Lessons from Indonesia

Indonesia is made up of more than 17,000 islands with over 1.9 million square miles of land, which makes it the 15th largest country. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, which boasts more than 700 spoken languages. Due to its position on the Pacific Ring of Fire (an area with a high degree of tectonic activity), Indonesia has to cope with the constant risk of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods and tsunamis. In 2017, Indonesia was plagued by 787 floods, 716 tornadoes, 614 landslides, 20 earthquakes and two volcanic eruptions.


The recent earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia has claimed the lives of almost 2000 people, and counting, with more than 70,000 displaced. The disaster was followed by a volcanic eruption spewing ash 6,000 metres into the sky.


Indonesian link to Islam in South Africa:

The Cape became a place of political exile for those who had resisted Dutch occupation in Indonesia. Apart from thousands of slaves who arrived at the Cape, 182 princes, emirs, advisors and imams were banished from Indonesia to the Cape. Tuan Guru or Imam Abdullah, who belonged to the royal family from Indonesia was banished to the Cape as a political prisoner. The Dutch made it a point to remove the Qur’an from Imam Abdullah and his men, before they were sent into exile to Robben Island, thinking that without religious literature they would eventually lose their Muslim identity, nor will they be able to propagate Islam in South Africa. Imam Abdullah was a hafiz of the Qur’an, and during his time on Robben Island, he wrote several copies of the Qur’an entirely from memory – one of the handwritten copies is still on display at the Auwal Mosque in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town.


What we learn from the above is that:

  • Activism and the quest for social and political justice are deeply rooted in the very DNA of Islam in South Africa.
  • The banishment of Muslims in one part of the world actually planted the seeds of Islam in another part of the world.
  • The critical need for education, preservation and propagation is accentuated by the writing of the Qur’an from memory.
  • Islam is not the preserve of one racial group. Muslims are not defined by race but by a creed which creates a bond of brotherhood irrespective of our racial moorings.
  • The country with the largest Muslim population so prone to repeated catastrophe and devastation, is a very clear indication that belief is not an insurance against hardship nor does disbelief guarantee adversity in this world. In fact, the opposite holds true; the closer you are to Allah, the greater the difficulty.
  • Hardship is part of the TEST of human faith, “And We will surely test you with instances of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient. Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.” (2:155/6)
  • Hardship and adversity is also a means of cleansing our souls from the grime of sin. “No fatigue, nor disease, nor anxiety, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
  • Hardships contribute to character development. We grow mentally, emotionally and intellectually through our experiences. We become more understanding, more patient, more resolute and more compassionate because of adversity. Two things define our character – our patience when in difficulty and our attitude when in prosperity.
  • Hardship is often a knock on the door. A reminder not to take life for granted. Sometimes we grow distant from our Creator, we take our blessings for granted and our bond with Him weakens. “And when We bestow favour upon man, he turns away and distances himself; but when evil touches him, then he is full of extensive supplication.” [41:51] Hardships are sometimes a means of drawing us back to Allah.


“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.” (Gibran)


May Allah relieve the people of Indonesia from their difficulty, may He protect them, provide for them and preserve our faith in Him under all circumstances. Ameen.