam] is a blessing for the entire universe. What is a state for?” the Kompas.com news portal quoted Abu Salma as saying last week.
‘Similar to that of Sufism’
Indonesia, the world’s largest majority-Islamic country, has sporadically been hit since the early 2000s by deadly terrorist attacks blamed on Islamic militants, including the 2002 Bali bombings in which 202 people were killed. More recent attacks have been attributed to Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, a domestic network affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) militant group.
Khilafatul Muslimin followers see the caliphate as an Islamic doctrine, but do not interpret it in the way IS or the outlawed Hizb Ut Tahrir Indonesia did, said Al Chaidar, a security expert at Malikussaleh University in Lhokseumawe.
“Khilafatul Muslimin interprets the caliphate not as a state and not in terms of power politics, so this organization’s understanding is actually similar to that of Sufism,” Al Chaidar told BenarNews.
He said that the organization did not pose a threat to the country’s national integrity.
“Because they believe if they violate Pancasila, they commit a sin and will go to hell,” said Al Chaidar.
Al Chaidar called the arrests unlawful, saying that authorities were pandering to “secular and oligarchic groups.”
But another organization, the NGO Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said action against intolerant groups was necessary to prevent them from evolving into bigger threats.
“Such groups will continue to grow when the government … is not doing a good job in handling intolerance, radicalism and terrorism,” Hendardi, the institute’s chair who goes by one name, told BenarNews.