Islam, Muslim and Indonesia

Responding to the attrocities of Bali bombing, my good friend Nadirsyah Hosen says this in his blog:

“I strongly condemned a recent terrorist attack in Bali. All moderate Muslims must speak out loudly to confront evil ideology behinds this violent movement.”

Now, who is the so-called moderate Muslim?

First, If you, reader of this 50-cent-piece, are a westerner or a non-muslim, let me tell you something: the so-called “moderate muslim” is not what, entirely or partially, you think like moderate Christian or secular Christian or leftist, or whatever.

Second, please remember that this term strictly for Indonesian Muslims. Muslims are not monolitic entitities–Islam is–, hence, different countries could lead to different meaning and interpretation on what fundamentalist, conservative, secularist, moderate and liberal Muslim are all about.

What’s not

1. Moderate Muslim is not the one who’s intentionally not observing the principle-5-pillars of Islam such as 5-times prayer every day, paying alms, doing haj once in life-time, fasting one-month long during ramadan, etc

2. Moderate Muslim is not the one who’s intentionally doing things which is in Islam considered as major sins such as adultery (fornication), drinking alcoholic beverage, gambling, killing, theft/robbery, etc.

So the different between moderate and fundamentalist (militant, extremist, you name it) Muslim are only this: while the former considers Islam as a spiritual/moral guidance; the latter regards it as as both (a) spiritual/moral guidance and (b) political movements. The point (b) is getting more emphasis. That’s why, the extremist Muslim is sometimes not necessarily religious in nature. Hence, violence to militant Muslim is justified if necessary just like any other political movement (left, right, center) of any culture and religious preference.

Moderate Muslim consist of:

(1)Traditional Muslim in the literal and terminology sense of the term. For example, those Muslims in rural area of Indonesia who mostly belong to NU (Nahdlatul Ulama) socio-religious movement can be put into this category. They are ‘traditional’ in terms of education, way of life, and their attachment to the traditional-cum-religious values and customs.

They don’t know and don’t care about politics, global affairs, relation between Islam and the West, etc. But they will be furious if, for example, somebody a country destroys Mecca in Saudi Arabia or degrades Prophet Muhammad personality because it’s strongly related with their daily religious life and activities.

These kind of Muslims represent the majority of Muslim Indonesian.

(2) Conversative Muslims. They are just like traditional Muslim. Only in terms of education they are more advanced and they belong to urban population and mostly prefer to be under Muhammadiyah socio-religious movement. The second largest religious organisation after NU.

This conservative Muslims have a full awareness of global relation between Islam and the West; about US occupation in Iraq; occupation of Israel upon Palestinian land; etc. Yet, this group dont want to indulge or involve in violence whatsoever. History of post-independence Indonesia never witness any violence carried out by those two groups in the name of religion or others against non-Muslims or their fellow Muslims.

NU and Muhammadiyah represent two group within the moderate Muslims community you can see and meet in the crowd in your day-to-day life whenever you visit Indonesia. We call them SANTRI

Apart from these two, there are one group called “Abangan” which means a non-practicing muslim. A muslim whose Islamic identity only in his/her ID card or may be in his/her conviction and belief in God and Prophet Muhammad but no more than that. You can find them in the bar, discotheque, singing naked in a hotel or become a nude model in some half- or full-porn magazines or a nude-porn-film-star and anything like that.

Having said that, none of the moderate Muslims (traditional or conservative) ever despise this group (Abangan) and disregard it as non-muslim. The Abangan still a Muslim. They are part of Muslim Indonesia which are unique and heterogeneous in nature.

It’s a bit difficult to identify them as they are ever changing. An abangan now, could be a SANTRI tomorrow. It’s important to note though that abangan is not an official name like NU or Muhammadiyah. Now, many of this group identify themselves proudly as Liberal Muslim or Islam Liberal in Bahasa Indonesia.

In the lowest of the low, lay the tiniest yet most dangerous group: the militant, radical, extremist Muslim. Those who tend to use violence for whatever reasons. They have no future in Indonesia as far as the government understand how to alienate and marginalise them from the masses. Government should see very clearly and act accordingly who belong to the militant and who dosn’t to prevent further proliferation of extremism.

Shirin Ebadi, Islam and Women Rights

Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel peace prize winner 2003, is among prominent moderate Muslim I admire. Not only has she got the gut to speak up her mind what she thinks right against the conservatives and/or radicals of her fellow Muslims, be they Iranian clerics or others; but she also talks straight and frank against some conservatives and/or radicals from the other faiths and cultures without worrying of being dubbed as “mellow” moderate. Something not every moderate Muslims dare say and do.

