Title: BRIDGING ISLAM AND THE WEST: An Indonesian View
Author: Dr. Muhamad Ali
Publisher: Penerbit Ushul Press, Fakultas Ushuluddin, UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta
Specification: xiv, 192 hlm: 14×21 cm; soft cover
This book, which is a collection of articles and essays written and published in the Jakarta Post daily and other newspapers and journals over the last six years from 2002, is a product of a continued interest in the relationship between Muslims and the West. The 9/11/2001 terrorist attack in New York has marked a new phase of global history particularly as regards to the West and Muslim societies not only in the center of Islam, the Middle East, but also in Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and the United States. The relationship between East and West which since the World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union (USSR) was especially dominated by the Cold War between the two world powers – the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union (USSR) – has now shifted into new and different players, involving the state, international organizations, and civil associations as well as individuals. In the past couple of years, I have been attempting to respond to what I viewed as crucial events or ideas that circulated in the scholarly and popular mass media from perspectives contextual to the circumstances, the events, and issues that many may have something to say, but according to my view should have received more attention and scrutiny in Indonesia and the global world connected by the print and audiovisual media and internet technology.
It is important to note that my usage of the categories “Islam”, “East”, “West”, “civilization”, “nation”, “religion”, is for the sake of simplification of the much more complex realities. In fact, my main argument in the articles is that the relationship between Islam and the West is not a monolithic, simple one. It is complex, multifaceted, and thus is to be understood and explained by different approaches, and more importantly in not a black-and-white fashion. Most Muslims who have lived outside Western countries and many in the Western countries do not have enough understanding about Western civilization, its history and its development. This absence or lack of knowledge about the other has led many to misunderstand the complexity of Western civilization. Many have identified the United States, for example, as a representative of a Western civilization and dominance, as one monolithic dominant entity. On the other hand, so many Westerners have not understood and are not willing to understand Islam and its simple yet sophisticated beliefs and practices, which led them to see it as a monolithic and always antithetical to anything Western. Both sides, Muslims and the Westerners, have tended to create and continue to perpetuate the gap not only in the real life but also in the perception. Bridging the perception gap between Muslims and the West is therefore becoming more crucial and indispensable than ever before.
Bridging the perception gap might help reduce tensions at the level of discourses in their own communities but also help minimize the degree of the potentiality of going into conflicts and more dangerously into wars. It is my contention that violence will only create more violence if strategic cultural intellectual and spiritual efforts are left unmade. It can be suggested that the world should have boundary leaders to cross boundaries, talking to the enemies not with similar or greater hatred but in a perspective that solves rather than worsens contentious issues and problems. It is therefore crucial to reform the mind of the leaders so that public others might see the valuable lesson about how beautiful enlightened mind could make a difference in building social cohesion and peace amidst diversity and contestations. To reform mind should mean to reform one’s own religiosity, spirituality, and mentality. To reform mind is not to suggest negating or destroying identities, such as religion, nationalism, ethnicity, race, and political ideology, but it is to moderate the excesses and extremities emerging from such identities. Moderating ideologies is therefore part of reforming mind. With such moderation and reformed mind and comprehension, the gap, tensions, and conflicts might become less likely to happen or to continue when they should end. Peace, harmony and cooperation are too important to sacrifice just for the sake of primordial sectarian identities at the expense of shared common human values and civilizations.
The writing and publication of these articles and essays would not have been possible without the support of a number of individuals and organizations. My enormous debt is to Prof. Azyumardi Azra, a prominent scholar and advisor of many young scholars i n Indonesia and abroad, including myself. I would like to thank Endy M. Bayuni, currently the chief editor of the Jakarta Post who always encouraged me to write articles for the newspaper, Kornelius Purba and Muhammad Yazid at the editor desk of the Jakarta Post, and editors in journals or magazines which have published my articles. My special gratefulness is also for my teachers from the elementary to the university levels, especially KH Irfan Hielmy at Pesantren Darussalam, West Java, who has until now encouraged me to continue with my research and writing on Islam. I would like to thank all my advisors at Edinburgh University, especially Prof. William Roff, Prof Carole Hillenbrand, and Dr Andrew Newman, and my professors at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, particularly Prof Leonard Andaya, Prof. Barbara Andaya, Prof Jerry Bentley, Prof Peter Hoffenberg, and Prof Liam Kelley, and those at the East-West Center, especially Richard Baker and Dr. Terrance Bigalke, from all of whom I learnt a great deal about different branches of knowledge and approaches. I also offer my thanks for the readers and commentators of my articles and essays. Special thank goes to the publisher and editors of this book. I am very grateful to be the son of my late father, abi Miqdar Muhammad Umar, and mother, mamah Zainab Anwar, who have been my lifetime support. My greatest debt goes to my wife, Neneng Syahdati Rosmy, who over the years has sustained my scholarly spirit with her love, understanding and care. Having said this, whatever faults remain are entirely my own alone.
Riverside, February 2009