Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tolerant Nationalism

Promoting tolerant nationalism, beyond religious versus secular

Muhamad Ali, Manoa, Hawaii

The commemoration of Independence Day every Aug. 17 may leave certain crucial questions unanswered, despite all the underlying spirit, surrounding symbols and colorful celebrations. One such question is whether Indonesian nationalism was and continues to be secular or religious.
Scholars have attempted to provide answers to this delicate and complex question, but most of them are trapped in a dichotomous opposition between the religious and the secular. In fact, for many Indonesian Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Confucians, nationalism is both secular and religious. Pancasila has become the ambiguous yet accepted ideology of Indonesia's nationalism. But what can we, as a nation, gain from it?
Most Western literature on Indonesian nationalism argues that historically the emergence of nationalism was attributed to the rise of secular leaders such as Sukarno and Hatta (both being graduates of the Dutch educational system) and a secular print media, including Budi Utomo and the Indonesian National Party of Sukarno. Nationalism is believed to be a Western import, and it was secularly educated leaders who introduced this concept to this new country.
This argument has been challenged by many. Michael Francis Laffan, in his Islamic Nationalism and Colonial Indonesia (2003), argues that Islam played a crucial role in the rise of Indonesian nationalism. According to him, it was Muslim scholars and leaders, influenced by Islamic reform movements in Mecca-Medina and then Egypt, through their religious organizations (such as Syarikat Islam, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah), publications and activism, who worked in anti-colonial movements during the early 20th century. These two arguments stand upon their own emphasis of certain movements and individuals in selected moments of history.
The essence of nationalism is patriotism, or love of the native land. This love of the native land has very constructive impacts on the life of a nation. By this spirit of love, all members of a nation are willing to work hard to build their country into a prosperous and peaceful one. Also by this spirit, self-determination arises and can become a strong force in self-improvement and nation-building.
In interfaith meetings, every religion attempts to argue that nationalism and patriotism are sanctioned by their religious beliefs, and their gods teach them to love their country and to work hard for it. This may be called religious nationalism, for the absence of a better term, to suggest that nationalism and religion are not incompatible in the heart and minds of many of these religious peoples.
If one says nationalism was and is Islamic, then a question may arise: Were there only Muslims who fought against colonialism? They were a majority certainly in the struggle against colonialism, but were there Protestants, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians and non-religious peoples in nationalist movements?
This question leads to the very problem Indonesia has faced again and again: Is Indonesia truly a pluralistic nation? To the latter question, many Islamic political parties and leaders have only one answer: that it was Muslims who played the main role in gaining and keeping independence and therefore it is the Muslims' right to determine the direction of the nation by their particularistic laws.
It is often claimed that Muslims gave up seven words of the Jakarta Charter (with the obligation for Muslims to observe their religious beliefs) and presented it to non-Muslims of the nation as a gift. For them, Pancasila was often seen as a gift to the pluralistic nation, compromising Islamic ambitions to make the nation-state an Islamic state.
Thus it is hardly present in the minds of the Muslim majority that Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians and others, whether or not they identified themselves as such, participated in the struggle against colonialism, and have long contributed to the development of the nation.
Pre-independence nationalism was to get rid of the Japanese and the Dutch, but post-independence nationalism was to contribute to the development of the country in all aspects of life. Some post-independence nationalists argue that nationalism should today mean anti-neoimperialism, economic imperialism in the form of capitalism (and its representative institutions) and so forth.
More recently, some Nahdlatul Ulama leaders issued a manifesto that criticizes new modes of imperialism in the form of external forces imperializing Indonesia economically, politically, culturally and intellectually. This neo-nationalism is sometimes linked to particular religious interpretations as well.
How should we resolve this question? There is no one answer to this. Nationalism is perhaps neutral in itself. It is a good thing to love one's country. Every community in the world today, including the Muslim world, has accepted nationalism as the best political ideology.
But we are facing excesses of nationalism: Aggressive nationalism which tries to impose one's nationalism onto other nations near and far. Between nations, tolerant nationalism, either religious or secular, should be promoted.
Indonesian nationalism, either religiously or secularly based, can have excesses and extremes as well. Extreme nationalism, for example, forces minorities to adopt the overarching political agenda that they would otherwise reject because it does not suit their needs and interests.
An extreme nationalism wants to civilize the margins (indigenous believers, religious sects, new religious movements, mountain and jungle tribes, and so forth) by way of imposition without respect for their particular conditions and needs. Within a nation, there needs to be a balance between nationalism and multiculturalism.
Thus, we should now go beyond secular versus religious nationalism. It is time to promote more substantive and tolerant nationalism: strong, solid, but respecting other concepts of nationalism and nationalities within and without the country. Tolerant nationalism is a love of one's country manifested in various aspects of life, but not at the expense of the destruction of other peoples within and beyond the constructed boundaries.
Indonesian nationalism should be tolerant in the sense that, whether religious or secular or mixed according to different communities, it should respect minorities and the marginal, and at the same time should respect other nationalisms outside it. One of the outcomes of such tolerant nationalism is continued participation within the nation and peaceful coexistence and fruitful cooperation outside it.