She’s also the vivid and candid voice of Islam to the world, giving proper explanation on the West misconception; the difference between the Quranic teaching and the ground realities done by some radicals or Muslim dictators which is more often than not nothing to do with religious teaching they subscribe to; but as usual, religion is used to cover up and justify their wrong-doings.

I wrote a piece in Jawa Pos entitled Nobel Perdamaian Shirin Ebadi– an article which I wrote specially for her– in which I explained how people from the other parts of the world fall into the trap of prejudice and generalisation when talking about Islam; and fail miserably to understand that in most cases what influence a person’s life and mindset is not what religion he/she belongs; rather the environment, (local) culture, ethnicity and status of his/her country. Points Shirin Ebadi repeatedly point out in many occasions.

This week, she visits India for a conference on human trafficking. An Indian english newspaper, The Times of India, interviewed her on Islami-Muslim related issues. Here’s the excerpt:

You’re a Muslim arguing for dynamic interpretation of Islamic laws to make women equal before law. What’s your message to those who believe Islam condemns women to an inferior status?

I say, look carefully in the Koran so that the oppressors cannot mislead you with selective quotes. Don’t let people masquerading as clerics claim monopoly on understanding Islam. Allah created us as equal, and when we struggle for equality, we’re doing what Allah wanted us to do.

Is it possible to follow every tenet of Islam in today’s world?

Many Islamic laws, like stoning to death, are not even there in Koran. But some laws need to be discussed. For example, Koran says during Ramadan a Muslim must fast from sunrise to sunset. It’s easy to do so in Iran or Saudi Arabia where the days and nights are almost equal. But if a Muslim goes to the North Pole, can he fast for six months, which is the duration of the day? So a third way is needed — and offered by Islam. The secondary laws say, implement the law in its spirit. In this case, divide the day(24 hours) into three equal parts, and use one part for fasting. By another law a rape victim has to produce four witnesses. This was to ensure no one will bring false testimonials. Today, the medical profession is such that it needs a single drop of blood to establish paternity. Surely it can serve in place of four witnesses!

Why is Islam among the most powerful religions, also the most dreaded?

Don’t fear Islam, fear the dictators who hide behind the flag. In the name of Shariat people justify rape, forced marriage, unlawful talaq. But Islam has different interpretations in different countries. In Saudi Arabia, a woman can’t even drive, let alone enter a political formation, while in Bangladesh and Pakistan women have become prime ministers. Again, stoning to death is permitted in Iran and Saudi Arabia but banned in Indonesia, Malaysia, Tunisia, Algeria. So I say, which Islam? Which interpretation? This applies to other religions and political ideologies too. China and the Soviet Union were both communist but was their interpretation identical? And Gandhi had to die because of wrong interpretation of Hinduism. I repeat, Islam is not responsible for human rights violation in undemocratic states, it’s the men. And men here doesn’t mean the gender but the patriarchal mindset. Many men are defenders of women’s rights, and many women uphold this thinking despite being victim

Corrupt Democracy or “Clean” Tyranny?

coup thailand People in developing countries are facing many challenges the most basic of which are corruption, injustices and poverty; widening gap between the rich and the poor; the deficit of trust between the ruler and the subject. In Indonesia, with life is getting harder on grass root level, many start murmurming about and romanticizing the “good old days” when Suharto’s tyrannical rule was prevalent.

In other words, for those downtrodden people who are facing difficulties to get their daily basic need, a meal a day for them and their kids, tyrannical system is relatively better as far as it can fulfill their basic needs than the so-called democratic system with its full-fledged idealistic yet unapplicative values. Former autocratic ruler of Indonesia, President Suharto, once said, “What the people need is good economy. As far they can afford to buy their daily needs, they will keep quiet.”

This may explain a bit why military Coup d’état in Thailand went so smooth and peaceful and to some extend it even enjoyed a sort of support from Thai people. The new Thai military ruler knows exactly the psyche of the people as it did Suharto in his heyday. And that’s precisely the rationale of Thai government to international community. In his letter to Indian media, Thailand Ambassador to India explains thus:

“The political change was undertaken by the `Council for Democratic Reform under Constitution Monarchy’ without any violence or resistance. The Council was compelled to undertake the mission for various reasons incurred by the previous government, namely, the lack of political confidence in Thailand and impasse of political differences; drastic increase in disunity among Thai people; signs of rampant corruption, malfeasance and widespread nepotism, inability to proceed with the reform process as intended by the Constitution; interference in national independent agencies, crippling their ability to function properly and to effectively solve the nation’s problems; deterioration of social justice. For these reasons, the political change turned out to be a peaceful and bloodless one, resulting in our daily lives returning to normalcy the very next day […]”

Do we like to see the same solution take place in Indonesia? Do we want a strong government with strong commitment to better our economy yet with limited freedom of movement like it had been during Suharto’s era? Or do we still want the current democratic system with relative freedom we enjoy?

