By: Annas Rolli Muchlisin*

Indonesia, Islam, and Democracy
A very long heated debate on whether democracy is inherently in line with Islam or not happens in many countries, including in Germany. The reliable fact proved that most of Muslim majority countries rejected democracy system to be implemented in their countries. It can be seen that of the 192 countries in the world today, 121 are electoral democracies; but in countries with a Muslim majority, only eleven of forty-seven (or twenty-three per cent) have democratically governments. In the non-Islamic world, there are 110 electoral democracies out of 145 states, or over seventy-six per cent. The report concludes that a non-Islamic state is three times more likely to be democratic than an Islamic state. The democracy gap between the Muslim world and the rest of the world is indeed dramatic.
While most of Muslim-majority country rejected to implement the democracy system in their countries, Indonesia appeared as model Muslim-majority country that integrates Islamic teachings and democracy values, so this country has its own type of democracy that is very unique. Its ability to fuse democracy and Islam was praised by many politicans from both Indonesia itself and other countries. When Hillary Clinton visited Indonesia in 2009, she proclaimed: “If you want to know whether Islam, democracy, modernity, and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia.” Besides, Pramono Anung, deputy speaker of the House Representatives for Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) said that on August 11, 2014 US senators described Indonesia as a growing democratic country and hoped that Indonesia will continue to mature and become a strong nation in the Asian region.
Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country in the world. Home to approximately 230 million people of which more than 85% follow Islam. Indonesia is also the world’s third largest democracy after India and the United States of America. From this fact, Indonesia has a very big potency to be an ideal model for other Muslim-majority countries, and even for non-Islamic countries, that wish to unify Islam and democracy.
Radical Muslim Movements that Threaten Indonesia Democracy
Although Indonesia was praised for its ability to integrate Islam and democracy, it could not be achieved in a short time. Four years after the independence of Indonesia in 1945, a radical Muslim movement under the leadership of Kartosuwirjo in West Java attempted to establish the Indonesian Islamic State (Negara Islam Indonesia-NII) on 7th of August, 1949. Fortunately this attempt failed because a large number of moderate Indonesian Muslim disagreed with this kind of state, for they Indonesia may not implement theocracy system.
Though this organization was resigned in 1960s, some radical Muslim organizations with same purpose and characteristic still emerge after that, even still exist today. One of these organizations that is very important is Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) that has slogan to unify Muslim society under khilafah system. The activists of this organization force to implement syaria in Indonesia and tend to reject pancasila as a way of life for Indonesian because according to them that pancasila is only a product of human thought which is not higher than al-Qur’an and al-Sunnah. This kind of movement, of course, threatens Indonesia sovereignty and democracy.
The Role of Nahdlatul Ulama in Saving Democracy of Indonesia
Nahdlatul Ulama or NU for its abbreviation is the biggest religious organization in Indonesia. The recent research shows that the number of nahdliyin reaches 40 percent of total number of Muslims in Indonesia. Then, the acceptance of Indonesian Muslim for the democratic system could not be separated from this huge organization.
Since established 1926, this organization has shown its performance to serve Indonesia. This could be seen when the founding father of this organization KH. Hasyim Asyari declared a jihad resolution to fight against colonizers in 1945. Moreover, this organization was known as the first religious organization that accepted pancasila as the basic principles of Indonesia.
It was Abdurrahman Wahid, the general leader of tanfidziyah in board of NU (1984-1999) who became the fourth president of Indonesia (1999-2001), who tried hard in order that Indonesia Muslims accepted democracy. During his first day being a president, there were many sectarian movements of both community and religion that threatened the democracy of Indonesia. Some historians said he has spent his career to campaign to oppose the sectarian movements.
Not only Abdurrahman Wahid, but other scholars of NU also have contributed to maintain the democracy of Indonesia. For instance, the general leader of PBNU 2010-now Said Aqil Siroj strongly curses the Indonesian who joins Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. He, furthermore, said that ukhuwah wathaniyah should be prioritized than ukhuwah Islamiyah. The effort of NU in saving the democracy of Indonesia also could be seen in the movements of Barisan Ansor that cooperate with Indonesian police to forcefully take khilafah banners and posters stuck by HTI down.
From above, we can see that the present of moderate Muslim organization is needed so much to get Islam and democracy compatible.


Sources from either book or journal
Azra, Azyumardi. 2006. Indonesia, Islam, and Democracy Dynamics in a Global Context. Jakarta: Solstice Publishing.
Barton, Greg. 2003. “Biografi Gus Dur The Authorized Biography of Abdurrahman Wahid” translated by Lie Hua. Yogyakarta: LKiS
Buehler, Michael. 2009. “Islam and Democracy in Indonesia” in Insight Turkey, Vol. 11, No, 4.
Hadi, Soetrisno. 2007. “Darul Islam (Negara Islam Indonesia) dan Kaitannya dengan Gerakan Radikal Islam di Indonesia” in Agama dan Radikalisme di Indonesia. Jakarta: Nuqtah.
Hoesterey, James B. 2013. “Is Indonesia a Model for the Arab Spring? Islam, Democracy, and Diplomacy” in Review of Middle East Studies, 47.
Siroj, Said Aqil. 2015. “Mendahulukan Cinta Tanah Air” in Nasionalisme dan Islam Nusantara. Jakarta: Kompas Media Nusantara.
Sitompul, Einar Martahan. 2010. NU dan Pancasila. Yogyakarta: LKiS.
Sources from websites
“How compatible are Islam and democracy?” ( and (
Clinton Praises Indonesian Democracy (
US Senators Praise Indonesia (
Pancasila (
Jumlah warga NU 83 juta di Indonesiam benarkah? (
Tolak Khilafah (

*the writer is member of CSSMoRA State Islamic University Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta period 2014

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