Photo: Me, my Professor Jerry Bentley, and classmatess at World History class, Hawaii, 2004.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


By Muhamad Ali

A paper for discussion at the Center for the Languages and Cultures, UIN Jakarta, April 2005

Pluralism still needs further and wider discussion among various elements in Indonesia, not only because of its condemnation by the Council of Indonesian Ulema, of the condemnation and attacks against the marginalized movement of Ahmadiyah, and of the forced closure of over 200 churches by the Islam Defender’s Front (FPI) since 1996 to date, but also because of the complexity and changes of its very term in the intellectual history of modern societies. Franz Magnis-Suseno’s article “Defining Pluralism, Liberalism, Secularism” has been particularly insightful in stressing the value of pluralism and its difference from relativism, but it will be useful to understand that the vocabulary of pluralism has changed and differed according to time and space.

It is true that we do not have to agree in what pluralism means and it never has one monolithic denotation. “Words”, says French philosopher Claude Levi-Strauss, “are instruments that people are free to adapt to any use, provided they make clear their intentions.” In the social sciences, as in philosophy and religion, there are wide and frequent variations in the meaning of the simplest words, according to the thought that uses and informs them.

The use of the state or the religious authority to enforce particular understanding of religion is one thing, but the disagreement on the meaning of the terms (such as pluralism) is another thing, which we should scrutinize further.

The forced closure of 23 churches in Bandung between September 2004 and August 2005 by the Islam Defender’s Front (FPI), and over 200 churches since 1996 raises questions: to what extent can churches be regarded as harming the Muslim environment or social order? Does one religious community have the right to convert other religious communities and what should the government do about this? Can we tolerate the intolerant groups like FPI?

Pluralism means differently and dynamically. In one definition, it is diversity that denotes a fact, a condition, a reality of difference, while pluralism is an ideal or impulse, the acceptance and encouragement of diversity. In another, pluralism is a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization. It can also be defined as a concept, doctrine, or policy advocating this state. Thus, Pluralism is defined not as diversity itself but as one of the various things people do and think in response to diversity (Wesbter’s Third International). This notion of pluralism did not emerge until the 1920s.

Pluralism can be seen from different levels: first, pluralism as toleration (absence of persecution, the right of a deviant to exist), pluralism as inclusion (to include outsiders, but not yet equal), and pluralism as participation (a mandate for individuals and groups to share responsibility for the forming and implementing of the society’s agenda. (William R. Hutchison, Religious Pluralism in America, 2003)

In the political context, pluralism is the belief in the distribution of political power through several institutions which can limit one another’s action, or through institutions none of which is sovereign. Pluralism is the advocacy of a particular kind of limited government. Second, pluralism is the belief that the constitution of a state ought to make room for varieties of social customs, religious, and moral beliefs, and habits of association, and that all political rights should be traced back to the constitution, and not to any social entity other than the state itself. In such circumstances the social and the political are as separate as can be, and uniform political institutions coexist with a plural society (a civil society in which several societies coexist in a single territory, interacting in a peaceful way, perhaps so as to become socially, politically, and economically interdependent). And third, pluralism is any view which, in opposition to monism (and to dualism), argues for a multiplicity of basic things, processes, concepts or explanations. (Roger Scruton, A Dictionary of Political Thought, 1996)

