On the drive from Jakarta to Bogor, a hilly regency about an hour south of the Indonesian capital, the polyphonic aural landscape gradually converges on a single voice that’s broadcast from storefronts, food carts, and houses: Radio Rodja, the country’s leading Salafi station.
In 2005, Radio Rodja started as a community production in Cileungsi, a small Bogor town, and obtained an AM frequency two years later, from where it became the most popular of the dozens of Salafi radio stations in Indonesia. In recent years, it has also live-streamed content about 20 hours a day on its website to reach listeners across the country.
The majority of its content is Quran recitations and lectures on theology, conduct, health, and lifestyle. Salafism is a fundamentalist movement, originating in Saudi Arabia, that extols the norms of early, eighth-century Islam and rejects modern cultural “innovations.” It is pointedly quietist, or discouraging political action or extremism, by design, but nevertheless, the rise of Salafi conservatism has caused frictions in diverse and tolerant Indonesia.
Salafism is visibly on the rise in middle-class Jakarta suburbs like Bogor, Depok, and Bekasi, as evidenced by the content of sermons at local mosques, the number of Salafi boarding schools in those areas, and Salafi dress — ankle length pants and beards for men, niqabs and burqas for women — of its residents.
One reason the movement has penetrated these groups is that it directly reaches them through radio and TV stations like Rodja.
Moderate Muslim organizations like Nahdlatul Ulama have pitched halfhearted efforts to counter their influence, but they are stretched thin by their size and dissolute agendas. Salafi media, on the other hand, has a laser-like focus on broadcasting dakwah (proselytization) at all hours of the day. This simplicity is no small part of its popular appeal.
Radio Rodja is headquartered in a small building complex around Al Barkah mosque. Its facilities include several soundproofed live-broadcast rooms and a large office with 20-odd Apple computers. Rodja staff declined multiple requests to be interviewed, citing previous “misrepresentation” in the press.
A recent weekday’s broadcast included a lecture on signs of the coming apocalypse, another on “becoming a teenager who is loved by Allah,” a listener call-in hour on health, Arabic language classes, and several hours of Quran recital. According to schedules posted on their website, Radio Rodja hosts prominent Salafi preachers from across Indonesia, like Badrussalam and Yazid Jawas, as well live broadcasts from the Jakarta Islamic Centre.
The language of Indonesian Salafi groups has become less provocative in recent years, said Salafi researcher Din Wahid, of the State Islamic University of Jakarta. They avoid certain buzzwords like “heresy” to avoid censure…