By Ida Indawati Khouw
November 03, 2008
Although Islamic scholars have repeatedly explained that Koranic verses endorsing war and the use of violence only apply in specific circumstances, for example, in justifying defensive violence when fighting against repression, nonetheless contemporary hard-liners continue justifying violent acts using these sacred texts and seek to legitimize their own actions on religious grounds.
"We should think of a way to end this advocacy of violence in the name of Islam. Apologists argue that the problem lies in Muslims having misinterpreted these texts. They refuse to look at the religion in a critical way but suggest a method of contextualization in interpreting these texts (emphasizing that the verses are historically bound to the era in which they were revealed). But I have become tired with this approach."
"The problem is, fundamentalists create context," Guntur explains further: "For instance, they apply the word 'holy war' to the struggle against United States domination. Another example, the hard-liners extend the meaning of 'enemy of Islam' not only to followers of the Jewish faith and Christians but also to Muslims they consider to be cooperating with the 'infidels'. So, they are very 'contextual' in their arguments."
In order to 'rescue' Islam from being tarnished by violent acts, he suggests Muslims should dare to abrogate the Islamic law on war and the use of violence, an approach that is founded on Islamic tradition itself, "Islam acknowledges a method called nasakh, abrogation of law. It is not a popular approach but we can take the step when certain stipulations are no longer applicable to the contemporary context."
Applying nasakh does not mean to abrogate the holy texts, "texts endorsing war and violence will still be there but we will regard them as historical facts," says Guntur.
According to Guntur, the radicals have been using this method. He points out as an example that mujahidin fighters in Afghanistan, "abrogated verses that promote peace and tolerance so that they can wage war (in the name of Islam). So, why don't we reverse the approach; we should abrogate the verses that suggest violence and promote peaceful ones, instead?"
Return to the pre-Madina teachings of Muhammad
Guntur says that peaceful Islam was evident during the Meccan era, when Islam was not yet fully institutionalized and when followers of the Prophet Muhammad were held together primarily as a spiritual community.
"Thus I have a dream, that contemporary Muslims would practice Islam as it was in the pre-Medina era when Islam was in the private realm. In my opinion, that is the era of the hanif Islam (the straight Islam). Peaceful Koranic verses were revealed during this Mecca era," the alumnae of the Department of Creed and Philosophy of Al Azhar University adds, "In Mecca, Muhammad's followers were not very distinctive from Jews or Christians, as the three shared the same stories and (spiritual) genealogy as the offspring of Abraham."
Prophet Muhammad hijra (migrated) from Mecca to Medina in AD 622 to avoid bloodshed, as the Prophet was not popular among the powerful Quraish clan who rejected his tauhid (monotheistic) teaching. The migration is understood as the date for the beginning of the Islamic Hijri calendar.
Guntur elaborates further: "Identity Islam was shaped, later in Medina, when the religion intersected with political power. It was in this context that verses related to war were revealed.
Asked whether he was afraid if his thoughts would be labeled as being blasphemous, Guntur answers: "In fact, I used to be a fundamentalist myself during mypesantren (Islamic boarding school) year in Madura (East Java). I was influenced by the ideology of my teachers."
Thanks to the respected figure Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) Guntur became religiously enlightened. "Gus Dur visited my school. Before raising issues with him, I challenged him to first take up the argument that Islam was the most correct religion.
"Gus Dur responded: the faith of this santri (Guntur, the student) is in crisis. Those confident with their faith and religion do not need to make the claim that Islam is supreme. Those whose faith is shallow are those with the biggest mouths."
Gus Dur's remarks "hit" Guntur deeply.