Indonesia as the Centre of World Islamic Thought
By Evi Rahmawati
Liberal Islam Network, Indonesia
"Ulil emphasized his optimism that Indonesia has an opportunity to be the centre of Islamic thoughts in the international field. He stated his objection on the result of research conducted by two scholars from Washington about how far Islam has coloured Muslim countries. They viewed this from a variety of criteria such as recognition of minority rights, tolerance, pluralism, transparency of government systems, etc. In this research, Indonesia ranked under Malaysia. According Ulil, the rank of Indonesia should be much more above Malaysia, at least if we look at various developments that we have today. In addition, Ulil stressed his belief by quoting Fazl ur Rahman’s statement that the future of the Islamic world actually exists in Indonesia, not in Saudi Arabia. "
Islam is a religion that brings developments. The developments occur through human’s reason that is definitely blessed with the ability to keep moving and growing dynamically. Islam is not a static religion which constantly gives a place for stagnation. For Neng Dara Affiah, this is the spirit transmitted by the book titled ‘Pembaharuan Pemikiran Islam Indonesia’ (Renewal of Indonesian Islamic Thought). Neng Dara conveyed this in the book launching of ‘Pembaharuan Pemikiran Islam Indonesia’ in November 28, 2011, in the Hall of Islamic State University (UIN) Graduate School, Maulana Malik Ibrahim, Malang. This book contents of 19 writings of several Indonesian Muslim intellectuals, among them Neng Dara Affiah and Ulil Abshar Abdalla who became the speakers as well as Syamsul Arifin who became the moderator in this book launching.
The book launching is a part of “road show” organized by Komunitas Epistemik Muslim Indonesia (Community of Indonesian Muslim Epistemic KEMI) - a group of Muslim intellectuals who make efforts to produce thinkers as well as their Islamic thoughts. “Road show” conducted in four cities in Indonesia (Padang, Malang, Makassar and Jakarta) is expected to introduce Islamic thoughts as described in the launched book. This ‘road show’ was able to open a more lively and productive discussion.
Neng Dara convinced with an optimistic view that Islam is very possible to bring developments along with human dynamics. On this occasion, Neng Dara tried to trace some prerequisites of developments of Islam in facing current challenges. Firstly, Islam strongly gives a priority to human’s potency of development. If it is analogized, human being is like a tree with strong roots, sturdy trunk and lush leaves. Humans will always experience the development of thinking during their life time. Secondly, Islam believes in maintaining women's rights since women's issue is not a marginal issue, but a central issue which is as important as other humanity issues. Thirdly, Islam is compatible with democracy as a good state system. The impression of democracy in our country is so bad, but it should not be a reason to be despair because the values of democracy are needed to create a just society system. Fourthly, Islam is very friendly to rights of minorities. Minority here could be anyone and anything, religious people, beliefs, etc which are potential for discriminated. Fifthly, Islam believes in the freedom of thought. When intellectual imagination is not interfered, it will produce unlimited thoughts.
In the discussion which was greatly welcome by most elements of the campus, Neng Dara, who is much involved in women's issues in her activities for long time, believes that Islam is a religion which believes in maintaining the rights of women. It is mistaken if religion is used as a legitimacy of marginalizing women's rights. On the occasion, Neng Dara also stated her anxiety about regional law regulations that has been increasingly developed, even 207 Shariah law have been found – based on the record of National Commission of Women's monitoring—and all of them have a tendency to discriminate against women's rights.
"The tendency can be called as a syndrome which considers woman’s Aurat (a part of body which must be closed) as a scary thing. Therefore, women must be arranged in order not to threaten the stability of society. In fact, in the record of history, there is no precedent or example in the past about the state regulated the way women dressed. Certainly, we must agree that it is their own body, and should not be a part of the state affairs," Neng Dara gave an emphasis.
Neng Dara Affiah, who has been the Commissioner of the National Commission for Women for two periods and also actively involved in the NU Fatayat, invited the participants to recall the history when women's movements grew in the early 1920s, pioneered by Mardika Poetri movement in 1912. At that time, she said, women's movements as well as other movements strongly controlled over colonialism. Even Sukarno earlier showed his appreciation on women's rights through his book Sarinah: Kewadjiban Wanita dalam Pedjoangan Repoeblik Indonesia (Sarinah: Women’s obligations in the Struggle of the Republic of Indonesia). This book is based on the result of discussion materials on "Women Course" conducted every two weeks in Yogyakarta. "Thus," Neng Dara stressed – wants to give an irony- "if at that time Sukarno was already aware that the issue of women's rights is a common issue (social issue), it would be so funny if at the present time there are people who consider woman issues as a marginal issue, which is not sexy, even for discussing."
Meanwhile, Ulil Abshar Abdalla who is also the speaker in the discussion opened his talk by appreciating UIN Maulana Malik Ibrahim Malang as a reflection of renewal campus which from the beginning has been dreamed by Muslim reformers, such as Kiai Haji Ahmad Dahlan. According to Ulil, who is one of the founders of the Liberal Islam Network (JIL), the core of renewal that want to be conducted by Islamic leaders such as Muhammad Abduh is how the Muslim community maintains its authenticity as a Muslim, without closing himself/herself toward modernity. "We are Muslim, and at the same time, we are modern," Ulil explained. In NU's own tradition, we can find the term al-Muhâfadhah 'ala al-qadîmi al-Salih al-akhdzu bi wa al-Jadid al-ashlah (to maintain good traditions and adopt new better one).
