Archive for July, 2008
By Dr. Muhamad Ali
The recently issued joint ministerial decree reprimanding and instructing Jamaah Ahmadiyah to end their religious activities and interpretations, which suggest a prophet exists following the Prophet Muhammad, is in my view an unwelcome product of collaboration between the discriminatory state and the compulsory faith.
The decree clearly favors the mainstream yet particular Islamic interpretation of the meaning of Islam and prophethood, as well as of the Constitution and Pancasila state ideology. The decree symbolically recognizes religious freedom but prohibits “an interpretation of a religion in Indonesia which is deviant from the fundamental doctrines of that religion”.
In the case of Ahmadiyah, the decree charged that their religious interpretation and activities “could harm social order”. The first statement shows the government officials have interfered with an internal theological dispute and endorsed favoritism toward the dominant interpretation, rather than leaving the difference to democratic procedures among Muslim groups.
The second statement indicates the government’s prejudice that the group has already harmed or could harm social order. Here interpretations, rather than actions, have become the criteria.
The decree is in my view based on a narrow and exclusive understanding of the Islamic notion of prophethood and revelation. The mainstream idea of prophethood has been taken for granted even by religious scholars.
Although not stated in the decree, it is proclaimed by many religious leaders, scholars and ordinary people that Ahmadiyah has committed “religious blasphemy” (penodaan agama) and heresy (aqida). These charges of religious blasphemy and heresy are not based on a sound understanding of the Koran.
Khatam al-anbiyya may carry the meaning that Muhammad was the last prophet to receive God’s revelation, but this is not the only possible interpretation, because the Koranic language has multiple meanings. Some Koranic verses clearly suggest the universality of God’s revelation and prophethood throughout human history.
God’s revelation is not confined to the Prophet Muhammad. God’s guidance is universal and not restricted to a particular age and nation. “And there is no nation wherein a warner has not come” (35:24). “For every people a guide has been provided.” (13:7). Prophets speak the language of their own nations.
The logical interpretation is that prophets were not only Arab; they could be Indian, Chinese, African and so forth, as long as they preached the existence of the divine and the good. The Koranic prophethood is inclusive: submission to God, judgment day and commitment to good works.
Many claim that prophets unmentioned in the Koran were only applicable to the period before Muhammad. This interpretation contradicts the other verses (Ghafir:78, An-Nisa:164) which clearly state there are numerous prophets untold in the Koran irrespective of time. Traditionally, Muslim scholars have made a distinction, saying that a nabi is a divine envoy without a law and a revealed book, whereas rasul means one with a law and a revealed book; but the Koran often uses both terms interchangeably. The meaning of prophethood is complex and nuanced, not to be limited to only the Prophet Muhammad.
If the Sabeans, the Jews and Christians are mentioned in Sura Al-Baqara:62 to gain God’s rewards and salvation as long as they believe in God and judgment day and do good works, then why do we pretend to be so absolute in judging an Ahmadi — who believes in God and even in the prophethood of Muhammad while believing in another prophet or reformist — will not be rewarded by God?
Defining Islam as the religion of the Prophet Muhammad is historical yet specific. Islam also means submission to God and good works. If Islam is the religion of all true prophets, then there is the possibility of an interpretation suggesting a prophet who follows Muhammad.
A “solution” offered by some is that Ahmadiyah should exist as a new religion, separate from Islam. This is an erroneous view and religious fallacy.
The Koran clearly states there is no compulsion in religion (Al-Baqarah:256). God gives freedom to anyone to believe and not believe in Him. Religion is based on faith and will, and these would be meaningless if induced by force, as Koranic commentator Abdullah Yusuf Ali has said.
Many say there has been a consensus (ijma’) among Muslim scholars about the heresy of Ahmadiyah, and that the argument is taken for granted as an absolute truth. The fact is that a consensus is never completely a consensus because there are so many Muslims in the world. There is no consensus that consensus (ijma’) is part of the source of Islam. Definitions and manifestations of Islam remain plural.
K.H. Ahmad Dahlan, K.H. Hasyim Asy’ari, Hamka and M. Quraish Shihab, to mention only a few, do not share the belief and interpretation with Ahmadiyah but they recognize difference in interpretations and have never advocated the restriction of the movement in Indonesia. It is only now that such intolerant pressure emerged in the escalated politics of “religious purity” and “closed identity”, unfortunately based on narrow-minded interpretations, insensitive to goodness and justice.
In the history of all religions, orthodoxy and heterodoxy are always judged by the dominant power, never from the minority or subjugated groups. Religious heresy seen by the mainstream is not necessarily a threat to social order. Charges and campaigns against religious heresy being harmful to the social order is a narrowed-minded political act.
The Koran states that disputes in theological matters will be settled by God alone, not here in this world where human knowledge is truly limited (Al-Maidah:48). Even when one has the right to invite others, the Koran suggests inviting them with wisdom, not by political pressure or discrimination, let alone banning. Invite the people to the way of Allah with wisdom and beautiful teaching, and argue with them in ways that are best, for the Lord knows best who has strayed from his path and who receive guidance (Surah An-Nahl:125).
