Ma’ruf Amin: Jokowi’s Islamic defender or deadweight?

« Ma’ruf Amin: Jokowi’s Islamic defender or deadweight? » by Greg Fealy, 28/08/2018, New Mandala

The image was incongruous: President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), who wants his presidency defined by Indonesia’s rapid economic development and modernisation, stood awkwardly before the media on 10 August with his newly announced vice-presidential candidate, Ma’ruf Amin, a 75-year-old conservative Islamic scholar clad in traditional sarung and sandals. Answering criticism of his choice, Jokowi praised his running mate as “an untarnished figure, a wise ulama (Islamic scholar) who is respected across the Islamic community”. He proclaimed that with Ma’ruf on his ticket religion and nationalism would complement each other.

Indeed, Ma’ruf Amin is the most powerful ulama in the nation. Since 2015, he has occupied two pre-eminent positions: rais aam (president) of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the nation’s largest Muslim organisation; and chairman of the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), the paramount state-endorsed body for issuing rulings on Islamic issues. Prior to this, he was an influential member of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Presidential Advisory Council (Wantimpres).

The story of how Ma’ruf came to be Jokowi’s presidential partner tells us much about the dynamics of contemporary Indonesian politics. As many commentators have observed, the president’s search for greater Islamic credibility was the primary reason for Ma’ruf’s elevation. But to explain why Ma’ruf rather than one of the many other prominent Islamic leaders was chosen requires a closer look at his career and sources of legitimacy. Conservatism has been an important, but by no means the only, element in his rise.

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