For me the choice is crystal clear: democracy is thus far the best choice; corrupt and mismanaged governance notwithstanding. No intention to belittle the current government effort to eradicate corruption and other malpractices. I heard from “my eyes” in many parts of the country that some progress on anti-corruption efforts have been taken very seriously. Nothing is perfect, though. Blockhole is still everywhere. But we have to appreciate it. Do remember that we move into full-fledged democracy only a couple of years after many decades of tyrannical rule.

Having said that if the effort are not beefed up and poverty and unemployment is growing quickly, the provocateur forces will emerge from many corners, left or right, to divide this country for their own ends. And when this happen, the military has no choice but to take the action similar to its compatriot in Thailand. Bloodlessly or bloodily will not make any difference for a force that has been trained to see blood without blinking.

Keith Ellison, Quran and “American Civilisation”

Keith Ellison Quran rowI wrote earlier on Keith Ellison the first American Muslim ever elected as Congressman which surprisingly spark much hype in America. Another (unnecessary)controversy seems to be in the pipeline now regarding his intention to take oath by Quran instead of the Bible.

Dennis Prager’s article first published in townhall.com I think is the one that sparks the controversy.

Important to note here that in American tradition is for all members of the Congress to be sworn in together on the House floor.

So the controversy lies in Ellison’s intention to take oath in the photo-op ceremony where the Bible is used, or in Ellison’s case, the Quran!

Naturally, among the fundies of American politics, Prager’s article got a bear hug welcome and standing ovation including among American hawkish bloggers like this one, or this one along with “funny” title “Fear of Muslims and Islam” and still many more, please Google yourself.

That said, I’m still personally happy that many moderate Americans who are not over-eager in creating split and division, use their pens calmly and in grown-up manner.

Indonesia

Despite being the largest Muslim country in the world, with many of them are practicing Muslim we stick to the Pancasila (pron: panchaaseela) political philosophy with its fiva pillars the first of which is that we (have to) believe in God and respect any religious belef.

Equally important, Indonesia has witnessed many non-Muslim Indonesian have been holding various important and significant ministries including those of sensitive position such as home ministry, defense ministry, etc.

Based on both theory and practical reality, Indonesian used to see various Indonesian officials sworn-in in many holy books up their heads: Quran, Bible, etc.

So, keeping that in mind, to see this kind of debate in the so-called the most “civilized nation” –as some Americans claim– is a bit strange, to say the least. Or, should I say in different way: how about America asks Indonesia to teach a lesson or two on this issue?

Celebrating Eid the Blogger Way

Some Indonesian bloggers still talk about Eid ul-Fitr, or something to do with it, days after it passed for various reasons. Agus Setiawan at Blogonesia, for example, discusses the recent fatwa (religious decree) made recently by Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Indonesian Muslim organisation, in which it stated that watching gossip program on TV is considered haram or ‘unlawful’.

Agus Setiawan agrees to such fatwa on the ground that (a) 80 percent of Indonesians are Muslim and (b) that doing or listening to gossip news are clearly forbidden or highly discouraged in Islam. Besides, he observes, that watching such program is highly time-wasting and unproductive.

Most commenters in the particular post agree with his statement but Hartanto who thinks that gossip culture is as old as human existence; so let it be as human are made of angel and evil:

Biarkanlah gosip, yang sudah ada sejak manusia ada… Kalo gosip dilarang, kasian mahluk yg berasal dari api, susah cari celah…

Muhammad Ali, an Indonesian student in Honolulu, Hawaii in the meanwhile, enjoys the Eid celebration in what he calls as a ‘Multifaith Lebaran Feast’, as he celebrates Eid this year along with his brothers and sisters from other faiths. Says he:

For Muslims in Hawaii, a multifaith, multiethnic and multinational lebaran feast (concluding the fasting month of Ramadhan) is not something unusual. As you can see in the pictures, they are mostly Muslims, but some probably Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhist, Confucians, Agnostics, spiritualists, and possibly atheists too, joined the Indonesia’s lebaran feast on Saturday, October 28th, 2006, organized by PERMIAS-H (Indonesian student in America – Honolulu chapter)

He rightly observes that such practice of tolerance needs to be preserved and sustain for better understanding among people from different community:

This practice of a multifaith lebaran is truly enlightening. It is indeed revealing to the fact that most people have interacted with others regardless of religions, ethnicities, nationalities, etc, and the lebaran feast tradition seems to be a good opportunity for them to share sympathy and ask and give forgiveness, in case they have acted or said something hurting or insulting others, consciously or unconcsciously. People say “human errs”, but the best human is the one who asks and gives forgiveness and then try not to repeat the same errors.