When there is conflict of interpretation, the Koran asks not to judge the faith of the other but to compete with one another in goodness (fastabiqul khairat:Al-Maidah:48). There are many paths to God and many ways to be Muslim. Many religious individuals forget and do not care about their intolerant actions; they are quick to spread injustice, physically or psychologically, to those who happen to have different interpretations.
Indonesians should have resumed dialog as exemplified by A. Hassan and an Ahmadi leader in Java facilitated by colonial officials. The key point here is that the state should not but respect different religious interpretations. Faith should not be compulsory, and the state should not take side in any religious interpretation, mainstream or marginal.
The writer is an assistant professor at the religious studies department of the University of California, Riverside. This article was published by Jakarta Post.
By Jennie S. Bev
Post Sept. 11, the world is getting more polarized and more religious as well as anti-religious. This tiny blue planet is getting more divided and Indonesia is no exception. It is a reality check to acknowledge, to reflect and to act upon. It is true that we do not live in a utopia, but we certainly can do our best, no matter how small, to bridge differences and to develop better understanding between each other.
It might sound aggrandizing to say: Let’s make the world a better place, one breath at a time. But it is, contrary to unpopular belief, doable. By you and me.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “We do no great things, only small things with great love.”
The concept of citizen diplomacy pivots around the notion that any individual has the right and the capacity to shape the course of history by engaging in politics directly and indirectly. And one of the best avenues is through humanitarian and human relations efforts. Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong and Maya Angelou are excellent examples of very successful citizen diplomats, as they bridge differences and spread kindness and other positive traits without having to sacrifice their lifestyles.
One can work in any profession and be passionate about anything while making a splash worldwide. And with the burgeoning of the Internet, any linguistically and digitally literate individual has a good chance to make great leaps.
A good example is a Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez (desdecuba.com/generaciony) who was named one of 2008 Time magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People. She writes her daily musings in Havana, Cuba.
Indonesians abroad, such as those who work in academia, as entrepreneurs or executives, indirectly represent Indonesia in the international arena, regardless of the negative label they are given — “brain drain”. This term is degrading and baseless, for only those who have never experienced the hardship of living away from one’s homeland would have said it out loud.
Other than derogatory, brain drain is also an obsolete pessimistic concept based on parochial nationalism, in which a person’s worth and nationalism is simply seen as where one resides, geographically. While I have never claimed to be a patriot, I have lived outside Indonesia long enough to acknowledge and admire those who thrive, not merely survive, with dignity.
After all, impressive language skills are not the only requirement. A strong work ethic, strong mental stamina, cultural awareness and adhering to the rules in addition to lifelong self-improvement are.
The opposite concept is “brain gain”, which is a notion that acknowledges the dynamic exchanges of human capital across borders. It is a beautiful concept as it provides plenty of room to grow and that by having people abroad means more bridges have been built.
Now what matters is how those bridges can be used for the betterment of mankind, referring to the whole human civilization. After all, no people, no nation, no country can live as a lone tree. We are all part of something greater: the human race.
Understanding the need to build bridges between civilizations, particularly between the often-misunderstood Islam and the West, a group of U.S.-based Ph.D. students who belong to Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a large moderate Islamic organization in Indonesia, established American NU Community last week. Ulil Abshar-Abdalla (Harvard), Sumanto Al Qurtuby (Boston) and Ahmad Munjid (Temple) are among the founders. According to them, this community is a new NU generation.
This new generation claims that NU-ness is a commitment to a set of ideas and thoughts, such as that Islam should be re-interpreted in such a way that corresponds with the current challenges; that Islam is compatible with democracy and human rights; that Islam should work will all religions to come to term with global injustices; and that Islam should engage in a serious and productive dialogue with other faiths and religions.
An accolade must also be given to Eddie Lembong, an exemplary Chinese Indonesian cultural activist, who founded Nabil, a nation building organization based in Jakarta and Beni Bevly of Overseas Think Tank for Indonesia based in Northern California, whose idealism includes the so-called “cross-cultural pollination.”
Using flowers as an anecdote, every culture has its strengths and weaknesses, including cultures and subcultures belonging to Indonesia’s majority and its minorities, and these are collective treasures of Indonesia as a whole. It would be favorable for each community, which is represented by a flower, to spread its pollen to other communities and vice versa.
By understanding how things work, it is more than possible to study strengths of other cultures and accept them to fortify our own communities. For example, learning the collective industriousness and strong survival skills of the Chinese has united Chinese communities around the globe instead of dividing them under the notion of diaspora. By acknowledging human propensity in exchanging ideas, we all can learn from each other in a dignified way without having to spoon-feed each other.
The good thing is that being a citizen diplomat does not require any formal training or special connections to those who sit at high places, but it does require a heightened awareness of the world’s plight for mutual respect and understanding, being the best one can be to set an example to peers, and being open to new possibilities within and without.
Without having to wait for the government to act on behalf of our ideal notions on how the world should be and could be, it is an action ready to be done. Right here, right now.
At last, do things with compassion, because it is what makes us true human beings.
The writer is an author and columnist based in Northern California. This article was published by Jakarta Post.