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Survey results reaffirm trend of growing conservatism in Indonesia

SINGAPORE — A large percentage of Indonesians support women donning the hijab and the implementation of Syariah law, a nationwide survey has shown, amid signs that secular Indonesia is becoming more conservative.

Survey results reaffirm trend of growing conservatism in Indonesia

Women shopping for hijab at a traditional retail market in Jakarta. Almost 80 per cent of Muslim women surveyed wear the Islamic headscarf, with the figure rising together with education and income. Photo: Reuters

SINGAPORE — A large percentage of Indonesians support women donning the hijab and the implementation of Syariah law, a nationwide survey has shown, amid signs that secular Indonesia is becoming more conservative.

Although most of its more than 200 million Muslim population practises a moderate form of Islam, the survey commissioned by the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute found that 82 per cent of the 1,620 respondents considered the wearing of the hijab or Islamic headscarf, an important outward sign of Islamic religiosity for women.

The same sentiment prevails across those with both low and high education.

“Indeed, almost 80 per cent of Muslim women surveyed wear the hijab and, interestingly, it is becoming more common the higher the education and income, suggesting that the Islamic headscarf is getting more popular among Muslim women of higher social class,” said the survey report. “Thus, not only does it seem that wearing the hijab has become an accepted outward sign of Islamic religiosity for women in Indonesia, it may have also come to be associated with social status for Muslim women.”

The survey was conducted across all 34 Indonesian provinces between May 20 and 30 this year, after the Jakarta gubernatorial election. Muslims constitute 86.2 per cent of the sample.

A moderate, secular democracy with the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia in many ways provides a counterweight to the sectarian clashes and autocratic rule that have plagued Muslim countries in the Middle East. But, in recent years, radical Muslims who have been trying to turn Indonesia into a strict Islamic state have gradually gained influence.

Since 1998, with the introduction of democracy and the decentralisation of power to local authorities, more than 440 local ordinances have been adopted, imposing elements of Islamic law, or Syariah, such as requiring women to wear headscarves or restricting alcohol sales. The survey also found an overwhelming 91 per cent of Muslim respondents think there will be various benefits to the implementation of Syariah law, with 67 per cent saying the most important benefit will be safeguarding the moral fabric of society.

Only a mere 9.07 per cent of the respondents believe the Islamic law “benefits would be very limited or null”.

“In other words, Syariah law is seen, not so much as the imposition of a certain socio-legal system, but as a measure for safeguarding moral values in society,” said the survey report by Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute researchers Diego Fossati, Hui Yew-Foong and Siwage Dharma Negara.

At the same time, the respondents felt the greatest challenges to Islam are not external, such as Christianisation or non-Muslim leaders becoming too powerful, but rather, factors that challenge the internal integrity of Islam, such as divisive debates and Islamic leaders’ involvement in politics.

“In short, it appears that what are perceived as challenges to Islam are not so much external factors, but factors that challenge the internal integrity of Islam,” added the survey report.

The survey results also echoed some of the key issues that cropped up during the hotly contested Jakarta gubernatorial election.

That saw former education and culture minister Anies Baswedan — a Muslim — winning with 58 per cent of the votes versus 42 per cent for incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese and Christian minority, backed by President Joko Widodo.

Religious tensions were an undercurrent in the election campaign, with Purnama currently serving a two-year jail sentence for blasphemy over comments he made last year that many said were insulting to Islam.

The survey also found that Mr Widodo’s approval rating hovers around 68 per cent. This figure is similar to other polls, including one conducted by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting in June this year.

The survey found that 63 per cent of Indonesians support punishing blasphemy against Islam. Of these, 58 per cent also felt it important to vote a Muslim leader into office, coinciding with the level of support that Mr Baswedan received. “This result supports anecdotal evidence from the electoral campaign and anti-Purnama rallies that the blasphemy charges were considered serious not just by Jakarta voters but also by Muslims across the country. This suggests that these issues have currency beyond Jakarta and the gubernatorial election,” said the report.

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