Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Competition between liberal and conservative groups

The Jakarta Post, 30 December 2005

Ahmad Najib Burhani, Jakarta

The year 2005 saw numerous disputes between conservative Muslims and liberal Muslims to change the face of Islam in Indonesia. A number of incidents that occurred this year were a manifestation of these disputes. To mention some incidents, there was the ban on the Laskar Cinta (Love Army) logo created by the Dhani Ahmad pop singing group; the trial of Yusman Roy, who prayed in Indonesian and Arabic, and the attack on the Mubarok campus -- belonging to the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI) -- in Bogor in July by a swarm of brutes calling themselves Indonesian Muslim Solidarity (GUII).

There are also controversies over 11 MUI (Indonesian Ulema Council) edicts issued on July 29, and the attempt to oust Liberal Islam Network (JIL) from the Utan Kayu complex in East Jakarta shortly after the fatwa was made public.

The issues of liberal Islam, pluralism among religions and tolerance of secular ideas seems to have greatly preoccupied the minds of Muslim leaders, particularly those at MUI, and thereby neglecting terrorism as the most pressing issue in this country.

There is a prevailing perception that liberal Islam, secularism, and pluralism are far more dangerous than terrorism. MUI has preoccupied itself more with issues like Ahmadiyah and interfaith marriages, than suicide bombings, which actually have a far more devastating impact society. They are more concerned with ritualistic issues such as interfaith joint prayers and female imams instead of the immorality in society like corruption, which has already become so deeply ingrained that it is almost like a tradition in our society.

They have paid little attention to the trial/investigation of former minister of religious affairs Said Agil Munawar, for his alleged involvement in a haj budget irregularities. MUI seems to be "delighted" by busying itself in "attacking" harmless groups such as JIL and JIMM (Muhammadiyah Young Intellectual Network), rather than decisively dealing with extremists. This shows the failure of religious leaders in listing priorities of problems within societies.

Bizarrely, the MUI seems to have just opened its eyes to these realities after they were invited by Vice President Jusuf Kalla to watch the shocking video tape of the Indonesian Muslim suicide bombers. Previously, the clerics were reluctant to condemn their Muslims brothers who were deviating from the true teaching of Islam. It appeared that they were unwilling to call them the real enemy of Islam, and that their deeds should be religiously forbidden and cursed by society.

Many Muslims leaders understand all to well the evil nature of terrorism, but they choose to be quiet in public, apparently afraid of being criticized as a mainstream Muslim. They have often shifted their moral duty to explain the truth to other similarly reluctant clerics at the expense of an increasingly misled society. "Not me, please," they say as they excuse themselves from the responsibility. More bizarrely, MUI regards liberal Islam as threatening as terrorism. This can be seen in the banner in front of Istiqlal Mosque, which reads "beware of liberalism and terrorism."

In dealing with this terrorism issue, even the antiterror team, which was recently founded by the MUI and the ministry of religious affairs, is full of ambiguities. Ma'ruf Amin as the one who was appointed as the leader of this team is actually the chairman of the fatwa (edict) council within the MUI. The fatwa council is charged with enforcing and issuing the controversial 11 religious edicts. He has always been perceived as a fiqh- oriented religious scholar with conservative characteristics. In a deeper analysis, terrorism is actually as subsequence manifestation of increasingly uncontrolled conservatism.

Such conservative views are widespread within Indonesian society. This is the reason why extremism is unstoppable in this country. Moreover, radicalism seems to find a fertile ground in the country's religiosity. Other social and economic matters might have contributed to radicalism, however the potential for conflict was already ingrained in the way the society sees religion.

From childhood, Muslim children here are trained to see the differences rather than the commonalities among people. Even my four-year-old daughter often says the Westerners on TV are kafir (infidels). When we were browsing around in a mall, my daughter asked about the Chinese couple walking in front of us, "Daddy, are they Muslims?" she whispered to my bewilderment. Such double-standard perceptions seem to have been deeply embedded in the psyche of Indonesian people: we go to heaven, they go to hell; we are right, they are wrong; we are beloved by God, they are a disgrace to God.

In addition to the antiterror team's problem of ambiguity, the way this team tackles terrorism issues is also problematic. Ma'ruf Amin, the chairman of the team, and many other religious leaders seem to try to portray terrorism as the antithesis of Islam; much the same way as the New Order portrayed communism as the antithesis of Islam. Therefore, according to their views, terrorism must have no relation at all with Islam.

Ma’ruf Amin once said to me, “al-Islamu syaiun, wat-terrorims syaiun akhar, Islam is one matter, terrorism is another one.” Therefore, Islam and terrorism are two different entities that will never be connected and reconciled; it is like good and evil. At the first place, such attitude would make people afraid of committing even any form which can be classified into terrorist acts. However, such attitude would only strengthen the militancy of the extremists. For example, the obvious reaction to this has been shown by the way some groups of people visiting the grave of Agus Purwanto, one of the suicide bombers, by shouting takbir and yelling, “Agus is a martyr.”

Such phenomena of the severe competition between conservatives and liberals has instead resulted in antipathy from other members of society towards these two competing groups. The majority now seems to have found a comfortable religiosity in the figures of Aa Gym (KH Abdullah Gymnastiar), Jefry al-Bukhary, Agus Haryono, Arifin Ilham, etc.

This is because the religiosity of this Muslim majority follows market mechanisms. For them, religiosity in the way they practice their religion, is a matter of "rational choice." For them, religiosity is like a commodity in a market where they have freedom to choose something that could really satisfy their needs -- much like the law of demand and supply in the economy. This demand for peaceful religiosity, in fact, cannot be found in those two competing groups.

Such peaceful religiosity is instead found in packaging models or "advertising celebrities" like Jefry al-Bukhary and others whose characters splash out on us from television. They are also crazy about religion that can miraculously heal diseases, relax emotions and expand their fortunes, as offered by the likes of Arifin Ilham and Ustadz Haryono.

So how do we predict our religiosity in the coming year (2006)? Terrorism might not have its heady anymore. However, there might be a new model of religiosity which is as frightening and socially disturbing as terrorism. People might end up treating religiosity merely as theatrical show, which would only be able to provide temporary happiness, far from deep happiness as genuinely promised by religion. At the same time, the liberals would increasingly believe that religion is a troublemaker. While the conservatives would increasingly believe that they should hold their religion as rigidly as possible.

The writer works at the Research Center for Society and Culture at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (PMB-LIPI). He is also a member of Pemuda Muhammadiyah. He can be reached at najib27@yahoo.com.

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