There is moderate Islam like there is moderate Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or even Marxism. However, lately we have been confronted mostly with “radical Islam” or worse “terrorism” in the name of Islam.
Islam, an ancient religion born in the Arabian Peninsula during late antiquity and related to an older Semitic religious tradition to which Judaism and Christianity also belong, has recently become a brand name for various bomb and suicide attacks.
Minority radical Muslims have hijacked Islam to justify their new radical faith. According to those radicals, the current world has deviated from the truth of Islam. Democracy embraced by most nations in the world, including Muslim nations, is seen as incompatible with Islamic dogma.
Moderate Islam, practiced by moderate Muslims around the world for 1,500 centuries, seems to have become extinct. Islam, like any other religion in the world that teaches spirituality and life after death, appears to challenge the current order of the world and to replace it with that of an “imagined” ancient religious dogmatic society.
Islamic radicalism has become a safe haven for those who are dissatisfied with the fast progress of the current world and those who feel marginalized within harsh global competition. This world is then blamed for its disagreement with old concepts of religious norms. In this regard, radical Muslims always pursue a dream to transform current society to the society in the Medina of the seventh century.
Radicals imagine that society in Medina then was the most ideal society in human history and guided by prophetic revelation. This can be achieved with all necessary cost and means. As in communism with a Machiavellian touch, violence is often used as a means to achieve a goal. Whereas Islam is old, radical Islam is a new school of thought emerging in a modern global context.
Islam came to Indonesia in the 13th century, and has become a political power since the 16th century. Indonesian Muslims have practiced Islam for five centuries.
But, they retained their local identity, tradition and culture. Indonesian Muslim women did not wear veils but traditional clothes that varied from one province to another. Indonesian Muslim men wore songkok (a traditional hat) and sarong, not the long gamis and turbans worn by their Middle Eastern counterparts.
Indonesians rarely grew beards, which have now become a sign of piety in certain Islamic circles. Unlike the pants worn by members of the Taliban, their pants are long, reaching their ankles. They eat rice, not khubz (Arab bread). They like sambal, not hummus.
In the current development, Islam in Indonesia has been used to assault people of other faiths, or other Muslims from different schools of thought. The peaceful Islam in Indonesia seems like an old story. This and the next generation will only listen to the story that Muslims used to be neighbors to Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and other people embracing other faiths. Those who still hold the idea of old inter-religious harmony are strangers in their own community.
In the current blatant process of “Talibanization” and “Pakistanization”, Indonesian Islam has turned out to be a new radical religion. Religious attributes, clothes, the increase in the number of mosques, religious expressions in the public domain and various attempts to sell religious sentiments in politics are nothing but indications of the resurgence of Islamic radicalism. There is little room, if any, left for moderation in practicing Islam in this country.
The radical voice has dominated the public, whereas moderate Muslims remain silent, failing to speak out and unwilling to preach their moderate faith and practices. They somehow let the radicals speak on behalf of their religion and watch their actions on TV. They seem to condemn extremism but not harshly enough.
Since I returned to Indonesia from Germany last year, I attended various conferences on Islam and Indonesia, among them were the “Annual Conference on Islamic Studies” held by the Religious Affairs Ministry in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, in November 2010; the “International Yale Indonesia Forum” held by the University of Diponegoro in Semarang in July 2010; the “Resurgence of Religions in Southeast Asia” held by Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta in January 2011. Some notable Indonesianists and Islamicists in these conferences came to the conclusion that Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism was on the rise in the archipelago. Indonesian Islam is therefore jeopardized.
Our ears have gotten used to hearing bombs, which have indeed already penetrated Indonesian Islam’s dictionary – three bombs disguised in books, a suicide bomb in Cirebon, a bomb attempt found near a gas pipeline close to a Catholic church in Tangerang and perhaps many more to come.
If these bomb threats on behalf of Islam continue uninterrupted, “Islam” and “bomb” will be tied together more tightly. As soon as the word Islam is pronounced, our imagination will be drawn to the idea of a “dangerous explosion”.
What is so shocking is that few students from the State Islamic University Syarif Hidayatullah in Jakarta – where the ideas of notable liberal Muslim scholars such as Nurcholish Madjid, Harun Nasution, Azyumardi Azra and many others have incubated – were involved in the recent wave of radicalism.
On the other hand, NU (Nahdlatul Ulama) and Muhammadiyah, two major Islamic organizations that should serve as pillars for moderate Islam in Indonesia, have failed to “delegitimize” Islamic radicalism. Worse still, radical ideas have penetrated the two organizations.
