Theologians “Moralising” Indonesia?

The Case of the Post-New Order Ulama Council of Indonesia (MUI)

in Asian Journal of Social Science
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After the fall of the New Order in 1998, the Ulama Council of Indonesia (MUI) has been in the limelight for many of its controversial and conservative fatwa (legal opinions). Formed in 1975 by President Suharto, MUI was intended to serve as an institution to manage and discipline dissent, challenges and defiance by grassroots organisations. However, recent writings point to its changing character: Its fatwas are becoming more conservative; it is more assertive and powerful; and its fatwas, particularly the 2005 SIPILIS (anti-secularism, pluralism and liberalism), are deemed as contributing to violence towards minorities. This article reassess the scholarly conclusions and media reports made about the relationship between MUI, the Indonesian state and society. Examining MUI’s attempt to define public morality as a case study, particularly its role in the 2008 pornography bill and efforts to “moralise” entertainment, the article argues that MUI is internally fragmented and weak.




Interview with Ichwan Sam, 3 December 2012. He mentioned that government funding was RP 3 trillion a year.


According to Peltzman, Levine and Noll (1989), the concept was mentioned in 1955 by Marver H. Bernstein.


See Frye (2002) and Ganev (2007).


As of 2014, only one person has been charged under the law. In 2009, Indonesian Playboy editor, Erwin Arnada was to sentenced two years imprisonment for violating public morality. The magazine was also discontinued (Moch Nur, 2013:76).


Since 2015, Ma’ruf Amin is MUI Chairman.


Interview with Isa Anshary, 6 December 2012.


Interview with Isa Anshary, 31 October 2012. The selective use of Pancasila itself has raised divisions within MUI. Slamet Effendy, for instance, contends that MUI has not abandoned Pancasila ideology for sharia, but have contrasting perspective on public morality from other members Slamet also spoke about the merits of Lady Gaga. He said that Indonesia should emulate Lady Gaga on how to be a good singer, composer and dancer (NU Online, 2012). Because of these disagreements between Lady Gaga and Pancasila, MUI has not officially issued any fatwa on the American artist (Rachman and Primanita, 2012). Interview with Slamet Effendy Yusof, 5 December 2012.



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