In a mirror image of a recent poll in the Middle East, a newly released survey of Southeast Asian Muslims suggests the central role of Islam in people’s daily lives and choices.
The survey was released days after former Indonesian Minister of Social Affairs Habib Salim Segaf Al-Jufri was appointed Secretary General of the Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), founded by the controversial scholar Islamic Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the world leaders. leading Muslim theologians associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Mr. Al-Qaradawi died Monday in Doha at the age of 96.
Curiously, Mr. Al-Jufri, a prominent member of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), affiliated with the Indonesian Brotherhood, also represents the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) in East and South Asia. Is, a Saudi government-funded organization originally established in the 1970s to promote Saudi religious ultra-conservatism globally. Since 2016, the group has been refocused to promote Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman as a reformer pushing the kingdom towards a more moderate and tolerant interpretation of Islam.
The post also came as Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim civil society organization in the country and the world’s most populous Muslim-majority democracy, forged an unlikely alliance with Saudi Arabia’s Muslim World League. .
Like WAMY, the League, once a primary vehicle for spreading Wahhabism globally, has become Mr. Bin Salman’s main vehicle in his efforts to gain soft religious power and propagate an autocratic version of the Islam which is socially liberal, but which demands absolute obedience to the ruler. .
Neither event influenced the responses of the 1,000 people covered by the survey of Southeast Asian Muslims. But events place the poll in a context in which Muslim organizations, whether state-controlled or not, champion different concepts of a moderate interpretation of Islam and make perceived legitimacy or illegitimacy of political Islam one of their main driving forces.
Mr Bin Salman, who pushes for social reform against the backdrop of a history of promoting ultra-conservative dominance, may be more concerned about the growing importance of mainstream Islam than Southeast Asian governments , whose history and encounter with Islam are often influenced by local influences. culture, tradition and mysticism.
Even so, political and business leaders in Southeast Asia, home to 276.5 million Muslims who make up 40% of the region’s population, will likely take note of the Southeast Asia survey as well as recent polls in the Middle East amid perceptions of greater religious conservatism in their countries that are not only aligned with trends in other parts of the Muslim world, but also in major non-Muslim religious groups across the world.
Malaysia and Indonesia, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, became the top four halal markets in this year’s Global Islamic Economy Indicator, compiled by the US research and advisory firm DigiStandard.
The indicator takes into account various sectors, including halal food, Islamic finance, Muslim-friendly travel, leisure and media. Malaysia maintained its long-standing top position thanks to a 20% increase in investment in Shariah-compliant funds and the success of its Islamic cartoons for children.
Ninety-one percent of respondents to the Southeast Asia survey conducted by two New York-based consultancies, Wunderman Thompson Intelligence and the Muslim Intel Lab established last year by YMLY&R, described a strong relationship with Allah as very important.
Wealth trailed, which only mattered to 34% of respondents, followed by 28% who cared about their passions and 12% for whom fame was a concern.
Eighty-four percent of respondents in Malaysia and Indonesia said they prayed five times a day. Thirty-three percent described themselves as more observant than their parents, 45 percent said they were just as observant as their parents, and 21 percent said they were less observant.
The growing importance of religion was marked by a survey in the Middle East where 41% of 3,400 young Arabs from 17 Arab countries aged 18-24 said religion was the most important part of their identity , with nationality, family and/or tribe, Arab heritage, and gender far behind. That’s 7 percent more than those surveyed a year earlier.
Polls in the Middle East further showed that a majority disagreed that “we should listen to those of us who try to interpret Islam in a more moderate way, tolerant and modern”.
In many ways, the Southeast Asian survey was more detailed as it focused on Muslim consumer behavior.
The poll put into perspective a March decision by Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Ministry headed by prominent Nahdlatul Ulama to deprive Indonesia’s former council of ulema (Islamic scholars) of its de facto monopoly on halal certification by opening the industry to competition. .
Halal certificates are big business. The Halal Products Assistance Agency issues the certificates based on a fatwa issued by the Council to businesses in the food, fashion, education, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, tourism sectors , media, travel, medicine, health, art, culture and finance.
The overwhelming majority of respondents to the Southeast Asia survey, 91%, said that a product being halal was very important in their purchasing decision. At the same time, 83% identified halal with certification by an Islamic body.
Sixty-one percent take Halal into account in their banking and investment preferences. Seventy-seven percent said the availability of Halal facilities was important in their choice of travel destinations. Eighty-five percent wanted a metaverse that caters specifically to Muslims, and 53% used prayer and Quran apps.
Overall, the comparison of polls suggests that religion is playing an increased role in people’s lives in the Muslim world beyond the Middle East.
In Southeast Asia, the survey highlights the importance of efforts by groups like Nahdlatul Ulama to promote a humanitarian interpretation of Islam that is tolerant, pluralistic and respectful of human and minority rights.
In the Middle East, surveys challenge autocratic rulers whose concept of moderate Islam is a necessary social reform to meet the aspirations of young people, enable economic diversification and provide religious legitimization of their absolute power as part of a strategy survival of the regime.
As a result, Southeast Asia, rather than the Middle East, could become the cradle of religious reform in the Muslim world. Nahdlatul Ulama seems to believe he can achieve this if he convinces people like the Muslim World League that reform must be genuine and holistic rather than selfish. It is an if with a capital I in a strategy as risky as it is audacious.