ISLAM IN ASIA
ASIA-PACIFIC CENTER FOR SECURITY STUDIES
APRIL 16, 1999 HONOLULU, HAWAII
16, 1999 the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) held a
one-day seminar entitled “Islam in Asia.”
The purpose of the seminar was to assess the current and likely
future role of Islam (especially Islamic political parties, organizations
and movements) in key countries of the Asia-Pacific region.
In particular, the seminar focused on Pakistan and South Asia, the
Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and China.
The following is a brief overview of some key findings:
and Security: Islam's
implications for security in Asia at the national or country level come in
the form of political stability and ability to accommodate minorities
where Islam is the majority religion.
At the regional level, Islam's role in security appears to be its
relevance to either promoting cooperation or creating tensions.
At the international level, a major issue is Asian Islam's role in
international Islamic movements and organizations particularly relations
with the Middle East. At none
of these levels (national, regional or international) does Islam in Asia
pose a serious or immediate security problem.
Only in South Asia, given Islam's growing role in Pakistan's
domestic politics and its response to Hindu nationalism, is Islam a major
element affecting both domestic and regional security.
Longer-term issues include the restiveness of some of China's
Muslims and the shifting social, economic and political roles of Islam in
Malaysia and Indonesia.
and Governance: A major debate within and without the Islamic community is
the compatibility of the faith with democracy.
Though the seminar hardly settled the debate, it did note that
Muslims certainly participate in democracies (e.g., India and Pakistan)
and that Islamic parties are playing a role in possible transitions to
democracy (e.g., Indonesia). In
essence, at least in practical as opposed to theological or philosophical
terms, Islam and democracy are not incompatible.
One of many complexities of this debate is the different attitudes
of Sunnis and Shiias toward democracy.
and the Militaries: The role of Islam in the militaries of the Asia-Pacific
countries represented at the meeting obviously differed considerably.
In Indonesia, for example, it was noted that while the military has
long had uneasy relations with Islamic political parties and movements,
this relationship is less troubled today.
Regarding Pakistan, concern was expressed that lower and middle
level officers were becoming more supportive of Islamic groups.
Middle East Connection: There are considerable connections between the Islams of Asia
and Islam in the Middle East. The
primary reason of course is that Islam originated in the Arabian peninsula
and the faith’s holy places, to which every Muslim is enjoined to
journey at least once in his or her life, are there.
More concretely, countries in Asia depend on energy resources from
the Middle East, rely on remittances from laborers, and find common cause
on certain international political matters.
There are also overlaps between Asian and Middle Eastern countries
in organizations such as the OIC, OPEC, and NAM.
and Asia(S): There is neither a monolithic Asia nor a monolithic Islam.
The many schisms in Islam emanate from doctrinal issues (e.g. Sunni
vs. Shi’ia), history (e.g., maritime vs. land arrival of Islam),
demographics (e.g., minority vs. majority Islam) and political ideology
(e.g., secular states vs. religious-proclaimed states).
Asia, of course, is a diverse region and Islam across its breadth
has taken on different forms, meanings and implications.
Distinguishing between Religion and Ethnicity: In many of the countries of the region it was clear that there was a distinction between ethnic identity and religious identity. For example, some Chinese ethnic minorities, though they share Islam as a common faith, emphasize their ethnic identities over their common religion with other ethnicities, i.e., Muslim Uygur do not necessarily share close affinities to the Muslim Kazalchs in China. In South Asia, for example, Muslim Bengalis chose independence from Pakistan despite being co-religionists with West Pakistani Punjabis, Sindhis, and Baluchis.
The end of the Cold War has led to
new thinking about the forces that shape international relations.
Among the forces receiving greater attention is religion. Though religion, organized and otherwise, has always played
an important part in international affairs, it is only in the past few years
that there has been a rush of academic and policy writing on the role of
religion in international relations.
The precise reasons why religion is becoming a subject of greater concern
to those engaged in the study of societies and relations among them are complex.
The end of the Cold War, of course, has been a key factor.
The purported end of ideological rivalry, as suggested by Francis
Fukuyama, has shifted the focus of potential friction to religion or, as in the
view of Professor Samuel Huntington, religion expressed as civilization.
But theories about the shape of things to come are not the only sources
for religion’s revival in the study of international relations.
The actual phenomenon of religion’s revival has been critical too.
A central paradox of our increasingly material globe, is that religion is
making a comeback.
Whatever the reasons for the increased interest in and attention to the
role of religion, the link between religion and geopolitics, foreign policy and
state security is still yet another leap. Though
religious activism or revival has been evident in numerous faiths (e.g.,
Hinduism in India), it is fair to say that “the current wave of religious
activism was first associated with Islam.”
And it is partially for this reason that the Asia-Pacific Center for
Security Studies undertook to examine the role of Islam in Asia, and
particularly the security implications of Islam in the region.
Asia, where most of the world's Muslims live, is today an especially
appropriate place to examine Islam's status and direction.
Across the region, in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, domestic political
dynamics are highlighting the possible future role of Islam.
While there are significant historical and current differences in the
role played by Islam in these countries (and hence its future role will differ
as well), each of these countries is to a greater or lesser extent searching for
an accommodation involving organized Islam.
The objective of the symposium is to develop a fuller understanding of
the current and likely future role of Islam in key countries of the Asia-Pacific
region. To this end, we invited
experts from Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia, as well as bringing to the table
experts from the United States.
Several key questions were
addressed through the course of the day concerning the following issues:
· The role of Islamic organizations and political parties in the politics and societies of key Asian countries;
· The nature of links between Islamic organizations and political parties across the region;
· The attitudes and policies of key Islamic organizations and political parties towards regional security, including regional institutions;
· The role of Islam in the militaries of key Asian countries;
· The ways Islamic countries in the region view United States' strategic policy in the region; and
· The nature of "Islamic" responses to economic, social, and political aspects of globalization?
The following report summarizes the presentations and discussions that occurred during the day. It also draws on a wider range of literature to set the presentations and discussions in context.
Pakistan occupies a unique place in the Muslim world. It is the only state explicitly established in the name of Islam, and yet fifty years after its independence, the role and place of Islam in the country remains unresolved. The basic divide regarding the relationship between religion and the state pits those who see the existence of Pakistan as necessary to protect the social, political and economic rights of Muslims, and those who see it as an Islamic religious state. During the past fifty years, the public has resoundingly rejected Islamic political parties in every general election.
A combination of domestic and international developments over the past two decades, however, appears to be pushing Pakistan in the direction of a more explicitly religious state. Just in the last year, for example, the government of Pakistan has introduced strict Sharia laws and there has been a rise in Shia-Sunni violence. Some analysts have even begun to consider the prospect of a Talibanized Pakistan. The shift from liberalism to a more overt religious character for the country has been affected by developments in neighboring Iran, Afghanistan and India.
Two major factors have been primarily responsible for keeping religion separate from the business of the state in Pakistan until now. First, the way in which Islam spread through the subcontinent has been important. Contrary to the view that Islam was spread in the subcontinent by Islamic conquerors, in fact it spread through the preaching of Muslim Sufi saints. The Sufis practice a type of Islam that contrasts with the more conservative styles and values prevalent in some countries of the Middle East and even Afghanistan. Moreover, most Muslims in the subcontinent are Hindu converts. For these former Hindus, the basic reference point, despite choosing the Islamic faith, was South Asia and not the Arab lands to the west where more conservative approaches to Islam are practiced. And in South Asia the indigenous social and religious practices were more amenable to a “softer” kind of Islam. Indeed, nearly 85% of South Asia’s Sunni Muslims are said to follow the Barelvi school, closer to Sufism. The remaining 15% of Sunnis follow the Deobandi school, more closely related to the conservative practice of Islam. Most Shiites in the subcontinent also tend to be influenced by the Sufis. The bottom line is that Pakistan’s Muslims, like other Muslims in the region, tend to follow a school of Islam which is less conservative, and hence the support for strongly and overtly religious parties has been minimal.
