A lot has been written of late on the rising relationship between Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), notably its financial facets. Over the previous 5 years, the UAE has emerged as the biggest Gulf-state investor in Indonesia, with bilateral commerce projected to develop from the US$4 billion in 2021 to US$10 billion by 2030. Some US$44.6 billion in future Emirati funding has been promised, together with joint improvement of main infrastructure, power and IT tasks.
Much less consideration has been paid to the burgeoning spiritual relations between the 2 nations, particularly a professed shared dedication to combatting radicalisation, selling Islamic moderation and deepening inter-faith understanding. Such commentary as has appeared in media and scholarly retailers has typically been beneficial, regularly citing the complementarity of Indonesia’s wealthy custom of spiritual tolerance with the Emirates’ well-funded worldwide applications on peace and cross-faith dialogue.
Little crucial scrutiny has been given to the small print of spiritual relations between Indonesia and the UAE. Behind the rigorously crafted statements and stage-managed occasions lie a tangle of home political and strategic pursuits, not all of that are shared, and nor are they essentially prone to lead to larger spiritual moderation in both nation, not to mention globally.
Right here I argue that Indonesia–Emirates spiritual diplomacy has a number of drivers, not all of which accord with liberal notions of moderation. Moderation is often outlined because the avoidance of extremes and show of self-restraint and reasonableness. A key issue right here is that this can be a relational definition, in that moderation is outlined vis-à-vis behaviour or views which might be deemed extreme. Deciding what’s extreme or unreasonable is commonly extremely subjective. Is the propagation of puritanical spiritual views excessive or pious, for instance? Are requires main modifications to a political system dangerously extreme or respectable remark?
Sure facets of the moderation agenda put ahead by Indonesia and the UAE do enjoin spiritual openness and alternate, whereas contesting faith-based militancy. However different facets level to basically excessive intentions, notably associated to the suppression of home political dissent. Certainly, one purpose of the diplomacy of moderation is to legitimise autocratic state actions that curtail the rights of civil society teams in each international locations.
The expansion in bilateral spiritual diplomacy
Within the more and more heat private relationship that has grown between Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and UAE President Muhammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan (generally shortened to MBZ), faith comes second solely to financial issues as a function of their public utterances and coverage initiatives.
When the 2 leaders meet, they repeatedly reward their respective nations’ efforts to fight radicalism and to strengthen spiritual moderation. Throughout his 2021 go to to Abu Dhabi, Jokowi mentioned: “I see that spiritual moderation and variety within the UAE are broadly revered. And that’s the space of cooperation we want to discover extra as a result of we each share the closeness within the imaginative and prescient and character of average Islam that propagates tolerance.”
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This has been accompanied with bilateral agreements and cooperation to advertise counter-radicalisation efforts and advocacy of spiritual tolerance. In 2020, the 2 governments signed a memorandum of understanding, the paramount level of which was to “promote ideas of spiritual moderation, values of tolerance and elevating public consciousness of the dangers of extremism.” Specific reference was made by Indonesian officers to wasatiyyah, an Arabic time period that means “centre” or “center”, however which can also be usually used to indicate moderation.
Over the previous three years, greater than 200 Indonesian imams have been despatched to UAE to take up interim roles in main mosques and to “examine how Islam in UAE is totally tolerant and contributes to creating peace in society”. Indonesian politicians and Islamic students have additionally participated repeatedly in worldwide spiritual conferences run by the Emiratis and a variety of eminent Indonesian lecturers have been appointed to the advisory boards of UAE Islamic establishments.
Commanding probably the most headlines has been UAE’s “mosque diplomacy”. Not too long ago, building was accomplished on a lavish US$20 million duplicate of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Surakarta, Jokowi’s house metropolis. MBZ and Jokowi formally opened the mosque in November 2022, previous to the G20 summit in Bali, to which Jokowi had invited MBZ to be a visitor of honour. The mosque has been described by native officers as a “pioneer of spiritual moderation” which helps “handle the up to date society’s vulnerability to fragmentation”. The UAE can also be at present erecting a big mosque in Jokowi’s honour in Abu Dhabi.
At first sight, there seems to be a lot to applaud in these nearer spiritual ties between Indonesia and UAE. Indonesia has not beforehand had sturdy relations with any of the Gulf states, excluding Saudi Arabia, and even these have usually been strained resulting from maltreatment of Indonesian home employees and accusations that Saudi spiritual affect fuels intolerance and jihadist violence in Indonesia. The UAE’s formidable worldwide spiritual moderation program brings the prospect of elevating Indonesia’s profile and clout as a supply of progressive considering on spiritual reform.