Pluralism, Religious Pluralism, Multiculturalism As Practices and Concepts
During the 18th century: French and German Enlightenment and Particular Meaning of Pluralism: liberalism, against absolutism of the Church, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Social Contract, Civil Religion)
In the U.S., diversity happened to American religion in the first half of the 19th century, but pluralism as a concept did not arrive until the second half of the 20th century.
During the 19th century: pluralism as toleration; Protestant dominance continued; peoples were “in harmony and good neighborhood, no disputes about religion, nearly complete absence of polemical strife and bitterness in the religious life” (Crèvecouer) “the Christian, the infidel, the Mohammadan, the Jew, the Deist, has not only all his right as a citizen, but many have his own form of worship, without the possibility of any interference from any policeman or magistrate, provided he do not interrupt, in so doing, the peace and tranquility of the surrounding neighborhood” (Robert Baird, 1840s) “if you were a cultural outsider, you could be about as different as you wished in actual religious views. And it meant that if you were an outsider, acceptance depended to a large extent upon your willingness to adjust, to become assimilated, especially in matters of religious and general behavior.” “in the U.S, Christian sects are infinitely diversified and perpetually modified; but Christianity itself is an established and irresistible fact.” (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1834-40).

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries: pluralism as inclusion; nonmainstream sectarians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, to be recognized and included as part of the society (given a voice, but not beyond that), Reform Judaism and Inclusionary Pluralism: “We recognize in every religion an attempt to grasp the Infinite One”, Liberal Catholics and the Quest for Inclusion, the World’s Parliament of Religions (1893) as a showcase for inclusion.
Mid-20th century: New Mainstream, New Pluralism, Pluralism as participation: Protestant establishment of old was sharing its mainstream status with the other two major faiths (Catholics and Judaism). Islam nearly matched Judaism (6 millions in size)
Contemporary America: Whose America? A. Samuel Huntington “Who are We: The Challenges to American National Identity” (2004), reasserts Protestant roots of America. The challenges to American identity are subnational identities, immigrants, assimilations, militant Islam. B. Willaim Hutchison’s Religious Pluralism: “We should accept pluralism as a primary value, but that we must also deal seriously with pleas concerning social and moral cohesion.”, beyond inclusion, that is mutually respectful and nonpatronizing.” One still hold to his or her own convictions, does not mean lack of all conviction. Not to say we are chosen and you are not “ “.voluntary, mono or multiple identities.” Renewed civil religion. “Recognition by both religious and nonreligious peoples that the days are past when any one group can dictate a comprehensive public philosophy that will prevail for the whole of the people (Prof. Marsden, 1990), Civil Religion (Robert Bellah, 1970s) Thus, Religious Pluralism as a Work in Progress in the U.S.: advanced pluralist thinking has now gone beyond mere toleration and mere inclusion, although intolerance and exclusion persist. (Hutchison, 2003) Some regard pluralism as dangerous loss of consensus and social cohesion, but Hutchison sees pluralism and social cohesion can coexist

Religious Pluralism: Some Definitions
“All religions are the relative- that is, limited, partial, incomplete, one way of looking at thing. To hold that any religion is intrinsically better than another is felt to be somehow wrong, offensive, narrow-minded; Deep down , all religions are the same – different paths leading to the same goal.” (Paul Knitter, No Other Name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes toward the World Religions, 1985)
“Transcendent Unity of Religions” (Frithjof Schuon, 1984)
“Other religions are equally valid ways to the same truth” (John Hicks)
“Other religions speak of different but equally valid truths” (John B. Cobb Jr.)
“Each Religion expresses an important part of the truth” (Raimundo Panikkar)
Pluralism and Liberation (Farid Esack, 1997)

Multiculturalism: Some Definitions
Pluralism and multiculturalism are often overlapped, used interchangeably, but sometimes both mean different things, pluralism can have religious as well as cultural non-religious dimension, but multiculturalism more specifically implies cultural (ethnic, racial, social) diversities.
Multiculturalism emerges from the mid-20 century. Multiculturalism signifies the approach which tries to give as much representation as possible, within legal, political, and educational institutions, to minority cultures. Multiculturalism poses a threat to the social order, removes the foundations for civil obedience. Multiculturalism constitutes an attempt to reduce Western civilization to the status of a culture. The principle influence of multiculturalism has been on the curriculum, especially in the universities, where multiculturalists argue that study in the humanities has focused exclusively on the work of dead white European males and ignored the achievements of other cultures. (Roger Scruton, A Dictionary of Political Thought, 1996)
Neither universities or policies can effectively pursue their valued ends without mutual respect among the various cultures they contain. Some differences – for example, racism and anti-Semitism – ought not to be respected even if expressions of racist and anti-Semitic views must be tolerated; Multicultural societies and communities that stand for the freedom and equality of all people rest upon mutual respect for reasonable intellectual, political, and cultural differences. (Amy Gutmann, Multiculturalism, 1994)
In the private sphere: my own identity crucially depends on my dialogical relations with others. In the public sphere, politics of multiculturalism, politics of recognition, politics of universalism (difference-blind fashion), politics of difference, politics of equal dignity: individualized identities, the notion of authenticity, equalization of rights and entitlements (Charles Taylor, “Politics of Recognition”, in Multiculturalism, 1994)