A second reason why formal religion has been kept at arms length from state politics in Pakistan is that Muslim scholars and leaders in South Asia were essentially “liberals” or “reformists” rather than “conservatives” or “fundamentalists.” Muslims leaders such as the great educationist Syed Ahmed Khan or the poet-philosopher Allama Mohammed Iqbal attracted, through their teachings, Muslim intellectuals and even religious leaders (Ulema) who were modernists and reformers.
In the initial two decades after Pakistan’s creation, religion rarely came in the way of state policies. This was largely because the state apparatus was dominated by a combination of feudal or western-educated politicians and the civil servants who had been trained under the system run by the former British rulers of the subcontinent. This state apparatus had little interest in pushing a religious agenda. Moreover, the middle class, that in a country like Pakistan tends to be a repository of conservatism, was non-existent and the poorest of society had little representative voice. An episode that highlights the commitment of Pakistan in the early years to religious tolerance occurred in the early 1950s. A violent campaign started by groups representing Sunni Muslims against a minority sect of Ahmedi Muslims was forcefully crushed by the government. Key Sunni religious leaders, including the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Maulana Mawdoodi, were given death sentences. Though these were never carried out, the strong reaction to the attack on the minority Muslim sect and the subsequent harsh sentences symbolized that the state would not allow religious intolerance.
Just twenty years later, however, when another major violent campaign was launched against the Ahmedi community, the state acted quite differently. The irony was that the government then in power, headed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was strongly socialist and secular in its ideology. Moreover, it had come to power in the country’s first and truly free and fair elections in which Islamic parties contesting the polls had been roundly trounced. Despite this, then-Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto took the unprecedented decision of using the parliament to amend the constitution in the early 1970s to declare the Ahmedi community as non-Muslim. Some religious conservatives in Pakistan saw this decision as their first major victory.
The Rise of Islamic Conservatism in Pakistan
In the past two decades or so, there has been an even greater increase in the power of Islamic conservatives in Pakistan and communal violence and intolerance. Several factors appear to have contributed to this trend:
· The coming into power of a highly conservative military ruler, General Zia-ul-Haq, in the late 1970s;
· The Islamic revolution in neighboring Iran;
· The emergence of the Islamic mujahideen in Afghanistan; and
· The rise of Hindu nationalism in India.
Moreover, the largely negative attitudes and actions of the West towards the Muslim world have helped to push forward the agenda of the Islamic conservatives.
Zia al-Haq and the Rise of Islamic Conservatism
During General Zia’s rule from 1977-1988, the state took a leading role in supporting Islamic conservatives and their values. In addition to changing electoral laws in order to deprive non-Muslim minorities open participation in general elections and tightening laws to curtail women and minority rights, a major effort was launched to encourage and support the setting up of Islamic madrassas (theological schools). These schools have been used by Islamic conservatives to support militant movements not just in Pakistan, but in other parts of the world.
Iran’s Islamic Revolution and the Rise of Sectarian Violence in Pakistan
The Iranian revolution had a particular impact on neighboring Pakistan. At first, much of Pakistani society welcomed the Iranian revolution because it overthrew the brutal regime of the Shah. Some mainstream Islamic parties welcomed the event as a true Islamic revolution. However, as Iran began to support the export of its revolution, it lost favor amongst Pakistani's majority Sunni community, but found some support amongst the conservative Shiite groups in Pakistan. To complicate and exacerbate matters further, conservative Sunni regimes in the Gulf countries began to support Pakistan’s Sunni groups who now began to oppose the Iranian revolution and its allies within Pakistan. This situation exacerbated tensions between Sunnis and Shiites within Pakistan. Additionally, the free flow of arms from the war in Afghanistan and funding from Iran and the Gulf regimes for their respective clients led to the start of organized sectarian violence in Pakistan. This proxy war between the divergent Islamic orthodoxies of revolutionary Iran on one side and the conservative Gulf sheikhdoms on the other essentially used Pakistan as the battlefield.
War in Afghanistan and Its Impact on Pakistan
The war in Afghanistan further exacerbated internal religious tensions and weakened Pakistani society. Not only did the war lead to an increase in the flow of arms, drugs and money into the country, but it also caused a major shift in the attitude of religious conservatives in Pakistan. Islamic conservatives in Pakistan paid close attention to events in Afghanistan and began to play a more and more active role in the conflict (partly backed by the West and Pakistan’s intelligence services). Many saw the situation in Afghanistan as an opportunity to press their agenda beyond Pakistan.
There were other specific impacts of the Afghan civil war on the security of South Asia. For example, the fact that many of the most committed Muslim conservatives had fought in Afghanistan created a pool of militants for other conflicts. One such conflict was Kashmir. Though the origins of the conflict lie elsewhere, the availability of a pool of dedicated, well-trained, seasoned and sometimes well-equipped fighters certainly exacerbated the fighting in Kashmir. Moreover, given the role of these fighters and the availability of Afghanistan as a sanctuary and training ground for militants, the Kashmir insurgency moved from one in which there was support for self-determination to one in which there was a new agenda of Islamic conservatism and even extremism.
Finally, the rise of the Taliban phenomenon owes a great deal to the situation not only within Afghanistan, but also within Pakistan. It is clear that the rise in religious conservatism in Pakistan provided the basis for the rise of the movement. More specifically, the Islamic madrassa network that General Zia had encouraged provided a steady stream of committed warriors for the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. Today, some Islamic conservatives within Pakistan see the Taliban as a source of inspiration and support for their own cause in Pakistan.
of Hindu Nationalism
Consolidating the trend towards Islamic conservatism in Pakistan has been the rise of Hindu conservatism or chauvinism in next-door India. The demolition of the Babri Masjid in the northern India town of Ayodhya in 1992 marked the high-point of contemporary Hindu zealotry. In addition to alienating many of India's Muslims, this event further marginalized the tiny Hindu minority in Pakistan. Dozens of large and small Hindu temples were attacked by Muslim zealots in Pakistan as revenge for the destruction of Babri Masjid. The election of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power in India has further strengthened the hand of Islamic conservatives in Pakistan. They have used such developments to argue against any settlement of disputes with India and branded Pakistani supporters of a peace process as anti-Muslim.
Pakistan’s Islamic Political Parties and
The most potent and organized Islamic group in Pakistan is the Jamaat-e-Islami. The Jamaat is both a political party and an activist organization. It has contested Pakistan’s general elections, but fared poorly. In the most recent 1997 general elections the Jamaat boycotted the process, arguing that the present parliamentary system in the country is corrupt. Though it has failed to garner support at the polls, there are indications that it may be gaining power as the mainstream political parties falter and fail to deliver on socio-economic development and law and order concerns of the Pakistani populace.
There are several other religio-political forces in Pakistan. One such is the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) that has two factions. It too has contested elections but with almost no success. On the whole, Pakistan’s Islamic political parties and movements appear to be turning away from organized politics to more activist stands and in some cases militancy. Especially worrying to some is the link between various Islamic extremist organizations in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kashmir.
Can Pakistan Become a Fundamentalist State?