Some leaders and young members of the two organizations demonstrate their radical views publicly. They support the FPI’s (Islam Defenders Front) threatening actions and denounce their own fellows accused of embracing liberal stances.
It is uncertain whether the leaders of the two organizations just enjoy the support of radical members for political benefit or if they do not care about the latest developments within their organizations. It is indeed dangerous if these religious leaders prioritize their personal agendas of political pragmatism while neglecting the broader nation’s interest.
Bear in mind that there is no remedy for Islamic radicalism coming from outside the Muslim community, particularly one’s with alien power, using unfamiliar languages. Any attempt to cure the radical virus from outside Islam will likely be doomed to failure. Power outside Islam is regarded as alien, the enemy of Islam. Bans on the total veil (burqa) in France, for instance, will become a legitimate reason for radical Muslims to denounce the hegemony of the West with which Muslim progressive intellectuals are often associated.
Indeed, NU, Muhammadiyah, madrasah (Islamic schools), pesantren (traditional Islamic boarding schools) and Islamic institutes and universities spread across Indonesia should play a greater role in curbing the quick expansion of radicalism. Particularly the hearts and minds of the young generation should be shielded from any dangerous radical seduction.
These Islamic institutions, supported by the government, should shoulder the task. It is better now than too late, before a religious edict of prohibition of becoming a moderate Muslim is issued by the MUI (Indonesian Ulema Council), and another bomb is placed in front of your office’s door.
Islamic radicalism has become a safe haven for those who are dissatisfied with the fast progress of the current world and those who feel marginalized within harsh global competition
Amidst the euphoria over the killing of Osama bin Laden by the United States, a new book on Islam in Indonesia is cautioning Washington that an ideology that preaches hatred and violence is much more dangerous than the terrorist acts that Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network posed.
The Illusion of an Islamic State however makes it clear that Islam itself is “a blessing for all creation” (rahmatan lil-alamin) and that people in the West, as many Indonesians do, must make a clear distinction between Islam as a religion, which preaches peace and tolerance, and Islam as a political ideology, which preaches hatred and intolerance.
The book’s original Indonesian version was launched in 2009 as a common response from moderate Islamic groups to the growing threat of radicalism that comes from the use of Islam as a political ideology.
The work is a collaboration of scholars linked to the Wahid and the Maarif institutes, Indonesian organizations known for preaching tolerance and pluralism, and the US-based LibforAll Foundation, which was co-founded by the late former Indonesian president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid and C. Holland Taylor.
The English translation of the book was recently launched in Washington and Brussels with seminars featuring Taylor and respected Indonesian Muslim scholar Mustofa Bisri from Nahdlatul Ulama.
The Washington launch at the Heritage Foundation was timely, as the US is struggling to find an appropriate policy for the Arab world in the wake of the Arab Spring and the killing of Bin Laden.
In Brussels, the launch was facilitated by the European Parliament and the Indonesian Embassy in Belgium.
“There is a tendency for Western governments to focus on terrorism. We believe that ideology is much more dangerous than bombs,” Taylor said in an interview prior to the launch.
He urged the West to look at moderate Islamic forces in Indonesia that not only have beaten back the extremist ideology associated with the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood and Wahabism, but were also able to reconcile Islam with values normally associated with modernity.
“The book contains a theological rejection of the politicized agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood and Wahabism, and it points a path through which Muslims in other parts of the world can adapt the benefits of the rule of law, civil liberty and modern society, while retaining their Islamic identity and adapting their understanding of Islam to live in a modern world, human rights, freedom and democracy,” he said.
Although the book looks at the battle among Muslims in Indonesia, Taylor says the West as well as the rest of the world could learn by turning to the teachings of Bisri and Gus Dur in dealing with the viral global threat of Islamic ideology.
“Fortunately there are prominent Muslim leaders with tremendous legitimacy, authority and courage who pointed the way, with this book, how to understand the threat of the ideology, and how to systematically counter it,” he said.
The Indonesian launch of the book sparked outrage particularly, from Hizbut Tahir Indonesia and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which were singled out by Gus Dur in his preface as the “enemies within the blanket”.
The English version of Illusion adds an entire chapter that reflects the controversy with statements from those who attacked and praised the book.
Noting that the Indonesian edition deprived Islamist political parties of a larger share of the vote in the 2009 elections, Taylor cautioned against complacency, given the international nature of the networks of those campaigning for Islamist political ideology and the large financial backing they enjoy.
“The nature of the extremists is that they keep on coming, keep on coming and keep on coming. The only way to stop this is to ultimately isolate, marginalize and discredit the ideology itself and the extremist movements through sustained long term campaign. It is not to be executed merely in one country, or one region, in the world, but globally,” he said.