Pluralism, Religious Pluralism in Indonesia
Religious pluralism is equally complex concept; it is a Western word, but Indonesia has similar term signifying pluralism: Bhineka Tunggal Ika, Pancasila as the state philosophy, dipahami berbeda-beda, sering menjadi alat kekuasaan untuk mempertahankan status quo atau mainstream
Persoalan-persoalan antarumat beragama di Indonesia sangat komples: Kristenisasi dan Islamisasi, perkawinan beda agama, doa antaragama, pengadilan agama, pendidikan, Tujuh patah kata Piagam Jakarta, bentrok fisik Kristen-Islam,

Indonesian Scholarship on pluralism:
Nurcholish Madjid: pertama, sikap yang ekslusif dalam melihat agama lain (agama-agama lain adalah jalan yang salah, yang menyesatkan para pengikutnya), keduam sikap inklusif (agama-agama lain adalah bentuk implisit agama kita), dan ketiga, sikap pluralis (Agama-agama lain adalah jalan yang sama-sama sah untuk mencapai Kebenaran yang Sama, Agama-agama lain berbicara secara berbeda tetapi merupakan kebenaran-kebenaran yang sama sah, setiap agama mengekspresikan bagian penting sebuah Kebenaran), dialog antaragama berbasis keyakinan kepada seluruh para nabi dan rasul, syir’ah dan minhaj yang berbeda-beda, berlomba-lomba dalam kebajikan. (Nurcholish Madjid, 1998)
Pluralisme tidak dapat dipahami hanya dengan mengatakan masyarakat kita majemuk, pluralisme juga tida boleh dipahami sekedar kebaikan negative, sekedar menyingkirkan fanatisme, pluralisme harus dipahami sebagai pertalian sejati kebinekaan dalam ikatan-ikatan keadaban (genuine engagement of diversities within the bonds of civility) (1999)
Alwi Shihab: toleransi awal dari pluralisme. 1. pluralisme tidak semata menunjuk pada kenyataan adanya kemajemukan, harus ada keterlibatan aktif, 2. pluralisme harus dibedakan dengan kosmopolitanisme (kota Kosmopolitan tanpa interaksi aktif), 3. pluralisme tidak sama dengan relativisme (semua agama adalah sama), 4. pluralisme agama bukan sinkretisme. Seorang pluralis membuka diri, belajar dan menghormati penganut lain, tapi committed terhadap agama yang dianutnya (Islam Inklusif, 1997)
Budi Munawwar Rahman: Islam Pluralis (2001), Muhamad Ali, Teologi Pluralis-Multikultural (2003)

Pluralism is a complex but useful concept in explaining many issues related to human interaction and relationships;

Pluralism, religious pluralism, multiculturalism each means different thing for different people, but it has basic common notion: acceptance of the existence of diversity; the reading of texts and the role of context shapes such plurality of definitions of religious pluralism; Religious pluralism is never purely religious matter; it involves politics for the large extent

Religious pluralism in the context of Indonesia should be fundamentally agreed by the government and civil society, but its application can be contextual; the challenge remains, that is how to reconcile between recognition of difference and respect of universal substantive values.
As suggestion, we need to develop comparative religions/history of religions, national history of religions, world history of religions, studies of local cases of interfaith meetings and dialogues, interreligious prayers, interfaith marriages, religious pluralism and law, pluralism and education, studies of the history of religious pluralism in Indonesia, and other pluralism-related issues.

Photo: in a Buddhist Temple, Kelantan, Malaysia, with Abdullah Che Tengah, June 2005

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization

The Jakarta Post, March 2, 2005

Muhamad Ali

What would most people think when they read or hear the phrase Islamo-Christian Civilization? Many Muslims and Christians would likely bristle at the very idea it seems to embody, and others will look suspiciously at the omission of “Judeo-“ from the phrase. Many more would suspect that this is simply impossible theologically and historically. Why Islamo-Christian Civilization?
Aren’t Christianity and Islam distinct and separated theologically and historically?

