Internet contributes to radicalism among young Muslims in Indonesia: Study

The study found that controversial preachers with radical narratives were popular with young people online while those who promoted tolerant and moderate views did not interest them.
The study found that controversial preachers with radical narratives were popular with young people online while those who promoted tolerant and moderate views did not interest them.PHOTO: ST FILE

JAKARTA (JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A study suggests that young Indonesian Muslims who use the Internet more often tend to have radical and intolerant views compared to their peers who rarely go online.

Conducted by the Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University (UIN Syarif Hidayatullah) in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in late 2017, the study found that 88.55 per cent of 1,859 respondents believed the government should ban religious minority groups altogether.

In addition, 49 per cent of respondents - comprising students from hundreds of schools and universities across the country - disagreed with the government's protection of Islamic minority groups like the Ahmadiyah and Shi'ite.

Nearly 85 per cent have access to the Internet.

The study's lead researcher, Professor Jamhari Makruf of UIN Syarif Hidayatullah, explained that there was a positive correlation between Internet use among young Muslims and the way they perceive religious diversity.

"We found that religious websites are dominated by exclusive and intolerant views," Prof Jamhari said on Wednesday.

The study further revealed that preachers popular among young Muslims included those who often conveyed radical narratives, like controversial Indian ulema Zakir Naik and Indonesian preacher Khalid Basalamah.

In contrast, Muslim figures who promote tolerant and moderate views, such as Quraish Syihab, Ahmad Syafii Maarif, Mustafa Bisri and Haedar Nasir, did not interest young people.

Prof Jamhari called on large Islamic organisations such as Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah to promote moderate values and create more youth-friendly religious content on social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram to counter more extreme narratives.

"The youths want to access religious knowledge as easily as they access information about food; we have to accommodate them," he emphasised.

Another researcher from UIN Syarif Hidayatullah, Mr Irfan Abubakar, revealed on a separate occasion that learning from the Internet was not enough for young Muslims to gain a thorough understanding of Islam.


UIN Syarif Hidayatullah's Centre for the Study of Religion and Culture (CSRC), led by Mr Irfan, revealed that more young Muslims who are digital-savvy are abandoning mosques, as they preferred to study religion via social media.

Low religious literacy, as the result of learning religion only from the Internet, can lead to the belief that one's own beliefs are the absolute truth.

"(Such belief) is a threat to the country's pluralistic society," said Mr Irfan.

He urged the younger generation of Muslims to learn Islam through legitimate channels such as pengajian (Quran reading).

Muhammadiyah leader Haedar Nashir separately conceded that ignorance among large Islamic organisations had contributed to rising radicalism and intolerance in the country.

He added that Indonesia's second-largest Islamic organisation was committed to preparing its members to be "social-media preachers" and spread al-wasatiyyah (religious tolerance) and Islamic moderation as counter-narratives to extremism.

"Muhammadiyah has a strong network in society, including among the younger generations. We will turn (al-wasatiyyah) into a massive movement," he said.