Indonesia’s Islamic delicate energy
Jokowi has all the time had a supremely pragmatic method to overseas affairs, viewing diplomacy as being primarily about producing financial alternatives for Indonesia, whether or not or not it’s attracting overseas capital and expertise or promoting Indonesian items and companies overseas.. However faith—and particularly spiritual moderation—has been a significant secondary think about his worldwide interactions. In actual fact, it has turn into a key type of Indonesian “delicate energy” that he has persistently championed throughout his presidency.
Over the previous half century, Indonesia has loved a fame overseas as a tolerant and harmonious Muslim-majority nation. Following the 11 September 2001 assaults on New York and Washington DC, and the following “World Struggle on Terror”, Indonesia attracted Western consideration as one of many few Muslim-majority democratic nations on the planet that proudly proclaimed its moderation, and was thus feted for instance from which different Muslim international locations ought to be taught.
Jokowi’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s most diplomatically adept president, traded closely on this average picture and strode the world extolling his nation’s spiritual virtues. Main Indonesian Islamic organisations additionally sought to profit by in search of funding from overseas donors for his or her “average” academic and outreach applications, together with scholarships, cash for colleges and improvement of anti-radicalisation tasks.
Quickly after changing into president in 2014, Jokowi took up the Islamic moderation theme in a extra particular approach than Yudhoyono. He adopted the Islam Nusantara (Archipelagic Islam) idea formulated by Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation. The idea’s essence was that Indonesian Islam had distinctive and commendable traits as a result of it married native tradition with Islamic authorized and theological traditions. NU supposed the idea to problem what it noticed as a rising “Arabisation” of Indonesian Islam pushed by the assumption that Center Japanese Islam was superior to, or extra pure than, indigenous variants. Jokowi gave prominence to Islam Nusantara in quite a few speeches overseas for a number of years (albeit with out mentioning Arabisation) and he additionally instructed his overseas ministry to include Islam Nusantara into its official messaging.
This had each political and diplomatic motivations. NU is Jokowi’s chief base of help amongst Muslim voters, a majority of whom voted for his opponent, Prabowo Subianto within the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections. With out NU’s backing, Jokowi would probably have misplaced each races.
A grateful Jokowi was blissful to expound NU’s Islam Nusantara and lift the organisation’s profile globally. NU had lengthy felt that it had far much less worldwide consideration than it deserved, given its measurement and the standard of its Islamic scholarship, and subsequently welcomed having its concepts offered overseas. Jokowi most likely additionally felt that Indonesia’s spiritual moderation was a pure diplomatic promoting level amongst Western leaders preoccupied with the specter of Islamic militancy.
After a number of years, Jokowi shifted the main focus of his moderation messaging as the restrictions of Islam Nusantara grew to become obvious. Most Indonesian Islamic organisations had been cool on the idea, seeing it as too NU-centric and never consultant of their very own spiritual views and practices. Furthermore, doubts arose concerning the applicability of Islam Nusantara to different Muslim societies.
In 2018 Jokowi signalled a change of tack by appointing Din Syamsuddin, the previous chairman of Muhammadiyah, NU’s nice rival, to a brand new place of Particular Presidential Envoy for Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation. A convention of worldwide students was organised in Indonesia in the course of that yr, which endorsed “Islam Wasatiyyah” as a pivotal idea for selling peace and tolerance. The time period wasatiyyah had the benefit of already being in widespread worldwide utilization and acceptable to a variety of Muslim states and actions. Thereafter, Jokowi and his officers made frequent reference to Islam Wasatiyyah, thereby permitting Indonesia to extra simply align with worldwide Islamic discourses.
The election of Yahya Cholil Staquf as NU chairman in late 2021 has seen Jokowi once more present sturdy favour to NU as a supply of spiritual diplomacy. Yahya, who has lengthy been near Jokowi and is a member of the president’s advisory council, had been diligently pursuing constructing worldwide networks over a number of years, utilizing numerous ideas, the newest of which known as Humanitarian Islam.
Essentially the most controversial a part of the Humanitarian Islam idea is its name for thorough-going reform of Islamic jurisprudence as a method of delegitimatising radical interpretations and creating extra tolerant and irenic understandings. Yahya persuaded Jokowi to help a brand new spiritual dialogue initiative often known as the Non secular Discussion board 20 (R20) within the run as much as the G20 summit in Bali in November 2022, of which Indonesia was the chair. Beneficiant funding for the occasion was secured from Saudi Arabia’s Muslim World League.