Challenging Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, Prof Richard Bulliet wrote an enlightening work entitled “The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization” (2004). Such phrases as Children of Abraham, Semitic Scripturalism, or Abrahamic Religions seem to do quite well for the Islamo-Judeo-Christian Civilization, but an Islamo-Christian civilization implies that Muslims and Christians shared the past, present and future. Conventional wisdom maintains that the differences between Islam and Christianity are irreconcilable. Bulliet looks beneath the rhetoric of hatred and misunderstanding to challenge the prevailing and misleading views of Islamic history and Clash of Civilizations. Bulliet argued that the sibling Christian-Muslim societies begin at the same time, go through the same developmental stages and confront the same internal challenges. Yet as Christianity grows rich and powerful, Islam finds success around the globe but falls behind in wealth and power.

According to Bulliet, the term Islamo-Christian civilization denotes a prolonged and fateful intertwining of sibling societies enjoying sovereignty in neighboring geographical regions and following parallel historical trajectories. Neither the Muslim nor the Christian historical path can be fully understood without relation to the other.

There is still a tendency to say that Muslims are less open to new ideas than Christian Westerners and that Muslims are more prone to conflict between themselves and to hate non-Muslims. Many Westerners often view the actual life of backward, poor, and sometimes violent Muslims in the light of the ideal peaceful separation between religion and the church in the West. On the other hand, many Muslims still blame the West as the cause of their backwardness materially and their moral crisis simply by referring to, for example, sexual freedom appearing in mass media. As Bulliet suggests, Westerners characterize militant Muslims as the dominant voice and scarcely recognize the presence of moderate and liberal minds. Muslims on the other hand, see the West as the secular land of sin, salesmanship, and superficiality. Both sides seem unaware of the admirable positive qualities that most Muslims and Westerners exhibit in their daily life.

Westerners do not include Islam in their civilization mainly because they are heirs to a Christian construction of history that is deliberately exclusive. Western Christendom regards Islam as a malevolent Other for many centuries and has invented any number of reasons for holding this view.

In the academic circle in the West, we tend to read European or Western history in Euro-centric perspective as if the world is only the West. On the other hand, Muslims have their own historical reading as if there is only an Islamic history and there is no interaction between them and others. I have not find any single work on world history considering Islam, Christianity and others as one historical actor in a shared civilization. In other words, there is no a truly shared world history being written and promoted.

In Indonesia, historiography tends to be exclusive. For example, Christianity has been regarded as a colonial religion; a religion that was carried and preached by the Dutch colonials –and English, Germans, Americans. This has become the main obstacle for mutual understanding among Muslims and Christians in Indonesia. The historical fact is that Christianization is not always part of colonial enterprises. There were Christians who opposed Dutch colonialism; and when some of them did not they were engaged in education and cultural development. Many of them were independent missionaries, just like Muslim preachers. Understanding this more objective history is crucial in rehabilitating hidden distrust between Muslims and Christians.

It is true that the majority of Indonesians today are Muslims, but this does not necessarily mean that non-Muslims, including Christians did not play a part in Indonesian independence and postcolonial local and national development. Majority-minority perspective has often obscured the fact that significant contribution to shared economic, cultural, and political development has been continuously made by different religious leaders and communities.

Indonesia has actually witnessed peaceful coexistence between different religious communities. News reports and scholarly research on inter-religious conflicts as taking place in some parts of Indonesia should not overlook the more consistent and wider-range situation of inter-religious cohabitation. Religious civil societies have been promoting peaceful coexistence, but non-specifically religious organizations and individuals, often without any religious affiliation, have equally demonstrated how they could work together in their economic, educational, political and cultural activities.

Such economic, political, and cultural shared experiences are the best example of how Islamo-Christian civilization in Indonesia is neither something foreign nor impossible to maintain in the future. In social, economic, and political relationships, Muslims and Christians have long collaborated in both local and national levels. This kind of Islamo-Christian civilization that Richard Bulliet envisages has apparently worked quite well in Indonesia, but a shared religious history in which Muslims, Christians as well as other religious communities played the same role is still far from reality. A challenging effort is how to establish a shared history of civilization in which Christian and Muslim cultures are actually integrated in Indonesia.

In addition, religious pluralism in the sense that good Christians and Muslims are not infidels to each other and that good Christians and Muslims can get salvation and happiness is much more difficult for Muslims and Christians to adhere. For example, a Christian who works with a Muslim in a company can be very friendly, but when it comes to their belief they tend to regard the others as infidels and not worthy of salvation in the hereafter.

