Islam and Civil Society in Southeast Asia: The Role of Islamic Organizations in Promoting Pluralism in Indonesia and Malaysia

Vice Executive Director of InMind Institute Prof. Dr. Firman Noor, M.A. wrote research article about how civil society organization and political parties in Indonesia and Malaysia view Islam and pluralism. His research was published by Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia (LIPI) or Indonesian Institute of Sciences at Jurnal Masyarakat dan Budaya in 2008. The PDF is accessible on or

Influential Islamic organizations in both Malaysia and Indonesia believe that Islam is in line with pluralism ideas and considers it as the basis of their actions in dealing with promoting pluralism. Those organizations, however, represent different Islamic streams. NU is the champion of traditionalist Islam in Indonesia, while ABIM in Malaysia is close to the modernist Islam, on the other hand PKS in Indonesia and PAS in Malaysia is representing a new stream in contemporary Islamic thinking that is called as neo-revivalist or moderate fundamentalist. Even though each organization has their own perspectives and sometimes conducts a different path in political activities, for example in the case of supporting Megawati as a president in Indonesia that shows opposite stand between NU as a pro camp and PKS as an opposition, those organizations have similar concerns in pluralism and become an important element in developing civil society.

In relation to the pluralism, all of the organizations realize that diversity in their country is a main reason to spread tolerance and pluralism awareness to all the people. In Indonesia, the tendency of Islamic resurgence had been reckoned by NU as a potential threat of national disharmony, and pushed this organization to mobilize Muslim to be more aware of it and suggest them Pancasila as a proper state principles for all Indonesian. On the other hand, PKS considers the diversity as a fact for Indonesia that should be regarded as a gift from the God and an opportunity for Muslims to prove the spirit of tolerance. As a consequence, NU and PKS have focused themselves on creating harmony and social equality. As a consequence, NU and PKS have focused themselves on upholding Pancasila and the constitution and trying to create harmony and social equality. While in Malaysia, the strong tendency of communalism and government’s attitudes toward such matter are the main reasons of both ABIM and PAS in dealing with promoting pluralism. For this reason, both of the organizations have their main focuses in national unity, creating a new meaning of nationalism and making Islam as an alternative solution. Finally, in both countries, Islamic organizations use cultural and formal methods, which demonstrated many kinds of Islamic attempts in order to promote pluralism. Based on this evidence, Islamic organizations contributions’ in promoting pluralism and civil society in Southeast Asia region cannot be denied.

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