Based on that reason, Ulil also intended to transmit his optimism to the participants of the discussion that Indonesia has the opportunity to be the centre of Islamic thoughts in the international field. He stated his objection on the result of research conducted by two scholars from Washington about how far Islam has coloured Muslim countries. They viewed this from a variety of criteria, such as recognition of minority rights, tolerance, pluralism, transparency of governance systems, etc. In this research, Indonesia ranked under Malaysia. According Ulil, the rank of Indonesia should be much more above Malaysia, at least if we look at the various developments that we have today. Yet, Ulil stressed his belief by quoting Fazl ur Rahman’s statement that the future of the Islamic world actually exists in Indonesia, not in Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, Ulil – one of the researchers at the Freedom Institute - stated his optimism on the potency of development of Islamic world in the hand of Indonesia because so far Indonesia has been successful to conquer serious challenges that might not be faced by other countries when they experienced a political transition. Based on his observations, when a country experienced a political transition, it would deal with dangerous phases that can threaten the governmental stability. As the result, a country in transition is easy to balkanization, a phenomenon of disintegration caused by the spread of separatism. The most representative example is the experience of the Soviet Union and the countries in the Middle East. Ulil continued, "While Indonesia has been successful in passing the transition without losing much. Maybe we immediately think of Timor Leste, but it is just an exception. In fact, Indonesia remains the state of unity until now." Ulil believes that the Nahdlat ul Ulema (NU) movement has an important role in this issue. NU community has at first agreed to political Ijtihad of the predecessor, KH Ahmad Siddiq who declared that Indonesia is a final state. Thus, Indonesian Muslims do not need to imitate the form of government in other Islamic countries. "Declaration initiated Siddiq Ahmad, Rais Am NU at that time (1984) was an effective strategy in growing the awareness of society nationalism through the legitimacy of religion," Ulil expressed his pride of noble traditions that have been built by NU since its 27th Muktamar (Congress) in 1984.
Besides the fact above, Indonesia successfully passed the transition without a military coup. We can see the appalling conditions suffered by Egypt when the country experienced a period of transition from authoritarian government to democracy system. When Husni Mubarak's government was successfully overthrown, Egypt still continued to experience a great upheaval caused by the community resistance to a new leadership carried by military. Indonesia is a little bit lucky because in the transition of reformation era was led by civil society, i.e. BJ Habibie. We cannot forget Habibie’s good deeds in his leadership as a civic leader. It is Habibie’s contribution on successfully creating important legislations such as Law on Regional Autonomy, the separation between TNI and police, etc.
Another development shown by Indonesia is society’s great support and participation to democracy. Several initiatives have been continuously done by society to support the discourse of democracy through various elements, such as figures of society, political parties, NGOs, Islamic Universities such as IAIN which have provided a substantial contribution in dealing with the discourse of democracy. Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University, for instance, published a kind of guide books on human rights. Another example, NU made a halaqah (group) which specifically focused on Jurisprudence of corruption.
As closing, Ulil added that there should be any efforts to continuously improve Indonesian’s achievements. One of efforts is to continuously develop the tradition of knowledge among scholars, so the above Fazl ur Rahman’s statement is not just a compliment or meaningless hope. On that occasion, Ulil expressed his yearning on the intellectualism condition which grew in the 1970's, a period in which the glory of Islamic thoughts occurred and Cak Nur and Gus Dur became the leaders. Today, Ulil sees that the tradition of that time (70s decade) has begun to fade. Therefore, Ulil, who is also one of the KEMI directors, wants to optimize the role of epistemic communities as a mediator that is expected to revive the glory of Islamic thoughts which ever grew a few decades ago.
Ulil also added that another effort should be made by scholars is to multiply works in English because English is the only mediator of the most effective way to expand our thinking in the international world. In addition, Ulil continued, we must also struggle to develop and increase scientific journals that can be used as a reference of other people who want to learn about Indonesian Islam. The last effort which needs to be done is to open ourselves to any scientific approaches, whether it is a traditional or liberal approach. By opening ourselves to a variety of approaches, it hopefully stimulates a fruitful dialogue for the sake of the development of our knowledge in the future. By doing these efforts, Ulil asserted his belief that Indonesia can fulfill Prof. Fazl ur Rahman’s statement i.e. a model of international Islamic state, like a lighthouse that has the ability to light up other Islamic worlds.
Meanwhile, Dr. Lutfi Mustafa, a professor of Philosophy at UIN Malang Maulana Malik Ibrahim who was also the speaker at the discussion, explained the history of renewal and its phases. According to him, the first phase of renewal in Islam was in the 17th-18th century started by an awareness of the internal condition of Islam which declined even further behind Western societies. In the next phase, renewal was motivated by colonialism. The spread of colonialism in many Muslim worlds revived the passion of society in the Islamic world community to do renewal.
At this point, Mustofa Lutfi wanted to bring the participants to the same hope: renewal of Islamic thoughts in Indonesia is nothing but the common wish of this nation in building a more mature people to introduce to the pattern of a more harmonious relationship between state and religion, i.e. performing the face of religion that promotes universal values to support secularism in Indonesia.
* Student at UIN Sharif Hidayatullah; actively involved in the Institute for the Study of Religion and Philosophy (LSAF)