Rizieq Shahib: Indonesian hardline Muslim leader and Ahok critic faces arrest

Rizieq was named as a suspect over derogatory comments that he made about the first President Sukarno

Rizieq Shahib
Rizieq gestures after he leaves police headquarters following questioning in Jakarta Reuters

It seems backlash is at hand for Indonesia's hardline preacher Rizieq Shahib, who is also the leader of Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). Shahib has been grabbing eyeballs for his uncompromising ideologies and for creating religious division in the second largest Muslim-majority nation in the world.

Rizieq has been named suspect over derogatory comments allegedly made about the country's founding principles and first President Sukarno during a speech in West Java province. Analysts, according to The Guardian, said that this move is aimed at silencing a hardliner's group who, the authorities fear, can influence Jakarta's governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama blasphemy trial and the election due on February.

Governor Ahok, who has Chinese origin, is facing trial for allegedly criticising the Quran during one of his speeches. However, this move can call in great trouble for the authorities as Rizieq is the cynosure of all eyes in the Muslim dominated country.

Also read: Ahok's blasphemy trial resumes in Jakarta, judges expected to take call on governor's refutation

Australian academic Dr Ian Wilson remembers the Muslim leader as a primary force in the relief operations during the devastating 2004 Aceh tsunami. "(Rizieq and his followers) were camped out in the cemetery in Banda, Aceh and spent a lot of times collecting bodies and giving people proper religious burials...A lot of people recognised that," said Wilson, according to sbs.com.

For those who are hankering for a homogeneous society and are often bigoted and believe in the concept of enoughism, Rizieq comes across as a messiah but takes a completely opposite image for the others. For those who are for pluralism, liberalism and consumerism, he seems like taking the country backwards day by day.

Rizieq also spearheaded the protests against Ahok on November 4 and December 2, demanding his resignation and immediate arrest. Despite being heavily criticised by the moderate Indonesians for his dogmatic ideologies, he retains thousands of loyal supporters across the country, who won't let their leaders go to jail without a proper fight.

Also read: Indonesia: Ahok blasphemy trial shifted out of central Jakarta over security concerns

"We have enough evidence, and we have named Rizieq Shihab a suspect," said Yusri Yunus, spokesman of West Java provincial police, as reported by The Guardian.

While talking about the chances of Rizieq going to jail, Wilson said that, in a political backdrop where everyone is corrupt, the radical leader is seen as a "figure of credibility". "He has always maintained a fairly simple standard of living in relative terms and people think he is genuinely committed to defending the faith," said the lecturer in Politics and Security, Terrorism and Count-terrorism Studies at Murdoch University.

However, Dr Ngatawi al-Zastrouw, who belongs to of Indonesia's largest Islamic organisations called Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said that he supports the latest developments and believes that importance of FPI in Indonesia is ending. "(It will) educate Muslim people in Indonesia to respect legal process, that law can be uphold for everyone," said Ngatawi, as reported.