I met the Enemy in Indonesia: Islam & the Clash of Civilizations

by Rick Love

This is the third of three blog posts about my recent trip to Indonesia. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Two leaders from the Hizb ut-Tahrir spoke to our group in Jogjakarta, Indonesia. These men outlined a bold, utopian Islamic vision. They saw themselves at war with Western civilization and sought to establish a global Caliphate - an Islamic government with a leader over their entire Muslim community, known as a Caliph. 

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I was stunned when I realized how radical their vision was. This was a sophisticated, non-violent version of ISIS (at least they were non-violent to this point). But they were planning and plotting for an Islamic takeover of the world. And they shared about this in a public forum.

They began by explaining that capitalism is the enemy and Islam is the solution. I admired their zeal to win the world for Islam – after all, I want the whole world to follow Jesus. So I get that part of their vision. But… a global Caliphate?

During the time of Q&A one of the members of my group asked where this version of Islam is presently being lived out. The leaders of Hizb ut-Tahrir paused and replied, “Nowhere!”

My friend’s followup question was just as incisive: “You argue that the Caliphate is the rule of God. But people are sinners. So how can sinful leaders implement the rule of God on earth?” “The Caliphate will be led by devout leaders who want to obey Allah. And if they deviate from Allah’s path, we have lots of rules and laws to protect us,” the Hizb ut-Tahrir leaders replied.

Next I asked three questions: 1) What is the relationship between Democracy and Islam? 2) Can Muslims and Christians live at peace? and 3) Do you believe in freedom of religion?

I talked to Muslim leaders in four other cities in Indonesia, and they were positive about democracy. But these men from the Hizb ut-Tahrir stated bluntly, “democracy is the rule of people, whereas Islam is the rule of God.”

They said that Muslims and Christians can live together in peace and that they believed in freedom of religion. But in an unbelievable contradiction to these positive affirmations, they added rather nonchalantly, “If someone is a Muslim or becomes a Muslim and then leaves the faith, they must be put to death.”

If that is what religious freedom looks like, I would hate to see what religious repression is!

I spent the month of May in Indonesia – lecturing and peacemaking in five cities: Jakarta, Bandung, Salatiga, Purwokerto, and Jogjakarta. This whirlwind tour gave me a fascinating window into the beauty and diversity of Islam in Indonesia – which is a microcosm of Islam throughout the world.

The majority of Muslims I met were classic peace-loving people who were positive toward Christians and feared radical Islam. Other groups were less favorable toward Christians but still not radical. When I teach on Islam I remind people that the majority of people killed by terrorists are Muslims themselves. So for the most part, what we are seeing around the world is not a clash of civilizations but a clash within civilization.

However, the two men from Hizb ut-Tahrir represent the radical end of the Islamic spectrum. Fortunately, they represent only a miniscule minority of Muslims.

[For more about Hizb ut-Tahrir you can read The Islamist: Why I Became an Islamic Fundamentalist, What I Saw Inside, and Why I left by Ed Husain.]

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