Front Pembela Islam


Front Pembela Islam

The Front Pembela Islam (FPI) was established on 17 August 1998 by Habib Mohammed Rizieq Shihab.

FPI is a socio-religious organisation best known for Islamic vigilantism which is carried out by its paramilitary wing, Laskar Pembela Islam. It promotes a salafi interpretation of Islam coupled with anti-American, anti-secular, anti-pluralist and anti-democratic views. FPI's aim is the implementation of sharia law in Indonesia. Thus, while it has opposed the democratisation of Indonesia it has not been averse to endorsing political candidates who support the introduction sharia both at local and national level in Indonesia. Indeed, in 2014 it publically endorsed Prabowo Subianto as presidential candidate.

In the early reformasi period from 1999 to 2001, FPI is believed to have had links to and allegedly received funding from a variety of politicians and members of the security forces, including Jakarta police chief Nugroho Djajusman, in the context of the political and civil-military struggle particularly during the Wahid presidency. This was, however, never more than a tactical alliance on both sides.

FPI has branches in 28 provinces. Its activities revolve around the Muslim duty of 'enjoining good and forbidding wrong', and it conducts regular, often violent, campaigns against vice, particularly alcohol, gambling, and prostitution. In this context it carries out annual 'policing' of Ramadan, forcibly closing stalls selling food during daytime and restaurants selling alcohol in the evening. It also provides grassroots-level community assistance and Islamic learning as well as aiding humanitarian relief efforts in response to natural disasters. For instance, FPI was one of the main organisations recovering bodies in the wake of the 2004 tsunami in Aceh. Further, it defends Muslims against what it sees as 'Christianisation', 'deviance', 'disbelief' and 'blasphemy'. In this context FPI has been at the forefront of efforts to close churches in Muslim neighbourhoods such as the Yasmin Church in Bogor and the Filadelfia Church in Bekasi. It also has spearheaded attacks against Ahmadiyya in East Lombok, Tasikmalaya, Parung, Garut, and Cikeusik, using traditional and bladed weapons. In June 2008 it attacked the peaceful rally by the National Alliance for the Freedom of Faith and Religion in Jakarta. It forced the cancellation of Lady Gaga concert in May 2012 on grounds of immorality, attacked Canadian liberal Muslim author Irshad Manji who was in Indonesia to promote her book, and attacked two Buddhist temples in South Sulawesi in response to Myanmar's treatment of the Muslim Rohingya. In July 2014, a small number of FPI volunteers also departed for Gaza to defend the Palestinians from Israeli attack. For further analysis of FPI see Ian Douglas Wilson, '"As Long as It's Halal": Islamic Preman in Jakarta' in Greg Fealy and Sally White (eds), Expressing Islam: Religious Life and Politics in Indonesia (Singapore: ISEAS, 2008) and Chaidar S. Bamualim, 'Islamic Militancy and Resentment against the Hadhramis in Post-SuhartoIndonesia: A Case Study of Habib Rizieq Syihab and his Islamic Defenders Front', Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, Vol 31,No 2 (2011). See also J. Jahroni, Defending the Majesty of Islam: Front Pembela Islam, 1998-2003 (Silkwormbooks, 2008).

Dr Kirsten E. Schulze, Associate Professor of International History, London School of Economics