Commentary: Rhoma’s Idaman Party Promotes Islam as Religion of Peace

JULY 13, 2015

An Indonesian celebrity is struggling to correct negative perception of Islam among certain quarters in the West by setting up a political party that advocates harmony with an agenda that would send out Islamic peace messages to the rest of the world.

Dangdut music king Rhoma Irama’s newly established Idaman Party aims to repaint Islam’s image as a peace-loving religion that brings blessings for the universe. That is why he names it Idaman, short for Islam Damai Aman, meaning peaceful and safe Islam.

The party will be officially declared on Indonesia’s Independence Day of August 17. The choice of this historic day itself has a meaning. At least it indicates his belief that just as the nation was freed on that day 70 years ago from the yoke of colonialism, his party would attempt to free Muslims from ideological and political disintegration and at the same time build Indonesia as a model for peaceful and safe Islam for the rest of the world to follow.

“Let us show it [to the world] that Islam is a religion of peace that is rahmatan lil alamin [a blessing for the universe]; [let us] prove that Islam is not terrorist, Islam is not radical,” he declared in Jakarta on July 11, adding that Muslims would hopefully unite around him to rebuild the country based on justice.

The most interesting aspect of Idaman Party, as Rhoma reveals, is that even non-Muslims can join it. This has yet to be proven, but he says he means it, so non-Muslims who are not affiliated with any Indonesian political party should register now for membership and see how the wind blows.

Idaman Party’s symbol is two hands forming the symbol of love with the phrase Love Indonesia on it. Philosophically, this party will advocate love, peace, and safety. Its agenda should revolve around these three themes and consequently its cadres should qualify for executing such noble values.

In Rhoma’s words, the main agenda, apart from contributing to national development, is to “erase the Islamophobia and stigmatization against Islam.”

Is that because Rhoma believes that existing Islamic parties haven’t done enough to serve the purpose? To some extent it is true. Muslim parties are fragile institutions. The United Development Party (PPP) is split into two camps and the National Awakening Party (PKB) has had the same experience.

The Crescent Star Party (PBB) is led by a well-rounded expert of law-cum-politician — Yusril Ihza Mahenda — yet it failed to attract enough voters to secure a seat in parliament. Other Islamic parties act only like non-governmental organizations (NGOs) outside of the official establishment, thanks to their failures in garnering people’s support, despite the fact that Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population.

Except in the first and second elections in 1955 and 1971 Indonesia’s political paties that are based on religious doctrines have failed to attract significant number of votes.

In 1955, at least eight of the 29 parties (out of 172 participating political contestants) that won parliamentary seats were staunchly Islamic, Christian and Catholic. The Majelis Syuro Muslimin Indonesia (Masyumi Party) was the second biggest winner after Nationalist Party while Nahdlatul Ulama was in the third place. Six of the top 10 parties were based on religion, mostly Islam.

Then president Sukarno therefore issued Decree No.128/1960 to limit the number of political parties to only 10, out of which only two were Islamic, namely Nahdlatul Ulama and PSII. The lagest Muslim party then, Masyumi, was disbanded along with Socialist Party.

In the 1971 elections, six of the 10 parties that took part were based on religion. Of these four were Islamic parties, one was Catholic and the other was a Christian party.

Since then and during Suharto’s nearly 32-year reign, government and military-backed Golkar Party was always the winner. This ensured ideological stability and endorsed the conviction that political parties based on any religion in pluralist Indonesia would not be favored.

Even up to the most recent election last year, political parties based on the Islamic religion failed to command a majority vote while Christian and Catholic parties have ceased to exist.

Riding on religion to pursue political ambitions is gradually but surely losing both its magnet and relevance in increasingly open and democratic Indonesian society where the rallying point revolves around economic, justice, and human right issues.

Against the backdrop of these historical facts, Rhoma Irama’s Idaman Party may just be a new comer around the corner though his ability to attract supporters is not to be doubted, especially among the lower strata of the social pyramid.

In the next election, Idaman will expect to welcome “deserters” from large older parties such as the PPP and PKB. So while Rhoma intends to mend the broken cohesion of Islamic parties, he at the same time will tear down their fences to allow for desertion into his camp. This would not be a desirable scenario for the older parties which need more — and not less — followers.

If indeed repainting Islam’s image is what Rhoma intends to do, that can be done more effectively through non-political avenues such as education, charity, promotion of inter-faith solidarity and peaceful coexistence, attention to minority groups, provision of healthcare services, campaign against human and drugs trafficking, eradication of poverty by creating employment opportunities through the private sector and many more such noble endeavors that comprise a true jihad for humanity’s sake.

But politically, Rhoma’s maneuver through Idaman Party is worth acknowledging as a manifestation of a citizen’s civil and democratic rights to contribute to the nation’s progress.

His next duty is to make sure that he can sell his political agenda through dangdut music concerts across the country — a talent that few Indonesian celebrities can match. Surely his party would win and he would be the next president if dangdut mastery and being a mass-magnet were the main criteria for winning elections.

That, however, does not mean he doesn’t have a chance. At a time when older Islamic parties are not projecting themselves as credible avenues for the Muslim masses’ aspirations, Rhoma’s Idaman Party may become an timely alternative. And older Muslim parties must now beef up their defense, lest desertion would be unavoidable.

What Rhoma needs to do now is to strengthen the party’s structure down to provincial and district levels, and write up an agenda that could attract supporters across the country. For mesmerizing the crowds the maestro needs no mentor, only some hips-swaying female dangdut singers to jazz up his shows.

Pitan Daslani is director of Managing the Nation Institute. He can be reached at pitandaslani@gmail.com.

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