Pakistan over the past fifty plus years has rejected the option of becoming a fundamentalist Islamic state. However, there are signs that the hand of the Islamists may be growing stronger. Recently, in parts of certain Pakistani provinces such as the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), extremist or conservative elements have pressed for the application of Islamic Shariah law. The central government is seen by some as having caved into these pressures. At the same time, the government has tried to counter the Islamist trend by itself amending the constitution to introduce more Islamic laws. This attempt to undermine more extremist demands may in fact backfire if the Islamic movement interprets the government’s move as a sign of weakness.
On the whole, the likelihood of a Taliban-type uprising in Pakistan is slim, mainly because Pakistan has neither gone through the same turmoil as was witnessed in Afghanistan, nor is it a monolithic society with a strong base for believers of fundamentalist Islamic views. One great danger that might spur radical Islamic groups to power is the collapse of the present democratic system. This could happen if it is discredited by inefficiency and corruption. The tumult and chaos that might follow such an event could give an opening to radical Islamic groups to take power, especially if there can be some form of coalition amongst the various Islamic groups. They realize, based on defeats in past elections, that there is little room for them in the current parliamentary democracy. Therefore, they may wish to help in the collapse of the present system, and they could do it through street protests and other extra-parliamentary activities. If the present system collapses, it will be in the interest of Islamic conservatives in the country. When a wave of Islamic militancy begins in a country like Pakistan, it is likely to take on strong anti-Western and anti-American tendencies.
The one critical institution that could stand between any collapse of parliamentary democracy and extremist Islamic elements is the Pakistani military. In the past, the military could be counted on to crush any Islamic-oriented uprising because the military has generally been a secularist force in the Pakistan context. Indeed, even today, many of the top officers of the Pakistan armed services are seen as “liberal” on religious matters. It has been suggested that the October 1999 takeover of power by Pakistan’s military was at least partly motivated by a desire to counteract Prime Minister Sharif’s perceived move towards the conservative religious parties and his endorsement of the Sharia law. However, as in other aspects of Pakistani society, over the past two decades there has been a growing Islamization of the Pakistan military, especially in the lower ranks. For this reason, it is difficult to predict what stance the military will take if the present political system were to collapse and if Islamic parties were to make a bid for power.
Pakistan's political future is more uncertain than ever. However, the rise of Islamic forces is indisputable. How many years it will take for Islamic hard-liners to coalesce and pose a real and imminent challenge to the existing political order is a key question. But, the massive failures of Pakistan's feudal-democratic system give little confidence that intolerance and liberalism can persist. This would suggest that Islamists could come to power sooner rather than later.
South Asia is home to the second, third, and fourth largest Islamic countries in the world. Roughly 400 million Muslims live in the region though the distribution varies greatly; for example, there are some 300,000 Muslims in the Maldives and 137.7 million in India. Indeed, India’s Muslim population, though only about 14% of its total, is larger than that of the two declared Islamic countries in the region, Pakistan and Bangladesh. A useful way of considering the security implications or aspects of Islam in the subcontinent is to take a national, regional and international approach to the analysis.
at the National Level in South Asia
At the national or country-level in South Asia, Islam has an
important impact on political stability.
Pakistan's situation has been discussed in detail above.
In the case of India, the most compelling domestic security issue is the
prospect of widespread and destabilizing Hindu-Muslim violence.
India is an extraordinarily diverse country.
There are schisms of every kind; religion,
ethnicity and language. But the
Hindu-Muslim division is really the only one that could rip apart the entire
country. One reason for this is that Muslims are not confined to just
one part of India. They live
amongst the Hindu majority throughout the country.
Moreover, Muslims tend to be concentrated in urban centers, constituting
up to a third or fourth of the populations of major cities in all parts of
India. It is empirically true that
Hindu-Muslim violence has been on the rise since the late 1970s.
During the period between 1950 (after the bloody Partition when India and
Pakistan became independent in 1947) and 1977, there was a relatively low and
stable rate of violence between the two communities.
This was largely due to good governance and the fact that the dominant
Congress party represented well the interests of Muslims.
Moreover, India’s leadership (particularly Jawaharlal Nehru) was
decidedly secular, and did little to use religious and other sensitive symbols
for political purposes.
The growth in Hindu-Muslim violence since the late 1970s is worrying,
but so far it has been contained to local violence concentrated in specific
places, rather than spreading, dangerously, to the national level.
Just eight cities in India account for over 50% of total deaths resulting
from Hindu-Muslim violence.
Preliminary research suggests that where a healthy civil society in which
there are inter-communal associations exists, there is less violence between the
two communities. At least for now, Hindu-Muslim violence does not appear to be
an internal security concern threatening to the entire country.
It has been suggested that the rise of the BJP along with its
fundamentalist Hindu supporters has increased the possibility of a major
breakdown in Hindu-Muslim relations in India.
Though the destruction of a mosque in 1992 and acts of violence by
extremist supporters of the BJP heightened these fears, it now appears that a
BJP government will not lead to wide-scale Hindu-Muslim violence.
at the Regional Level in South Asia
At the regional level in South Asia, there is one issue in which the role of Islam may be considered to have implications for security. This is of course India-Pakistan relations and specifically the dispute over Kashmir. While the history of Hindu-Muslim relations had a major impact on the creation of two independent states after the British withdrew, today the India-Pakistan dispute has expanded far beyond animosity between Muslims and Hindus. As noted earlier, there are nearly as many Muslims in India as there are in Pakistan. Rather than Islam, the main causes of the India-Pakistan disputes are competing nationalisms and the asymmetries of power between the two states. Similarly, the Kashmir dispute is not about the relationship between Islam and Hinduism but rather an outgrowth of these competing nationalisms. The Hindu-Muslim narrative works as a popularizing mechanism to whip up antagonisms in both countries.
at the International Level in South Asia
South Asian Islam’s relevance to international security rests on its relations with the wider Islamic community. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, given their huge Muslim populations, geographical positions and economic and energy needs, have a great interest in and connection to the wider Islamic world. For South Asia’s Muslim countries, membership in Islamic organizations and relations with other Muslim countries, whether in the Middle East or Asia, have always been seen as important to their foreign and security policies.
The role of Islam in the Philippines centers on the minority Muslim community of the Moros living in the southern part of the country. This group has resisted what it deems to be outside political and economic forces challenging its way of life. The resistance has used governance and identity as the two main pillars of its campaign.
Background of the Moros
Filipino Muslims now known as the Moros constitute approximately 5% of the total
population of Filipinos were converted to Islam before the majority of the
Philippines were converted to Christianity. The name Moros derives from the word “Moors”.
Both were coined by the Spanish; the former to refer to Muslim converts
in the Philippines and the latter to refer to the Muslim inhabitants of southern
Spain and North Africa. While the
Moros share a faith, they do not share a language; at least 13 distinct
ethnolinguistic communities of Moros exist. Amongst the various groups of Moros,
two are most prominent; the Tausugs of Sulu and the Magindanaons of the
Cotabato-Pulangi region. The legacy
of these distinctions persists in the context of the modern Moro movement.
The core leadership of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), under
Nur Misuari, is largely Tausug while that of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)
under Hashim Salamat gravitates around the Magindanaons.
of the population of the Philippines underwent religious conversion, with the
inhabitants of the northern islands (Luzon and the Visayas) becoming Christians
and the southerners (Mindanao and Sulu) becoming Muslims.
An underlying ethnic commonality thus became layered with two distinct
religious identities. The rivalry between the two faiths' converters surely
contributed to complicating the relationship between the converted communities
in the Philippines.
response to encroaching colonialism also has had an important impact in
increasing the distinction between Christian and Muslim Filipinos.
Some of the Muslims of the south credit their faith for their having
successfully resisted Dutch, British and especially Spanish colonial efforts.
