Increasingly, Islamic higher education institutions in Indonesia are responding to this challenge.
Contrary to western popular belief, Islamic universities in Indonesia have embraced modernity, without losing its Islamic faith and philosophy.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Dr Dina Afrianty, lecturer, social & political sciences, State Islamic University, Jakarta, and currently post-doctoral research fellow at the Melbourne Law School.
AFRIANTY: With the Islamic education institution, from the primary to tertiary education, they are mostly under the Ministry of Religion.
The lower Islamic education institution like the primary to secondary, many of them, although they are under the Ministry of Religion, but they are autonomous, because they're privately run by religious scholars, by religious leaders in the village.
With the Islamic tertiary education, that means students not only taking the general sciences, like other secular public university, the students are required to take major subjects on Islam. They have to take the Koran and Hadith and then the Islamic preaching and then the methodology of interpretation of the Koran.
With the case of my university, for example, most of the students are graduated from the lower Islamic education, from the pesantren and madrasah. Why? Because it is hard and difficult for these graduates of pesantren and madrasah to compete and to study at the public secular university.
LAM: Why is that?
AFRIANTY: Because of the curriculum and the way, the way as I mentioned before, because this is the dichotomy of the Indonesian education system, the politics of budgeting and the lack of government support to Islamic education, making the quality is not competitive enough with the public schools.
Like in the case of my university, for example, we are still fighting to get more funding from the government, because then, if you want to improve the Islamic education institution, which means you also going to improve the quality of Indonesian Muslim, the government should invest more on improving infrastructure and also from the human resources, which is now the biggest challenge that is faced by Islamic education in general and especially, I think with the Islamic higher education.
But with globalisation, students who are at the Islamic higher education also getting more and more access to knowledge and with the radio, internet and everything, they can access everything equally, but in terms of academic quality that could probably still be questioned.
Graduates of Islamic Higher Education might have a more moderate view, because of the curriculum, especially the one under the Ministry of Religion, because of the modernisation of the curriculum that has been going on in the past 30 years.
Lecturers are studying in the West, they are starting to .. you know, in the 1970s, they start to combine the Western methodology, in social science, in understanding Islam.
So I guess that's, that's where it started, the modernisation. While in the public university, because students do not learn about Islam in particular, it's only probably two hours a week, so I guess they could buy from other sources, not from the institution.
LAM: How do the various Islamic universities interpret the different ideological strands of Islam? Are some more conservative than others or would you say that generally there's a kind of middle ground that most of them adopt?
AFRIANTY: I would say that in general, they are quite similar in terms of moderate view of Islam, of religion. It is very important to empower the Islamic higher education, because it's quite uniform, the curriculum is highly regulated by the Ministry of Religion and also I think the fact that this university also work with various institutions, with overseas universities, that also affect the way lecturers see themselves - as a Muslim and also in building and developing their curriculum.
LAM: What about the issue of gender - how well represented are women in Islamic Universities in Indonesia?
AFRIANTY: Well from my research, the number of female lecturers, for example, are less than male ones.
LAM: What about the student body?
AFRIANTY: The student body very interesting, because at the State Islamic University in Jakarta, a number of female students are only slightly under the male and they're very active in social organisations, students organisation in campus.
And then some of the students that I talk with, they are actually having quite strategic position within this organisation. They very strong, they're independent. This is a very new experience, because in the past, they were being told women cannot be a leader, because of the physical weaknesses so on and so forth. But when they are being a university student and studying in Jakarta, they found it quite different.
They feel like they're very lucky to get into the university, because otherwise they might have a different view of themselves and also how they going to position themselves in the society and also in the family. And also I guess education also means that they learn from their lecturers, they learn from their female teachers. They said they get inspired from having lecturers who have higher education, while they previously only being told that being a woman, you don't need have to study that high, because at the end, you're going to be cooking for your husband.
LAM: In the kitchen, yeah?
AFRIANTY: In the kitchen, something like that.
And I guess there are graduates of Islamic Higher Education who are now being promoters and reformers and they've been calling the need for the reform into Islamic teaching. So with democracy, women are also gaining more power ini the public sphere to talk about what they think is good for themselves. And also the male scholars who have authority in Islamic teachings, are also now becoming more aware of this as well, so we also get the support from the male scholars.
LAM: Where do you see Islamic universities and tertiary education institutions, where do you see them heading, as Indonesia progresses towards its democratisation?
AFRIANTY: Well, this is interesting. I think whether Islamic education will grow stronger, Indonesian Muslims also being influenced by this Islamist movement. More and more Indonesian Muslims now thinking about the need to go back to Islam, try to revive their religions and see globalisation as a corrupt movement. So, for example, the wearing of head scarf becoming more as a social uniform, compared to in the past.
The point that I would make that Muslim families now are becoming more interested to send their children to Islamic education, because they believe they need to be equipped with proper Islamic religious education, otherwise globalisation will corrupt their children and then (they're) not religious.
And I think the Ministry of Religion has also seen that it is moving to that direction, that's why now the transformation from various forms of higher Islamic education is also taking place. Religious education should be taken by the government, instead of leaving it all to the Muslim extremists or the conservative.