As celebrities try to cast off what seems un-Islamic, their journeys of spiritual purification draw millennials. Social media are an effective marketing tool even for extremists.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Social media platforms and the latest forms of communication are the bases of the success - especially among youth - of a new way of promoting Islamic teachings in the country.
As the influence of mosques, which are tasked with spreading such teachings, is waning, the decision by some celebrities in the entertainment industry to undertake a personal hijrah (exodus), casting off a certain lifestyle and repent so as to discover or return to a more Islamic lifestyle, has set a new trend.
Hijrah is an Arabic word that means migration, exodus or journey. In the Islamic tradition it refers to the journey of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers from Makkah to Madinah, to escape the oppression of the Quraysh tribe.
In Indonesia, the term has now come to refer to an individual's effort to abandon a lifestyle perceived as non-Islamic and move towards a "religious" code of conduct (in behaviour and clothing), above and beyond the simple adherence to the required and recommended rituals.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Listia Probo, an Islamic scholar from Yogyakarta, explains that younger Indonesians "show great enthusiasm when they discover a purpose in their lives", one that is different from that of their seniors.
"Such great curiosity finds its best, quickest and least expensive fulfillment in social media,” she said. “The success of hijrah comes with the concept of ‘new Muslim’, as opposed to the puritanism of the old generation of observant believers.”
"Young people are drawn by the spiritual journey of influential people like celebrities,” she explained. “This also happens due to the failure of parents to pass on their knowledge in religious matters.”
"At the same time, young men and women are sceptical about their way of professing the Islamic faith. Therefore, the ways of "spiritual purification" by eminent people are perceived by millennials as more difficult and heroic."
The scholar notes that the new forms of communication represent an important platform for the diffusion of dakwah (Islamic preaching) by groups that promote extremist ideologies.
For radical movements, "the exposure of public figures and their ‘first-hand’ experiences constitute an effective marketing strategy. Closely followed by murobbi (tutors), some children engage in ever greater political militancy."
Dewi Prawisda agrees. She is a member of Gus Durian, a youth interfaith dialogue movement affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest moderate Islamic organisation.
"The fame and the good looks of actors and actresses are a magnet for young people, who are drawn to their spiritual pilgrimage,” she notes. “However, we must be aware that these people are not well informed about Islamic teachings. They are only entertainers. What worries me is the content of the material that is circulated. It is acceptable as long as it does not denigrate other religions."
For Syaiful Arif, a cleric from of Bekasi (West Java), hijrah "means carrying on what the Prophet taught once he arrived in Madinah, namely showing great tolerance towards others."
"Millennials are searching for a sense of piety. In my opinion, embracing a new lifestyle based on Islamic teachings should include good deeds, good words and good behaviour as Indonesians. The personal quest for piety should be based on our common philosophical ground, namely Pancasila”. The latter refers to Indonesia’s foundational doctrine.