The American role in the region, including the imposition of military
rule from 1899 to 1903, contributed to the Moros’ dissatisfaction.
The fact that American rule in the country led to the Christian
Filipinization of the administrative apparatus in Mindanao provoked further
resentment amongst the Moros and laid the basis for the Moro rebellion.
Moro rebellion was essentially aimed at regaining lost rights over the people
and territories deemed to be traditionally Moro. The costs of this struggle have been large with some 60,000
deaths and some 200,000 refugees in the Malaysian state of Sabah.
Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) gained some international leverage against
the Philippine government through its efforts at international Islamic forums
such as the Organization of the
Islamic Conference (OIC). At the
fourth meeting of the OIC in Libya in 1973 a Quadripartite Commission including
representatives of Libya, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Somalia was dispatched to
the Philippines on a fact-finding mission.
At the following OIC summit a resolution calling for a political
settlement of the rebellion was approved. The
resolution passed by the OIC called on the government of the Philippines
“to find a political and peaceful solution through negotiation with Muslim leaders, particularly with the representatives of the Moro National Liberation Front, in order to arrive at a just solution to the plight of Filipino Muslims within the framework of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines.”
was in the context of this international Islamic engagement with the issue of
the Moro rebellion that an agreement, the Tripoli Agreement of 1976, was
reached. At its core, the Tripoli
agreement contained two critical parts or phases. The first was an agreement in principle to establish a region
of autonomy. The second stage was
the mechanisms and modalities of the implementation of the autonomy plan.
However, the second stage of the Tripoli Agreement was not signed until
20 years later in 1996 by Philippine President Fidel Ramos.
Attempts were made to implement the autonomy plan under Presidents Marcos
and President Aquino, but their efforts were rejected by the MNLF.
The creation of a number of political institutions to meet Moro demands
for greater autonomy is now in place in the region.
These institutions include the Special Zone of Peace and Development (SZOPAD),
the Southern Philippine Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) and a
Consultative Assembly (CA). The
MNLF leader Nur Misuari was persuaded to accept the framework of agreement that
allowed him to hold leadership positions in the new institutions but also remain
at the head of the MNLF. A
three-year transition plan is now underway to transform these interim
institutions into a Regional Autonomous Government. The specifics of the final settlement will depend on a
planned plebiscite agreed to by all parties.
Politically, the principle of autonomy under the sovereignty and
territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines has been accepted by
all the relevant parties. A larger
question relates to the question of cultural integration.
It appears that the commitment by all parties to political autonomy
(rather than secession) will allow for the development of a non-assimilationist
or pluralist model on cultural matters. The
Christian majority also seems to support such an approach to national
integration, hence reducing the fears of some Moros that there will be further
pressure on them to assimilate into the larger Filipino society.
Moro Issue, International Islam and ASEAN
is clear that the issue of Islam in the Philippines, in the form of the Moro
issue, has connections with the wider Islamic world and particularly with the
Islamic countries of Southeast Asia. It
should be noted for example that the signing of the Tripoli Agreement of 1976
that laid the basis for the end of the Moro rebellion was derived from
discussion in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
Indeed, all the signatories of the Agreement with the exception of the
Philippine representative were Muslims. Moreover,
the Islamic members of ASEAN, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia have, at various
points, lent their good offices to the search for a political solution to the
Moro rebellion. Already a grouping,
has been formed to promote increased inter-island and inter-regional trade and
tourism that would cover the proposed autonomous region.
Islam in Malaysia, embraced by about 55% of the country’s 22 million people, is both a religion and ethnic identity because most Muslims in the country are also Malays. Though Islam is the religion of half the country’s population, its influence in Malaysian life is central given the political and cultural pre-dominance of the Malay-Muslim population. The remaining population of Malaysia is comprised of ethnic Chinese (35%), ethnic Indians (8%) and small indigenous groups (2%). These latter groups are mostly non-Muslim. Islam in Malaysia is not the same as that of the Middle East. The practice of Islam in Malaysia, as in other places where the religion is practiced, is embedded in the local cultures. In particular, Buddhism and Hinduism have been important pre-Islamic influences in Malaysia.
Politics of Islam in Malaysia
The Malay ethnic group has been divided politically, and therefore they require the support of either Chinese or Indians in order to gain political dominance. This situation leads to a central fact in the country’s political life: Malay-Muslim dominance has always been negotiated amongst various forces. Inter-ethnic and inter-religious coalition parties, whether in opposition or ruling parties, have dominated the country’s electoral politics in post-independence politics.
The background of contemporary politics in Malaysia is critical to understanding the present. By the 14th century, as Islam made its way through Indian and Chinese merchants into the area of today’s Malaysia, Buddhist and Hindu influences gave way. Islam became the source of legitimacy for the Malay feudal rulers. It was during this period that Islam and Malay identity combined together, but many Hindu and pre-Hindu customs and practices remained part of the cultural and social mix. The coming of British colonialism in the 18th century fundamentally altered the composition of Malaysian society. To work the millions of acres of tropical forests for the production of rubber, palm oil and coffee, the British imported in thousands of laborers from India and China.
The Japanese occupation between 1941-1945 touched off ethnic and religious conflicts. Though a faction of the Malay nationalist movement welcomed the Japanese occupation, other Malays joined with the British in an anti-Japanese front. Almost all Chinese inhabitants of Malaysia at the time were strongly anti-Japanese due to the massacres of Chinese by Japanese troops. With the end of WWII, the divisions of the war period took a violent turn with Malays who were seen as having collaborated with the Japanese fighting with Chinese.
The British, still the colonial rulers of Malaysia after the war, sought to contain the ethnic conflict by attempting to establish a unitary state where feudalism would be abolished and equal citizenship granted to all. However, this attempt at a unitary state failed and in 1948 a federation was formed. It is this federation system that persists today as the government structure for the country. The constitution establishing the Federation of Malaysia was not, however, enough to prevent further ethnic conflict. Indeed, the worst riots took place in May 1969 and led to a new set of policies that were to give further strength to Malay-Muslim dominance.
The New Economic Policy (NEP) was initiated in 1971 in response to the 1969 riots. The policy was designed to be a pro-Malay affirmative action policy. Its direct effect was to lead to an Islamic resurgence, especially amongst Malay Muslim youth. While in its initial years the NEP concentrated on redressing socio-economic imbalances, today it is also concerned with issues of identity and culture with Islam at the core. The NEP has not only wrought major economic and social changes in Malaysia, but also redefined its politics. Islam in Malaysia is today more visible than ever before. And it is a modern, “consuming Islam” as evidenced by the proliferation of Muslim financial institutions, medical centers, and social work organizations as well as tourist agencies and supermarkets. Moderate Islam has become uncontested in Malaysia. The country’s main Islamic party, Parti Islam SeMalaysia, remains the credible alternative definer of Malayness. Since Islam enjoys a general appeal across class lines amongst the Malay community, it is difficult to identify a specific ideological interpretation, voice, or personality that dominates.
One complication is that the increased emphasis on Malay and Islamic identity in economic and public life has exacerbated the problematic of relations between Malay-Muslims and non-Malay non-Muslims. The idea of Malaysia as an united nation-state, or Bangsa Malaysia, has been challenged. Still, most religious and ethnic minorities have decided to remain Malaysian and enjoy the benefits of the relatively strong economy of the country. It is noteworthy, for example, that the recent economic crisis did not lead to an out-migration of Chinese and Indians as witnessed in some of the other countries hit by the financial crisis. In fact, these minorities have at time's openly supported the troubled Mahathir government. The main reason for this support may be a desire to assure a stable political system that will ensure the safety of their economic interests.
