#SaveMaryam: Beyond the Hashtag
I came across the call to Save Maryam a few weeks back while on Facebook, and was wondering what it was. I am eager to support good causes whatever they may be, and so I dutifully went to the website and read about the cause and watched the video. Was Maryam a child with a life-threatening illness? A sister in severe financial difficulty? How could we help?
It turned out that Maryam is a fictional character.
In the video, Maryam is representative of the average poor Indonesian Muslim girl, not receiving the moral support she requires from Muslim sources, she finds Christians instead to be generous, warm and supporting. As such, she considers converting to Christianity, and her situation is apparently emblematic of the average Indonesian Muslim.
2 Million Apostates?
I wanted to shake my head in disbelief after watching it. For the unaware, the campaign, which seeks funding (an estimated 2 million dollars) for the establishment of an Islamic television channel and hotline in Indonesia, bases itself on the rather dubious claim that almost 2 million Muslims are converting to Christianity in Indonesia every year. With approximately 203 million Muslims in Indonesia, this would mean that at this rate Islam in Indonesia would be virtually extinct in a little over a century.
This state of affairs, the video claims, is because Christians are specifically targeting their evangelical efforts at Muslims, by using Islamic terminology and holding services on Friday afternoons when Muslims would normally be at the mosque for Friday prayers. It also implies that Muslim organisations, da’is, counselors, and activists are ineffectual in their efforts and unable to reach out to the general Indonesian Muslim population.
Given this is the same Indonesia where over the past few years I’ve read reports of shariah law being actively implemented in Aceh, people worrying about the increasing Islamisation of the legal system, and a Lady Gaga concert being cancelled due to protests by religious activists, one can hardly make the assumption that Islam is on the decline in Indonesia. Quite the opposite in fact.
While Christian missionaries’ actively preaching to Muslims to get them to convert is not unknown, the 2 million figure seems more than a slight exaggeration. International Crisis Group, whose report “”Christianisation” and Intolerance” was used as a source to derive this number, has already distanced itself from the Save Maryam campaign. It is worth noting that the report itself makes no claim as to the number of Muslims converting to Christianity in Indonesia annually, and that the campaign’s derivation of a 2 million estimate seems to be based on highly dodgy mathematics at best.
Furthermore, the Muhammadiyah organisation, whose support the campaign claims to have, has already stated they have not been approached by the organisers of Save Maryam, bringing the campaign into further disrepute.
Credit for much of this goes to Maulana M. Syuhada; an Indonesian PhD student based in Lancester, England, whose deconstruction of Save Maryam’s claims can be found on his Facebook page. (Part 1 can be found here).
Who needs saving?
Given how much benefit I have reaped from the numerous scholars from around the world who have come to Singapore to share knowledge, I am hardly arguing against foreigners spreading da’wah to Indonesians, or Malaysians or Singaporeans for that matter. However, it reeks of a colonialist mindset to assume that our fellow Muslims need ‘saving’ because their leaders are not up to par and it will require foreign intervention to rescue the poor Indonesians.
It is an insult to the many scholars who call Indonesia home, and to every aspiring student of knowledge sitting in pesantrens across the Indonesian archipelago, poring over the Qur’an attempting to memorise the verses, or just the average Muslim doing her best to fulfill her religious obligations, to assume that their faith is so flimsy that the stresses of daily life will cause them to break down and seek another religion.
Problems of apostasy and a lack of spiritual and moral guidance for the youth exist in Muslim communities around the world, including Singapore. We do not need to run to Indonesia to find Muslim youth in trouble.
Beyond hashtag activism
To support efforts such as an Islamic television channel and support hotline for people to get spiritual counseling and guidance is a noble task, worthy of both moral and financial support. To use alarmism, scare tactics and blatant disinformation to garner support is another matter entirely. There is nothing wrong in promoting a cause through social media, but I believe sincerity should form the bedrock of any endeavour.
If the effort that went into galvanising youths into raising awareness for this campaign went instead to, say, improving their own knowledge of religious matters and their da’wah and activism in their own communities around the world, I daresay that that would do far more to strengthen the ummah and deter Christian evangelising than any viral video.
I am sure that everybody involved in promoting this video was sincere in their desire to help their brethren in Indonesia, and I am well aware of the established names supporting this effort. I have seen some try to justify spreading the video by saying that the intention behind it is good even if the claims made were not completely accurate, since we know from the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, that “innama a’mal biniyyat”, all actions are judged by their intentions. However this would not justify, for example, robbing a bank to build a mosque.
I believe that if the creators of the Save Maryam campaign had been upfront with their intentions in the first place rather than rely on fear mongering, insha-Allah their efforts would have still been successful. Instead, we are left wondering why such outlandish claims were made in the first place.[divider]
Ahmad Zhaki Abdullah
Ahmad Zhaki holds a degree in English Literature from the University of London. He is a full-time executive at a local research institute and a part-time writer.