Turns Out Indonesian Teenagers are Really, Really Into Religion

The coolest kids are all members of their high school's Islam Clubs.
May 30, 2018, 11:00am
Photo collage by Dicho Rivan. All images via unsplash.

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia

More Indonesian teenagers think faith is the key to real and lasting happiness than anywhere else on Earth, according to a survey of 20,000 young people born between 1995 and 2001 by the Varkey Foundation. According to that survey, 93 percent of those questioned here in Indonesia held up faith and religion as the most-important ways to achieve happiness.

Even in a country as religious as Indonesia, the survey's results were a bit surprising. But maybe they shouldn't have been. A lot of Indonesians see religion as a fundamental part of any civilization. A previous survey found that one out of every five students supported the idea of turning Indonesia into an Islamic caliphate and some national universities have long been seen as a hotbed of fundamentalists and radicalism.

Instagram is full of accounts like Pemuda Hijrah that urge Gen-Z kids to be better Muslims. That account has more than 1.4 million followers and it talks to a generation concerned with their faith, but previously unreached by traditional dakwah (preaching) methods. It tells kids how to set there life's goals, find the right "hijrah" friends, and, eventually, find their soulmates.

“We can see the difference between Gen-Z and other generations is their use of technology,” said Aidul Fitriyana, a researcher at the Ma’arif Institute. "On the one had, they think more critically since they can easily find all the information they need. But, on the other hand, they stop being critical when talking about religion. They think that religion is the ultimate answer to everything.”

There are campaigns warning teens of the dangers of "liberalism," and others that paint Islam as a force that touches everything in their lives, from the mosque to the traditional market.

“They criticize globalization and market liberalizations that fail to promote equality at a global level," Aidul told VICE. "That’s why hardliners think that religion is the right solution to end inequality."

Indonesian teens are also more prone to search out the answers to their religious questions online.

“They also browse the internet when they are curious about something,” Aidul said.

The problem is that a lot of the answers they find online are far more radical than any they would be told at their neighborhood mosque. We've recently written about how social media is the new front lines in Indonesia's war on radicalism and, today, a lot of young people put more stock in what YouTube preachers say than real life ustad, Aidul explained.

Then there's the rohani Islam, or Islam Clubs, of high schools. These clubs, called rohis, are extremely popular at schools, according to Renjana, a student at SMA 2 in Depok. They're the kinds of things the cool kids are into, she explained, adding that a lot of her peers see Islam as something they need to learn more about.

“People participate in rohis to broaden their knowledge in Islam," she told me. "The tutors are usually alumni. People think you are cool if you are in rohis."