Indeed, a large proportion of Malay-Muslims have been perceived as being sympathetic to the ousted former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim who was removed from his position in September 1998. Some observers feared that because Mr. Ibrahim had been leader of the Islamic youth movement in the 1970s, the political uncertainty brought to the fore by his removal could lead to Islam becoming a destabilizing factor. In fact, however, the moderate, revivalist type of Islam supported by Mr. Ibrahim may instead be shaping the formation of a truly non-communal politics in Malaysia. In essence, Islam of the kind that has come to prominence in Malaysia since the 1970s may be the most progressive element in contemporary Malaysian society. This progressive Islam had led the civil society movement and efforts to protect human rights under the broader effort to achieve “social justice.”
in Malaysia and Security Issues
possible security implications of Islam in Malaysia relate to the country's
political stability and regional relationships. Questions have been raised as to whether Mr. Ibrahim's
Islamic ties (he once headed Malaysia's Islamic youth movement) will be used in
the struggle with Dr. Mahathir. However,
the general view was that these ties would not have a determining impact on the
country's stability. Moreover, it
was suggested that no matter who emerges victorious in the current political
struggle between Mr. Ibrahim and Dr. Mahathir, there is not likely to be any
fundamental change in the country's governing structures.
second possible aspect of security involving Islam relates to Singapore-Malaysia
relations. Singaporeans sometimes
describe themselves, worriedly, as a Chinese enclave in a Muslim sea.
However, there is widespread agreement that recent Singapore-Malaysia
tensions derive from state-to-state disagreements and have almost nothing to do
where nearly 90% of the populace is Muslim, is the world’s largest Islamic
country. However, Islam has never
played a central role in the country’s politics. Nevertheless, there has been a persistent tension between
those advocates of a more prominent and formal role for Islam in the country,
and those who resist making Islam an organized political actor.
the late 1980s, under the now defunct New Order era of former President Suharto,
there was an effort to reach out to Muslims and Islam in a more explicit way.
The main reason for this was President Suharto’s desire to widen his
power base beyond the military and the secular ruling political party, Golkar.
A symbolic indication of this effort was President Suharto’s decision
in 1990 to make his first trip or Hajj to Mecca.
Other steps on the path to Islamization of the New Order regime included
reversing the ban on the wearing of jilbab
(head covering) for female students in state-run schools and the founding of the
country’s first Islamic bank.
a decade after Suharto’s attempt to encompass Islam in the political sphere,
the New Order collapsed. On 21 May
1998, President Suharto resigned. In
essence, the effort by Suharto to widen his political base by reaching out to
Islam did not prevent the fall of his regime. While Suharto’s efforts in the
preceding several years to cultivate Islam may have re-invigorated Islamic
groups and organizations, the current evolving role of Islam in the politics and
policy-making of post-Suharto Indonesia is likely to be more sustainable then it
was at the beginning of Suharto’s New Order era.
A major reason for this expectation is that there has been, over the past
decades, a surge in religious consciousness among many circles within the
Indonesian Muslim community.
and the State in Indonesia
central point about the Islam in Indonesia is that it is not monolithic.
A key divide, other than the differences between
“traditionalists”, “modernists” and “fundamentalists”, is
that between those working for the Islamization of Indonesia and those who wish
to Indonesianize Islam. In some measure, the debates over the role of Islam in
Indonesia have been between santri
(devout Muslims) and the abangan
(nominal Muslims). The New Order
era largely succeeded in suppressing this basic (and overly simplified)
the immediate post-independence period of parliamentary democracy, Muslim
political parties did in fact play an important role in politics.
A number of the Prime Ministers of the period were from the largest
Muslim political party, Masjumi. But
divisions and differences amongst the various elements that comprised the party
led to the weakening of political Islam in Indonesia.
Sukarno issued in the era of guided democracy, the fortunes of almost all
political parties began to flounder. The
Masjumi was banned in 1960 on the basis of allegations that its leaders were
active in a regional rebellion. Other
Islamic groups also began to come under Sukarno’s control.
The rise of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and Sukarno’s growing
support for it put Islamic parties and groups even more on the defensive.
However, given Islamic cooperation with the military in the context of
the fall of Sukarno in 1965, it appeared that Islam might yet again play a
stronger role in the country’s politics.
This did not materialize however. As
Rizal Sukma has written:
that coalition was in fact only temporary in nature and the brief period of
honeymoon between Islam and the military-backed Suharto’s government soon came
to a close. The
early years of the New Order marked the beginning of a long and difficult period
for political Islam in Indonesia.
Muslim groups found that their expectation and hope for a renewed
political role was pushed aside by a number of policies introduced by
Suharto’s New Order government.
Political Islam soon became subject to the process of marginalisation,
and the strength of Islam as a political force was reduced remarkably due to a
number of measures undertaken by the government.
working to diminish the role of Islam in the politics of the New Order, at the
same time the government encouraged Islamic religious and ritual activities to
flourish. Such encouragement took
the form of government-sponsored proselytizing, the increase in Islamic
publications and the construction of mosques.
In essence, Suharto’s New Order took a dual-track approach to Islam.
On the one hand, it resisted any political role for Islam while on the
other it promoted Islam as a private religion.
the political and the private, a third dimension of Islam in Indonesia has been
its societal role. In this realm,
Islam retained an important, and in fact increasingly influential position.
For example, Islamic organizations as mass-based movements focussing on
social and educational activities remained important aspects of the Indonesian
landscape. However, as the two
largest Muslim organizations, the Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama suggest, even
as a social force Islam in Indonesia is not monolithic.
Still three developments arising out of the societal role of Islam in the
last decade or so of Suharto’s rule have set the background to the role of
Islam in the country today. First,
members of the Muslim middle class are now culturally and intellectually more
self-confident than their predecessors. Second,
the Muslim middle class, while accepting that religion and society cannot be
separated, including government and politics, does not support an Islamic state. Finally, there is a growing religious awareness amongst the
middle class of Indonesia. The
contemporary significance of such developments is that the long-standing
distinctions between santri and abangan and between modernism and traditionalism
is now giving way to a more complicated picture of Islam’s role in Indonesian
and the Military in Indonesia
between Islam and the Indonesian military have been problematic.
Many reasons have been offered to explain the troubled, and at times
mutually suspicious relationship. First,
some in the military elite have been unhappy with what they regard as the
factious and rebellious nature of the Islamic community.
Specifically, the military elite have suspected that Islam has been a
motivating force in regional rebellions in West Java, Aceh and South Sulawesi to
name but a few. Second, the
military leadership has tended to be dominated by either the abangan Javanese or
secular nationalists. The
non-Muslims in the military have tended to shy away from defining national
identity in religious terms. Even
more, the military leadership, in perceiving its role as the guardian of
national unity in an ethnically and religiously diverse society, have tended to
regard attempts by Muslims to express political interests through protests on
economic and cultural grievances with hostility.
Third, in terms of power politics, ABRI was inclined to deny a formal
role to Islam out of concern that it would challenge the military’s prominent
position in the New Order system of government. However, in the early 1990s and since, there appear to be the
makings of a greater accommodation between Islamists and the ABRI.
The ABRI’s suspicion about the Islamic community’s rebelliousness and
tendency towards factionalism appears to have abated.
Foreign Relations of Indonesia’s Islam
general, Islam has not had an important role in shaping Indonesia’s foreign
policy. There are two main reasons.
First, foreign-policy making has been dominated by state institutions,
and non-governmental forces have not been allowed to tread on the government’s
authority in this area. Second,
Muslims leaders themselves have been concerned with a relatively narrow range of
international issues; particularly those that have explicit Islamic dimensions
or involve the Islamic world or the Middle East.