Juwono Sudarsono, Indonesian Defence Minister, made “happy Eid” statement not through posting; rather he changes his blog skin appearance with brighter colour with a “Eid Mubarak” in the header.

As far as Juwono’s latest posting, he prefers to talk about his favorite topic i.e. politics in which he wrote about “Democracy, Poverty & Radical Politics.” An interesting post and a must-read one for those who are interested in Indonesia, politics and Islam in the largest Muslim country.

Originally posted in Global Voices Online

Ramadan from Monday in India

Ramadan India In India, the month of Ramadan starts from Monday which means we, any Muslim currently stay in the country, will resume our fast from 25th of September and end up (probably) on October 24. People in Indonesia and some other countries including Saudi Arabia have already started their fast on Sunday, September 24. In London Ramadan started even earlier on Saturday 23th.

Any day among those days is justified from Islamic jurisprudence point of view and therefore, should not be considered as contradictory views. The substance is observing the fasting, not conflicting the differences.

For non-Muslim who has yet to know about Ramadan Fasting, here’s a quick guide:

Eating, drinking and smoking are not allowed between dawn (fajr), and sunset (maghrib). During Ramadan, Muslims are also expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam by refraining from sexual intercourse (during fasting), violence, anger, envy, greed, lust, angry and sarcastic retorts, and gossip. People are meant to try to get along with each other better than they normally might. All obscene and irreligious sights and sounds are to be avoided. Purity of both thought and action is important. The fast is an exacting act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of closeness to God. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm.

Happy Fasting for those who observe it

Bush and Indonesia Islam

If you watched CNN or BBC before and during Bush’s visit to Indonesia, you would see a sea of protersters in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta with slogan of anti-Bush and to some extent, anti-American foreign policy.

But with most female protesters were wearing Islamic clothes i.e. jilbab (Indonesian term for Islamic veil), it is easy for people on other parts of the world to think that’s it’s only those Muslim fundamentalists who were against Bush. As a matter of fact, it’s not.

Barring a few–mostly conservative Christian minority, Indonesians are united in condemning Bush/US foreign policy, especially its post-9/11 pre-emptive policy that led to US wars in Afghanistan and especially Iraq which is regarded as sheer breach of a nation sovereignty and blatant show of arrogance.

Both conservative and moderate or even the so-called liberal Muslims intellectuals wrote critically against the US invasion in Iraq. Ulil Abshar-Abdalla, the founder of Jaringan Islam Liberal (JIL) (Liberal Islam Network), for example, wrote at that time (the archive link is no longer available, unfortunately) that the invasion was sheer barbarity and telling example of US double-standard. Important to note here, that JIL, an organisation that focuses on Islamic issues from liberal/moderate Muslim point of view, is funded mostly by US money. Mr Ulil himself now is studying a PhD at Boston.

Andreas H Pareira, a Christian and MP from former president Megawati’s PDIP party reported by Indonesia News Agency Antara as saying: “Do not behave softly to the US, so as to not create an impression that we are a US puppet country.”

Berita Sore daily, an evening newspaper from Medan, North Sumatra, quoting an east Indonesia political analyst Professor Muin Salim who said that Bush visit “in no way benefitting Indonesia.”

Yet, Bush PR officers should not be too disappointed as Indonesia Ulama Council or MUI (Majelis Ulama Indonesia), infamous for its conservative opinions, is welcoming Bush with bear hug and regard his visit as “positive and beneficial.”

So, from that background in mind, it’s no wonder if Bush visit to Indonesia is facing many unflattered responses from various corners including from the Indonesian blogosphere.

For starter, Senopati Wirang at Intelijen Indonesia (Indonesian Intelligence) makes a lengthy posting on Bush’s visit from different angles, particularly from intelligence perspective and intransparency of security officials statement, especially on the justifications behind the excessive use of security guards which he thinks too much exaggerated. Tata Danamihardja at Buka Mulut does not seem to care of Bush visit and controversies surrounding his visit. Yet he’s got something to complain to Indonesian security official as to why a US president visit has to make people sacrifice many imporartant things including six billion rupiah (around USD six million), the temporary ban of street retailer and the temporary closure of many schools in the surrounding areas the US president wants to visit.

MicoKelana, however, thinks in more positive and prudent way. Indonesian economy is worsening, he said. Bush visit, therefore, would make a positive signal: if head of the only superpower comes to Indonesia, so will the other countries. Hence, more investors.

Originally posted for Global Voices Online.

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