This determination was controversial because the R20 displaced the long-established US-based Interfaith Discussion board 20 (IF20) which had preceded annual G20 conferences since 2014. Opinion is split inside officialdom and civil society concerning the result of the R20, and there’s now intense competitors between R20 and IF20 to organise the 2023 pre-G20 spiritual discussion board in New Delhi. Jokowi has sought to strengthen the R20’s bid by making NU the everlasting organiser. If the R20 is unsuccessful, it could be a blow to Indonesia’s efforts to position itself on the centre of worldwide spiritual diplomacy.
The UAE’s average makeover
The Emirates, like Indonesia, regards the financial facet of the bilateral relationship as an important, however in its case, the nexus between spiritual and financial points is way extra tightly interwoven than is the case for Indonesia. The UAE is pursuing a coverage of financial transformation to be able to create a thriving, sustainable post-fossil fuel-based financial system. This not solely includes diversifying UAE’s predominantly oil-based financial system by attracting and creating a variety of latest industries—resembling IT, clear power expertise, monetary companies and defence manufacturing—but additionally making a cosmopolitan and multi-cultural society which is attractive for expatriates who will carry the mandatory experience to allow sweeping financial restructuring.
The UAE has pursued a “Look East” coverage for the previous decade, inserting larger concentrate on Asia. Indonesia, the biggest financial system in Southeast Asia and with prospects of changing into one of many world’s prime 5 economies within the subsequent decade or two, presents a horny choice to the Emirates.
Faith is a key a part of the Emirates’ makeover. MBZ, the principle architect of this this course of, is set to switch the his nation’s picture as a conventional, quite puritanical Islamic society with one that’s open, pluralistic and welcoming of various faiths and cultures. An formidable program has been applied over the previous 15 years to attain this, inserting specific emphasis on interfaith outreach and Islamic moderation. The UAE has opened diplomatic relations with Israel as a part of the 2020 Abraham Accords and is now developing an enormous multi-billion-dollar Abrahamic Household Home in Abu Dhabi which is able to function a Catholic church, a synagogue and a mosque—all on an opulent scale. It describes the undertaking as a manifestation of “Widespread Humanity”. The Emirates can also be constructing massive Hindu and Sikh temples and has funded a succession of worldwide interfaith conferences and initiatives.
Establishing itself as a reputable voice for moderation has been tougher for the Emirates because it lacks home-grown ulema (Islamic students) and establishments of excessive standing within the Muslim world. Consequently, it has needed to recruit respected ulema from overseas and kind new organisations able to elevating UAE’s spiritual profile. Its chief recruits have been Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah, a Mauritanian scholar; his pupil Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, a outstanding US-based scholar; and Sheikh al-Habib Ali al-Jifri, a Yemeni Sufi (mystical) scholar.
New establishments adopted quickly after. In 2013 the Discussion board for Selling Peace in Muslim Societies (FPPMS) was based, headed by bin Bayyah, with the purpose of constructing worldwide networks and producing Islamic scholarship supportive of moderation. Bin Bayyah has revealed extensively and travelled the world propounding his views on faith and peace in addition to right political behaviour for Muslims. The next yr, the Muslim Council of Elders was arrange, with the said goal of “extinguishing” sectarian and jihadist “fires” within the area and selling humanitarian values. Ali al-Jifri’s major automobile was the Tabah Basis, which challenges what it sees as “fundamentalist” thought utilizing Sufi beliefs. The UAE additionally based Hedayah, a global physique to counter violent extremism, and created a Ministry of Tolerance in 2016.
UAE spiritual engagement with Indonesia is a part of this effort to rebrand the Emirates; Indonesia’s fame as a stronghold of spiritual tolerance makes it a helpful accomplice. In impact, the Emirates is hoping that nearer and extra high-profile relations with Indonesia and different religiously various and tolerant nations will replicate positively upon it, serving to it to look extra like its worldwide companions.
Indonesia and the UAE even have similarities of their authorized and devotional practices that make worldwide partnerships simpler. The Emirates is commonly incorrectly seen as sharing the strict Wahhabist doctrine of its neighbour, Saudi Arabia—however it actually adheres to the mainstream Sunni regulation colleges and has sturdy Sufi traditions, as does Indonesia. UAE spiritual establishments such because the Muslim Council of Elders and the Tabah Basis straight contest Wahhabist doctrine, as additionally does NU in Indonesia, they usually deploy the time period Ahlul Sunnah wal Jamaah (“followers of the custom of Prophet Muhammad and the neighborhood”—in impact, mainstream Sunni Islam) in in search of to exclude Wahhabists and different perceived fundamentalist teams.