This too may be changing. Emerging leaders in the new political climate
of post-Suharto Indonesia such as Amien Rais, leader of the political party PAN,
are raising questions about Indonesia’s foreign policy.
Two compelling issues for these persons are the international identity of
the state and the country’s place in the Islamic world.
Related to these questions is the issue of Indonesia’s relationship
with the West. It is clear that new
voices are emerging in terms of views on foreign and security policy in the new
political climate, but it is not clear what these voices will have to say.
However, it does not seem likely that the Islamic factor will emerge as a
major factor or determinant of Indonesia’s foreign or security policy.
about Islam in Indonesia
has not been a monolithic force in the politics of Indonesia.
There have been divergent views amongst several Islamic organizations and
movements, most prominently the NU and the Muhammadiyah.
The New Order government’s policy of diminishing the role of political
parties combined with the military’s suspicion of Islam, led Islamic
organizations to concentrate on religious, social and educational activities
rather than politics. This very
shift in emphasis led to Indonesian society becoming more Islamicized, including
the rise of a Muslim middle class that entered both the government and the
military. These changes in part led
the military to reassess its view of Islam’s role in Indonesia. Moreover, in the post-Suharto context of Indonesian politics,
Islam has emerged as perhaps the most important force.
Islam is likely to be a major force in the politics of Indonesia for the
Islam in the
People's Republic of China
in East Asia live as minority communities amid a sea of people, in their view,
who are largely pork-eating, polytheist, secularist, and kafir
many of their small and isolated communities have survived in rather
inhospitable circumstances for over a millennium.
Though small in population percentage (about 2% in China, 1% in Japan,
and less than 1% in Korea), their numbers are nevertheless large in comparison
with other Muslim states. For
example, there are more Muslims in China than Malaysia, and more than every
Middle Eastern Muslim nation except Iran, Turkey, and Egypt.
East Asia is also increasingly depending on mainly Muslim nations for
energy and cheap labor, thus raising the importance of its Muslim diasporic
communities for international and domestic relations. Japan has a rather small resident Muslim community, estimated
to be less than 10,000, however, recent waves of Middle Eastern and South Asian
migrant laborers to Japan's large industrial cities suggest that the total
Muslim population in Japan could be nearing the 1 million mark.
Though these communities are temporary in terms of residency, they are
have as strong an impact on Japan's rather insular society as the Turkish and
Kurdish populations in the Scandinavian heartlands (which now have surpassed 10
percent). As Jonathan Lipman
insightfully noted, these long-term Muslim communities have often been the
"familiar strangers" found in small enclaves throughout Asia.
And if Kosovo and Bosnia are to serve as lessons, failure to accommodate
Muslim minorities can lead to national dismemberment and international
intervention. Indeed, China's
primary objection to NATO involvement in Kosovo centered on its fear that this
might encourage the aiding and abetting of separatists, with independence groups
in Xinjiang, Tibet, and perhaps Taiwan, clearly a major Chinese concern.
contains the largest Muslim population in East Asia, and China’s Muslims are
clearly the most important in terms of national security concerns.
The lessons gleaned from the situation of China’s Muslims may be useful
for other Muslim communities in East Asia, and perhaps elsewhere in Asia as
well. Successful Muslim
accommodation to minority status in East Asia can be seen to be a measure of the
extent to which Muslim groups allow the reconciliation of the dictates of
Islamic culture to their host culture, be it Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or
other. Islam in the diaspora is not
inherently rebellious and Muslim minorities need not be problematic to the
security of a non-Muslim state.
in China has primarily been propagated over the last 1300 years among the people
now known as Hui, but many of the
issues confronting them are relevant to the Turkic and Indo-European Muslims on
China’s Inner Asian frontier. According
to a 1990 census, the total Muslim population of China is about 17.6 million.
It is important to note, however, that the Chinese census registers
people by nationality, not religious affiliation, so the actual number of
Muslims is still unknown.
Hui speak a number of non-Chinese languages, most Hui are closer to Han Chinese
than other Muslim nationalities in terms of demographic proximity and cultural
accommodation. The attempt to adapt
many of their Muslim practices to the Han way of life has led to criticisms
amongst Muslim reformers. The Hui
are unique among the 55 identified nationalities in China in that they are the
only nationality for whom religion (Islam) is the only unifying category of
identity, even though many members of the Hui nationality may not practice
Islam. As a result of Islamic
reform movements that have swept across China, the Hui continue to subscribe to
a wide spectrum of Islamic belief.
Muslims supported the earliest communist call for equality, autonomy, freedom of
religion, and recognized nationality status, and were active in the early
establishment of the People’s Republic of China. However, many of these Muslims became disenchanted by growing
critiques of religious practice during several periods in the PRC beginning in
1957. During the Cultural
Revolution (1966-1976), Muslims became the focus for both anti-religious and
anti-ethnic nationalism critiques, leading to widespread persecutions, mosque
closings, and at least one large massacre of 1,000 Hui following a 1975 uprising
in Yunnan province. Since Deng
Xiaoping’s post-1978 reforms, Muslims have sought to take advantage of
liberalized economic and religious policies, while keeping a watchful eye on the
ever-swinging pendulum of Chinese radical politics. There are now more mosques open in China than there were
prior to 1949, and Muslims travel freely on the Hajj to Mecca, as well as
engaging in cross-border trade with co-religionists in Central Asia, the Middle
East, and increasingly, southeast Asia.
Muslim political activism on a national scale and rapid state response indicates
the growing importance Beijing attaches to Muslim-related issues.
In 1986 Uygurs in Xinjiang marched through the streets of Urumqi
protesting against a wide range of issues, including the environmental
degradation of the Zungharian plain, nuclear testing in the Taklamakan,
increased Han immigration to Xinjiang, and ethnic insults at Xinjiang
University. Muslims throughout
China protested the publication of a Chinese book Sexual
Customs in May 1989, and a children’s book in October 1993, that portrayed
Muslims, particularly their restriction against pork, in a derogatory fashion. In each case, the government responded quickly, meeting most
of the Muslims’ demands, condemning the publications and arresting the
authors, and closing down the printing houses.
These protests have continued well into the late-1990s, with intermittent
terrorist attacks and popular protests occurring in Xinjiang, extending even to
Beijing with a widely publicized bus-bombing in the Spring of 1997 claimed by
Uygur separatists worldwide. Significantly,
this claim has never been verified, and many of China's Uyghurs deny support for
terrorist acts, indicating a widely divergent view regarding Muslim separatism
Muslims are anything but unified vis-à-vis their relationship with the Beijing
government. Regional and factional
struggles continue to divide China’s Muslims internally, especially as
increased travel to the Middle East prompts criticism of Muslim practices at
home and exposes China’s Muslims to new, often politically radical, Islamic
ideals. In February 1994, four
Naqshbandi Sufi leaders were sentenced to long-term imprisonment for their
support of internal factional disputes in southern Ningxia Region that had led
to at least 60 deaths on both sides and People’s Liberation Army intervention.
Throughout the summer and fall of 1993 bombs exploded in several towns in
Xinjiang, indicating the growing demands of organizations pressing for an
“independent East Turkestan.” In
February 1997, a major uprising in Ili led to the deaths of at least 13 Uyghur
and the arrests of hundreds. Beijing
has responded with increased military presence, particularly in Kashgar and
Urumqi, as well as diplomatic efforts in the Central Asian states and Turkey to
discourage foreign support for separatist movements.
