Khilafatul Muslimin, an Islamist organisation in Indonesia, has tried but failed to influence public opinion. But the government should keep it on a tight leash.
On 29 May 2022, a motorcycle convoy roamed the streets of East Jakarta. Decked in green jackets, the group of motorcyclists held up posters and flags which read ‘Islamic Caliphate is the Ultimate Solution to Muslim Problems’. A video of the event went viral but unbeknownst to many, the convoy was Khilafatul Muslimin’s ‘routine programme’, held once every four months since 2018. A similar convoy occurred on the same day in Brebes, Central Java.
Subsequently, a high-ranking security officer at the Indonesian Anti-Terrorism Agency (BNPT), Brigadier General Ahmad Nurwakhid, warned the public of the danger posed by Khilafatul Muslimin. He explained that Khilafatul Muslimin is promoting an ideology akin to those of banned Islamic organisations such as Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Indonesia Islamic State (NII) – that is, they all seek to establish an Islamic caliphate. Having said that, Khilafatul Muslimin is unlikely to pose a threat to the Indonesian state — not in the short run at least.
To begin with, Khilafatul Muslimin (literally ‘Muslim caliphate’) has a small support base. Abdul Qadir Hasan Baraja founded the organisation in Bandar Lampung, Lampung province in 1997 as part of his efforts ‘to return to Islam, and as well as to reject Western democracy’. Headquartered in Bandar Lampung, it has expanded its membership to many other parts of Indonesia. Although the organisation has been active since 1997, it has repeatedly failed to draw widespread attention. In spite of Khilafatul Muslimin’s claims to have branches in 68 regencies, most of these branches have less than 100 members each. One of its branches in West Manggarai has approximately 700 followers comprising mostly farmers. Against Indonesia’s population of 270 million, Khilafatul Muslimin is not more than a small organisation with limited influence. Other Islamic organisations such as HTI were more successful in mobilising the population, drawing more than 100,000 participants in some of their rallies, including one in 2015.
Khilafatul Muslimin has also been promoting beliefs against the secular Indonesian state and encouraging its members to flout state laws. Some members have been refusing to pay taxes, send their children to state-run schools or participate in elections.
One reason for Khilafatul Muslimin’s lack of appeal is that the organisation has never made any substantive initiatives to affect the state of Muslim and political affairs in Indonesia. HTI was capable of not only commanding a substantial public presence through its offline and online activities but also influencing Indonesian politics. In 2017, HTI, along with a vigilante organisation, the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI), was the key driving force behind the downfall of then Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was backed by Joko Widodo’s administration. The government disbanded HTI in July 2017, as it was deemed to threaten Pancasila, the state ideology. HTI also wielded strong influence in Indonesia’s social and political landscape, due to its success in cultivating an urban and highly-educated support base. It also established networks among Islamist organisations and with the mainstream media to further its cause. Conversely, Khilafatul Muslimin attracts membership from low-income individuals with low education levels. These citizens lack the requisite social, political and media networks for outreach. As a result, it is harder for Khilafatul Muslimin to influence the masses.
Nonetheless, the Indonesian government should still keep a close watch on Khilafatul Muslimin as the group may potentially threaten Indonesia’s security in the long run. The group may become a risk if the government fails to address the religious radicalism and income disparity. In particular, some of the executives and members of Khilafatul Muslimin have a track record of radicalisation and involvement in terrorism. Its founder, Abdul Qadir Hasan Baraja, was convicted and imprisoned twice for his role in terror activities, including in the Borobudur Temple bombing in the mid-1980s. One of Khilafatul Muslimin’s members was arrested for his role in terror activities in 2019; while other members were arrested on the same grounds, but their identities were not disclosed. Apart from its radical religious ideas, Khilafatul Muslimin has also been promoting beliefs against the secular Indonesian state and has encouraged its members to flout state laws. Some members have been refusing to pay taxes, send their children to state-run schools or participate in elections. Khilafatul Muslimin has also declared that it rejects ‘a state system that is not based on Al-Quran, and accuses other systems as infidels’. This is a rejection of the secular Indonesian state which is based on Pancasila.
In sum, Khilafatul Muslimin poses a much smaller threat compared to other radical Islamic organisations. However, the Indonesian state must constantly monitor the activities of the group to ensure that it remains a blip on the radar. Resorting to hard tactics such as banning Khilafatul Muslimin will be counterproductive at the moment; the opposition and Muslim conservatives will likely condemn the government for being ‘Islamophobic’. Rather, the government should adopt a softer approach. It should encourage Muslim ulema (Islamic scholars) to address this issue by explaining to the public the danger that the group poses to social and national security. Moreover, the authorities should step up efforts to arrest members of Khilafatul Muslimin if they violate laws. On 7 June 2022, Abdul Qadir Hasan Baraja was arrested, among other things, for allegedly violating laws on community organisations. Investigations are still ongoing, but if the process is lawful, it would provide a strong deterrent effect for other activists of the radical movement. In short, it would be better to keep the group under pressure than to manage the after-effects of their undesirable activities.
A'an Suryana was Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and is lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Universitas Islam Internasional Indonesia.