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Laskar Jihad

By:
Etin Anwar
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Laskar Jihad

Laskar Jihad (the Jihad Paramilitary Force) emerged in Indonesia in the context of political reform, religious violence in Maluku province (the Molucca Islands), and the founding of the Forum Komunikasi Ahlus Sunnah Wal-Jamaah (FKAWJ, Sunnī Communication Forum). Suharto's descent from Indonesia's political stage in May 1998 after thirty years of patriarchal and authoritarian rule shook the economic, national, and political stability of the country. Many politically oriented Islamic groups and movements emerged as a force for democracy and civil society. The FKAWJ was established on February 14, 1999, in Solo in response to the crises that befell Muslims in Ambon, Poso, and Maluku. On the eve of Idul Fitr (Arabic, ʿĪd al-Fiṭr), January 19, 1999, a mob of Christians had attacked Muslims who were praying in the mosque. The conflict claimed lives and resulted in burnt houses, banks, schools, cars, markets, and sacred places.

Born in Malang on December 29, 1961, Jaʿfar Umar Thalib, the founder of both FKAWJ and Laskar Jihad, was exposed to Islam as a young boy under the aegis of his father, the founder of Al-Irsyad (Arabic, al-Irshād, guidance) pesantren (Islamic boarding school) and was educated at a Salafī-Wahhābī-oriented institution in Jakarta. Granted a scholarship from the Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia (DDII, Indonesian Council for Islamic Mission), Thalib continued his studies at the Maududi Institute in Lahore, Pakistan where his exposure to Salafī thought increased. In 1987–1989, he joined the Afghan war against the Soviet Union in an expression of Muslim solidarity. Thalib met mujāhidīn from all over the world, including Osama Bin Laden. His organization was not associated with Bin Laden or with al-Qaʿida, however, because Thalib was drawn to the Salafī-oriented Jamāʿat al-Daʿwah ilā al-Qurʿān wa-Ahl al-Ḥadīth faction of the mujāhidīn. From Afghanistan he returned to Indonesia and headed the Al-Irsyad pesantren in Salatiga, Java. Not satisfied with his new appointment, he traveled to Saudi Arabia and Yemen to consolidate his ties with Salafī-oriented scholars in the Middle East. He returned to Indonesia and established a pesantren in Yogyakarta. By this time, his Salafī and Wahhābī thoughts were crystallized and were shaping his views on Islam and its relationship with the state.

As Laskar Jihad was grounded in the tradition of Ahlus Sunnah Wal-Jamaah, it gained support from all over Indonesia. It had about 20,000 registered members at its height, the majority of whom were in their twenties and thirties. Membership in Laskar Jihad started with the regular Salafī-oriented religious meetings in various cities in Indonesia, and the FKAWJ trained the religious cadres in tawḥīd (the unity of God) at several pesantren affiliated with Thalib. While the members of Laskar Jihad were being recruited and were receiving paramilitary training in Bogor and Yogyakarta, Laskar Jihad officials sought permission from the government to engage in a physical and revolutionary jihād in Ambon, Central Sulawesi, and Maluku. Though the FKAWJ actively sought the state's intervention in the Maluku and Ambon crises, the Indonesian government led by Bachruddin Jusuf Habibie (May 1998–October 1999) and Abdurrahman Wahid (October 1999–July 2001) failed to resolve the problem. The FKAWJ took the matter into its hands and established Laskar Jihad as its military wing. Salafī-Wahhābī scholars in Saudi Arabia and Yemen issued seven fatwās (religious opinions) that rendered jihād in Maluku an obligation for individual Muslims (farḍ ʿayn) because the government failed to resolve the conflict.

While Laskar Jihad was established to aid Muslims in the conflict areas, its general purpose was to embody the virtues of ahl al-sunnah wa-al-jamāʿah (those who follow the sunnah of the Prophet and his community) in all aspects of life in order to bring Muslims back to pristine Islam based on the Qurʿān and the sunnah. Sunnah here refers not only to the tradition as exemplified by the Prophet Muhammad but also to al-salaf al-ṣāliḥ (virtuous early Muslim scholars). In the organization's view, improvement of the individual would eventually prepare the Muslim community for the implementation of Islam at all levels. This Salafī ideology is widely shared by Darul Islam, Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defense Front, formed in 1998), and Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (Mujahidin Council of Indonesia, formed in 2002). While these organizations demand the establishment of an Islamic state, Laskar Jihad continued to profess loyalty to the Indonesian government, though it did call for the application of sharīʿah as put forward at the Musyawarah Kerja Nasional (National Working Consultation) in May 2002, a meeting attended by the representatives of Laskar Jihad (formally FKAWJ), government officials including the Vice President Hamzah Haz and national prominent figures. This goal was to be accomplished within the framework the unity of the Republic of Indonesia. It is within this context of defending the integrity of the nation that Laskar Jihad sent its cadres to Maluku and Papua, but some have charged its members with anti-Christian activities in Poso, Maluku, and Ambon.

On October 5, 2002, the executive committee of the FKAWJ disbanded Laskar Jihad because it no longer served the original purpose of aiding Muslims in conflict areas. Laskar Jihad and its parent organization, the FKAWJ, reoriented its mission from a paramilitary to a socioreligious movement with the emphasis on dakwah (missionary work), education, and heath care.

See also ABDURRAHMAN WAHID; INDONESIA; and SALAFī GROUPS.

Bibliography

  • Abuza, Zachary. Militant Islam in Southeast Asia: Crucible of Terror. Boulder, Colo., 2003.
  • Hasan, Noorhaidi. Laskar Jihad: Islam, Militancy, and the Quest for Identity in Post-New Order Indonesia. Ithaca, N.Y., 2006.
  • Heffner, Robert W.“Islam and the Nation in the Post-Suharto Era.” In The Politics of Post-Suharto Indonesia, edited by Adam Schwarz and Johnathan Paris, pp. 40–72. New York, 1999.
  • Jamhari, and Jahroni, Jajang. Gerakan Salafi Radikal di Indonesia. Jakarta, 2004.
  • Mulyadi, Sukidi. “Violence under the Banner of Religion: The Case of Laskar Jihad and Laskar Kristus.”Studia Islamika10, no. 2 (2003): 75–110.
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