It is clear that Hui and Kazakh Muslims are critical of these separatist
actions among the Uyghur, and it is not yet clear how much support even among
the Uyghur there is for the violent acts, especially one recent attempt to
assassinate a “collaborating” Imam in Kashgar.
At the same time, cross-border trade between Xinjiang and Central Asia
has grown tremendously, especially due to the reopening in 1991 of the Eurasian
Railroad, linking Urumqi and Almaty with markets in China and Eastern Europe.
Overland travel between Xinjiang and Pakistan, Tajikstan, Kyrgyzstan and
Kazakhstan has also increased dramatically with the relaxation of travel
restrictions based on Deng Xiaoping’s prioritization of trade over security
interests in the area. The
"Shanghai Five" agreement of April 1998 between China, Russia, and the
three key bordering Central Asian States (Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and
Tajikistan), has secured border security for the region.
The government’s policy of seeking to buy support through stimulating
the local economy seems to be working at the present.
Income levels in Xinjiang are often far higher than those across the
border, yet increased Han migration to participate in the region’s lucrative
oil and mining industries continues to exacerbate ethnic tensions.
Muslim areas in northern and central China, however, continue to be left
behind as China’s rapid economic growth expands unevenly, enriching the
southern coastal areas far beyond that of the interior.
further restricting Islamic freedoms in the border regions, at the same time the
Chinese state has become more keenly aware of the importance foreign Muslim
governments place on China’s treatment of its Muslim minorities as a factor in
China’s lucrative trade and military agreements. The establishment of full diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia
in 1991 and increasing military and technical trade with Middle Eastern Muslim
states enhances the economic and political salience of China’s treatment of
its internal Muslim minority population. The
increased transnationalism of China’s Muslims will be an important factor in
their ethnic expression as well as practiced accommodation to Chinese culture
and state authority.
and Chinese Nationalism
is not immune from the new tide of ethnic nationalism and “primordial
politics” sweeping Europe, Africa, and Asia in the post-Cold War period.
Much of it is clearly a response to globalization in terms of
localization: an increasing nationalism arising from the organization of the
world into nation-states. No longer content to sit on the sidelines, the nations within
these states are playing a greater role in the public sphere.
In most of these nationalist movements, religion, culture, and
racialization plays a privileged role in defining the boundaries of the nation.
In China, and perhaps much of Muslim Asia, Islam will continue to play an
important role in defining the nation, especially in countries where nationality
is defined by a mix of religion and ethnicity (i.e., China, Malaysia, Indonesia,
activism in China cannot but be nationalistic, but a nationalism that may often
transcend the boundaries of the contemporary nation-state, via mass
communications, increased travel, and the internet.
Previous Islam movements in China were precipitated by China’s opening
to the outside world. A new
movement may now be washing across China’s terrain.
No matter what conservative leaders in the government might wish,
China’s Muslims politics have reached a new stage of openness.
If China wants to participate in an international political sphere of
nation-states, this is unavoidable. With
the opening to the West in recent years, travel to and from the Islamic
heartlands has dramatically increased in China.
Throughout the first 30 years of the PRC, only a handful of Muslims made
the pilgrimage to Mecca. In 1984,
over 1400 Muslims left China to go on the Hajj.
This number increased to over 2000 in 1987, representing a return to
pre-1949 levels. Several Hui
students are presently enrolled in Islamic and Arabic studies at the Al-Azhar
University in Egypt.
by the Chinese state, relations between Muslims in China and the Middle East are
becoming stronger and more frequent, partly from a desire to establish trading
partners for arms, commodities, and currency exchanges, and partly by China’s
traditional view of itself as a leader of the Third World.
Delegations of foreign Muslims regularly travel to prominent Islamic
sites in China, in a kind of state-sponsored religious tourism, and donations
are encouraged. While the state hopes that private Islamic investment will
assist economic development, the vast majority of grants by visiting foreign
Muslims have been donated to the rebuilding of Islamic mosques, schools, and
hospitals. As Hui in China are
further exposed to Islamic internationalism, and they return from studies and
pilgrimages abroad, traditional Hui identities will once again be reshaped and
called into question, giving rise to a fourth tide of Islam in China.
Global Islam is thus localized into Hui Islam, finding its expression as
a range of accommodations between Chineseness and Muslimness as defined in each
accommodations of China’s Muslims are not unlike those made on a daily basis
among other Muslim minorities in Asia. The
only difference may be the increasingly post-modern contraction of time and
space: accommodations that took over a millenia in China are now being required
of Muslim diasporic communities in a matter of hours or days.
For Hui in China, Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers in Tokyo and Seoul,
and the wider diaspora, Muslims may becoming increasingly “unfamiliar
strangers.” This does not bode
well for the future integration of Muslims into the East Asian Leviathan, China.
For most Americans, Islam is a faith from and of the Middle East. Islam’s security implications therefore tend to be seen as emanating from the vexing problems of that region including, but not limited to, the Israeli-Palestinian/Arab dispute, the Iranian revolution, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and its illicit nuclear weapons program, oil embargoes and terrorism. The dramatic events of the past two decades in that region have only served to confirm the links between Islam, the Middle East and security problems in the American popular imagination.
part for these reasons, Islam’s changing role in Asia has been largely missed.
To be sure, developments regarding Islam in Asia, with exception of the
invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union and the continuing civil war
in that country, have been far less dramatic and directly threatening to the
interests of the United States and its allies.
Hence, the relatively little attention paid to them.
But there have been important, if more “distant” and at times nuanced
developments affecting Islam in Asia. These
· the takeover of power in Pakistan by General Zia Al-Haq and the increased Islamization of that country;
· the rise of Hindu nationalism in India and its implications for relations with its Islamic neighbors;
· the restiveness of China’s Muslims partly resulting from their wider ties to the world;
· shifting social, economic and political roles of Islam in the politics of Malaysia and Indonesia; and
· the mostly localized Moro rebellion in the Philippines.
all of these trends and developments are important, they simply have not been
able to compete with the jarring scenes visible in the Middle East, including
most recently the Persian Gulf War. How,
then, based on the reviews of the status and roles of Islam in key Asian
countries provided above, can one think about Islam’s security implications in
Asia? And, more specifically, what
if any, implications might the changing roles of Islam in Asia have for the
United States? At the national or
country-level, Islam’s implications for security come in the form of political
stability and ability to accommodate minorities where Islam is the majority
religion. At the regional level,
Islam’s role in security appears to be its relevance to either promoting
cooperation or creating tensions. At
the international level, a major issue is Asian Islam’s role in international
Islamic movements and organizations and particularly relations with the Middle
and Domestic Political Stability in Asia
presentations on the roles of Islam in Pakistan, Philippines, Malaysia,
Indonesia and China suggests that, with the exception of the Philippines where
an Islamic rebellion is all but over, Islam’s role in the politics, societies
and economies has grown. Despite
the growing role of Islam and the rise of more activist and religious Muslim
there appear to be few signs of an Islamic fundamentalist trend in Asia.
The point was made repeatedly that Islam in most of Asia must compete
with other identities, most notably ethnicity.
Moreover, Islam in Asia generally is built on pre-Islamic influences such
as Hinduism and Buddhism still persists. All
of these factors tend to make Islam in Asia of a variety different from the more
doctrinaire influences of the Arabian peninsula.
in one country, Pakistan, does it appear that Islam is threatening to take an
extra-parliamentary role towards politics.
Islamic politics of the street intended to undermine Pakistan’s barely
functioning democracy is possibly a real danger to the political stability of
the country. Just how serious a
threat Islam poses to Pakistan’s political system, and how soon, is a matter
of speculation. But what is not
beyond doubt is that factional fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in
Pakistan has grown, and so too has intolerance against the country’s minority
communities whether they be Christian, Hindu or Ahmadi.