Indonesian Islamic students with experience in conventional jurisprudence thus have a lot in widespread with their Emirati counterparts. A number of senior Indonesian Islamic students, resembling Professor Quraish Shihab, maintain advisory board positions in Emirati Islamic organisations. In 2022, FPPMS bestowed on Jokowi the Hassan bin Ali Worldwide Peace Prize for his G20 management and likewise invited Indonesia’s vice chairman to be a keynote speaker at their annual Peace Discussion board. For its half, Indonesia ensured that Abdallah bin Bayyah spoke on the R20 convention in Bali and at different interfaith occasions.
Much less average than it appears?
To what diploma is the Indonesian and Emirati rhetoric of tolerance and moderation real? At one stage, each nations have a powerful curiosity in enjoining moderation. Indonesia has grappled with a severe terrorism downside because the early 2000s, and, though assaults have been uncommon in recent times, a lot is because of profitable police counter-terrorism operations quite than ebbing terrorist recruitment. The UAE’s terrorism menace is much less extreme however nonetheless current.
Whether or not the sorts of “civilisational” discourses favoured by the 2 governments can have any impact on excessive radicalisation is questionable, on condition that militant Muslims often reject the authority of mainstream or official ulema. Undoubtedly, additionally, each Indonesia and the Emirates aspire in a broad sense to have harmonious, plural and tolerant societies, and are bent on inculcating these values of their communities. Their espousal of spiritual moderation thus has some substance.
However at one other stage, Indonesia and UAE are utilizing “moderation” in an instrumental and selective approach for home political functions. Each the MBZ and Jokowi governments have repressed native Islamist actions, usually utilizing strategies that breach civil liberties. The UAE aggressively targets Islamists, notably the Muslim Brotherhood and its sympathisers, which it sees as one of many main sources of opposition to the monarchy. Amnesty Worldwide says there are at present a minimum of 32 political prisoners in jail and in recent times nearly 100 Muslim intellectuals and activists from the Brotherhood-linked al-Islah Islamist group have been tried and jailed below a vaguely worded however draconian counter-terrorism regulation. Furthermore, the UAE makes use of state-employed ulema, resembling Bin Bayyah and Hamza Yusuf, to argue for political quietism and obedience to the ruler, thus in search of to solid dissent as sinful.
The Jokowi authorities has additionally quashed Islamist activism that it deems a political menace, albeit considerably much less harshly. It banned Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia in 2017 and the Islamic Defenders Entrance in 2020—actions which had tens of 1000’s of members—on grounds together with involvement in terrorism and sedition that many observers consider to be unsubstantiated. Quite a few Islamist leaders have both been charged and convicted of questionable offences or pressured from public view on menace of investigation into alleged legal behaviour. Each governments behave immoderately in terms of suppressing opposition however use their spiritual diplomacy of moderation to deflect consideration from their autocratic tendencies. Most of their fellow world leaders are blissful to disregard or play down such excesses.
Indonesia and North Korea: heat recollections of the Chilly Struggle
Pleasant ties to Pyongyang have been an emblem of non-alignment for generations of Indonesian overseas coverage makers.
It is usually the case that, regardless of their obvious heat relations, the UAE and Indonesia generally pursue opposite agendas. A current case is the R20 convention in Bali, largely funded by the Emirates’ rival, Saudi Arabia. Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah’s Discussion board for Selling Peace in Muslim Societies (FPPMS) pointedly hosted the US-based IF20 as a part of its annual Peace Discussion board in Abu Dhabi final December, enabling the IF20 to exhibit it was nonetheless lively regardless of its exclusion from the broader 2022 G20 program. FPPMS and IF20 have made clear their want to supplant Indonesia’s NU-organised R20 and restore the IF20 to the following G20. In impact, Indonesia and UAE, by their proxies, are actually rivals to handle what’s arguably the world’s premier interfaith occasion.
Regardless of the lofty rhetoric of Indonesian and Emirati spiritual diplomacy, hard-headed and politically self-interested issues drive the usage of moderation and tolerance as strategic commodities. If facets of those spiritual applications reach implanting average and pluralistic values of their respective societies, then there might be trigger for reward. However additionally it is the case that moderation has additionally turn into a instrument for crimping the flexibility of Indonesians and Emiratis to organise and categorical themselves freely. From this angle, the diplomacy of spiritual moderation has an empty ring to it.