India, it is not the rise of Islam, but rather the rise of majority Hinduism
that has raised concerns about political stability. In particular, the destruction in 1992 of the Babri Masjid, a
mosque in northern India claimed by Hindus as the birthplace of the god Ram, led
to some of the worst Hindu-Muslim rioting in post-independence India.
Some observers have wondered whether such incidents bode a long-term
trend in serious Hindu-Muslim violence that will lead to undermining the
stability of the Indian state. The victory, once again, of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
and its coalition partners, in the most recent national elections suggests that
political Hinduism is now pre-eminent. Still,
the prospect of an all-India conflagration between Hindus and Muslims does not
Indonesia and Malaysia, where Islamic identity and activity in social, economic
and political dimensions has been on the increase, political stability arising
from Islam’s role is not the critical issue.
Rather, the compelling issues appear to be accommodating Islamic activism
in the emerging politics of the two countries and protecting the rights of
minorities. The New Order of
Suharto’s Indonesia did not collapse because of Islamic activism, and Islam is
not behind the rough political dynamics of Malaysia during the past two years.
But, as both countries move through an era of political change, Islam
will certainly be one if not the most critical of the many factors shaping the
in all, it appears that none of the Asian countries considered in this seminar,
with the possible exception or Pakistan, are in danger of being thrown into
turmoil and instability due to an Islamic revolution. There are ways in which the role of Islam may affect the
stability of the some of these states, however; such as incorporating Islamic
political parties in the new dispensation in Indonesia or ensuring the
confidence and safety of non-Muslim minorities in Malaysia and Indonesia.
In India and Philippines non-Muslim majorities must work to ensure that
confidence and safety of the minority Muslim community.
There are also legitimate questions about the degree to which Islam will
affect the definition of nationalism in Muslim-majority countries of the region.
and Asian Regional Politics in Asia
role of Islam in Asian regional politics is extraordinarily complicated and
differs from sub-region to sub-region not to mention across Asia.
In South Asia for example, Islam has not proved to be a tie that binds as
indicated by the separation of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) from co-religionist
West Pakistan in 1971. (The majority-Hindu states of India and Nepal certainly
have not always had good relations either).
Intra-regional relations in South Asia are certainly complicated by
religion (whether Islam or Hinduism, or for that matter Buddhism) but religion
does not shape these relations. Nationalism,
power politics, and ethnic identities are much stronger factors in
in Southeast Asia, intra-regional relations are only partly affected by
religion. There has been
intra-regional cooperation on problems with an Islamic dimension such as the
Moro rebellion. In that case, both
Malaysia and Indonesia played a moderating and facilitating role.
In other instances, however, the Islam “factor” appears to have
different implications for regional relations.
For example, several Southeast Asian leaders came to the defense of
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim after he was removed from office
by Prime Minster Mahaithir. At least one report has noted that Mr. Ibrahim’s
most vocal supporters were, like him, moderate Muslims and implied that a
network of moderate Muslims was rising to power in Southeast Asia.
The only problem with such a view of course is that the person who put
Mr. Ibrahim in prison is also a fellow moderate Muslim, and another of Mr.
Ibrahim’s strongest supporters is the Catholic President of the Philippines
Mr. Estrada. Again, religion, whether Islam or any other, seems to be the
less compelling variable in shaping intra-regional cooperation or tensions
compared to other factors.
terms of regional organizations, Islam seems to play an important organizational
role in bringing together non-governmental groups for the purposes of youth
exchanges, education and other social types of engagement (e.g., the World
Assembly of Muslim Youth). But when
it comes to governments and government policies, the regional organizations
deemed most important at the regional or sub-regional level have almost nothing
to do with any faith (e.g., the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation
and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations).
The bottom line regarding Islam at the regional or sub-regional level in
Asia is that it has little direct or determining power in either promoting
cooperation or in creating tensions. Hence,
Islam’s role in regional security is limited.
Islam and the World
has always been an internationalist religion, but with a special connection to
the holy places in the Middle East where the faith has its origins.
Muslims, like Christians, Jews and others, will always be concerned with
the fate of co-religionists around the world.
Whether that will lead governments to take particular policy actions is
less certain. For example, the
Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan certainly created much concern in the
Islamic world, but few Muslim countries cut-off relations with the Soviet Union. Muslims also watched with great care the world response to
the situation in Kosovo. Many
Muslim countries were heartened that the United States and other Western
countries had acted to assist Muslims on humanitarian grounds. Other governments with large Muslim minorities (e.g., China
and India) were very critical, however, of the West’s actions in Kosovo.
international issue affecting the Muslims of Asia is globalization.
The trend towards globalization allows increased contacts amongst Muslims.
This has had an especially important, and perhaps ultimately
destabilizing, impact in countries where Muslims have been relatively isolated
from co-religionists elsewhere, as in China.
Islamic organizations such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)
offer an important venue for Islamic country representatives to share views and
work towards common stances on issues. As
with other non-faith-based international organizations however, there is no
guarantee that the OIC will act with consensus. Indeed, individual Islamic countries within the OIC have
often taken strongly divergent policies on issues.
One example is the Moro rebellion; an issue on which Indonesia and
Malaysia worked to moderate Libya’s strongly critical stance of the
Philippines in OIC deliberations and actions.
Nor can the OIC be counted upon to support its fellow members fully or
generously. It has been reported
that the OIC offered to Pakistan only $20 million in assistance following its
May 1998 nuclear tests and the sanctions that brought Pakistan’s economy to
the brink of collapse.
final aspect of Asian Islam’s international links relates to the Middle East.
The Middle East is important to Asian Islam not only as the home of the
faith’s holiest sites, to which every Muslim is enjoined to travel at least
once in his or her lifetime, but also for more earthly reasons.
Asian Islamic countries rely on the Middle East for oil supplies, for
markets for goods, for remittances from their workers stationed there, and for
economic assistance. There are
also, of course, overlaps between Asian and Middle Eastern countries in
organizations such as the OIC, OPEC, NAM and the United Nations.
These overlapping memberships do not, as indicated, guarantee anything
like common cause on all issues, but they are important avenues for dialogue and
consultations on issues of common interest.
in Asia and the United States
As this summary of the seminar presentations and discussions suggests, Islam in Asia is highly complex. Its implications for security at the national, regional and international level are limited. United States' interests in Asia will be affected by developments regarding the role of Islam in the regional countries themselves more than by a concerted Islam in the region or the world. In essence, Islam itself poses no monolithic challenge to United States interests. If the United States were to treat Islam as an enemy, it might become one. Recent events, most notably in Kosovo, have reduced some suspicions about the United States’ and other western countries’ hostile attitudes about Islam and Muslims.
This report was authored by Dr.
Satu Limaye, Chief, Research Division,
Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. For more information, please contact him at
Mr. Zaffar Abbas
Professor Tamara Albertini
University of Hawaii
Professor Roger T. Ames
University of Hawaii
Mr. Richard Baker
East West Center
Dr. Donald L. Berlin
Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies
Dr. Eric Casino
Hawaii Pacific University
Dr. Dru C. Gladney
Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies
Professor P. Bion Griffin
University of Hawaii
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Gross
Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies
Major Randall Koehlmoos
Lieutenant Colonel Mel C. Labrador
U.S. Pacific Command
Dr. Satu P. Limaye
Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies
Professor Michael J. Montesano
Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies
Mr. Thomas Peterman
Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies
Professor Amri Baharuddin Shamsul
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
Captain Robert Speer
Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies
Dr. Rizal Sukma
Centre for Strategic and International Studies
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