Therefore, to suggest an Islamo-Christian civilization should consider different levels of human relations: material-economic, but also religious-moral. Our challenge is how to rethink our own belief in light of other beliefs and to reinterpret our ritualistic and textual texts in light of more contextual, general and shared reading of history. Thus, to be tolerant is not simply to pretend to be good to other religious individuals and communities at the social and economic levels, but also to regard the others as we regard ourselves in terms of God’s salvation and blessings here in the world and in the hereafter.

The idea of Islamo-Christian civilization is constructive (and can be widened to include other religions too), but it rests more immediately on the need of more specifically Christians and Muslims in Indonesia and elsewhere to find common ground at a time when suspicion, fear, draconian government action and demagoguery increasingly threaten to divide them.

The photo: in front of a bookstore called Avicenne in Paris, Dec 2005

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Happy to be Back to Hawaii


It is very nice to be back to Hawaii, after one and half year of my fieldwork and travel to parts of Indonesia, parts of Malaysia, Holland, France, and Belgium. We see old faces, but more new faces at Hale Manoa and Hawaii. It is also nice to know new friends. I hope and pray for a better and more wonderful life for us and everyone now and in the future.

Hale Manoa, 1202E
The Photo: I stood in front of KILTV, Leiden.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Strengthening Moderate Islam in Indonesia

The Jakarta Post, 4 August 2006

Muhamad Ali

Who are moderate Muslims in Indonesia today? This question has been controversial and debatable depending on one’s political and religious perspective. It seems that most scholars and people at home and abroad share the conviction that most Muslims in Indonesia are tolerant and moderate, but many still find it difficult to identify who they are, what they actually do, and what their future is.

There is semantic issue in what the term implies, but more importantly, one’s perspective shapes his or her view on what moderate Islam is and who moderate Muslims are. For some, Islam is inherently moderate and all Muslims, without exception are therefore moderate in any time and in any place, there are no radical, no fundamentalist, no moderate no liberal. This aim is in contradiction with the plurality of the world naturally and culturally. This conviction is simply based on faith, believing that our faith is always true and good and therefore those who have this faith are automatically true and good, even the truest and best. In reality that is not the case. There are Muslims who are not moderate. But who are they?

In the United States (U.S.), for example, especially after 11 September 2001, defining moderate Muslims understandably is political. For many scholars and policy makers, moderate Muslims are those who are more or less like us, those who are not critical of and not blaming the US on particular world conflicts and issues. For example, Ariel Cohen, a senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation contended that moderate Muslims are those who do not view the greater jihad, holy war, as a pillar of faith or as predominant dimension thereof (American Journal for Islamic Social Sciences, 2005). A moderate, according to Cohen, is one who is searching for a dialogue and a compromise with people who adhere to other interpretations of the Qur’an, and with those who are not Muslims. Moderate Muslims respect the right of individuals to disagree, to worship Allah the way they chose, or not to worship. Interestingly, for Cohen, the famous Tariq Ramadhan, grandson of Hasan al-Banna, and Yusuf Qaradawi are not moderate Muslims because the former supports Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimin) and comes from that tradition and the latter is an anti-Semite and rationalizes the murder of children as Cohen understood.

But for John Esposito, defining who is a moderate Muslim depends on the politics or religious positions of the individuals making the judgment. For many, Esposito says, the litmus test for a moderate Muslim is tied up to foreign policy issues, for example, how critical one is of American or French policy or one’s position in regard to Palestine/Israel, Kashmir, Iraq, and so on. Esposito sees that many definitions of the moderate include a liberal reformer or a progressive, excluding conservative or traditionalist positions. According to Esposito, moderates in Islam, as in all faiths, are the majority or mainstream in Islam. The Muslim mainstream represents a variety of religious and socioeconomic positions. For Esposito, minimally moderate Muslims are those who live and work “within” societies, seek change from below, reject religious extremism, and consider violence and terrorism to be illegitimate. Some seek to Islamize their societies but eschew political Islam; others do not. Thus, according to Esposito, the moderates include those Muslims who join Islamic political parties, but they reject violence and illegal means.
The debate becomes more interesting when some Muslim scholars share their views and others do not fully. For example, Moqtedar Khan, sees critical reasoning (ijtihad) as the main concern of the moderates, not merely in its legalistic but more importantly in its comprehensive dimension. Thus, for Moqtader Khan, Chandra Muzaffar in Malaysia, Tarik Ramadan in Europe, Maulana Waheeduddin Khan and Asghar Ali Engineer in India, Khalid Abul Fadl and Louay Safi in the US, Karim Soroush and Muhammad Khatami in Iran and many more who are committed to their Jihad (struggle) to revive the spirit of Ijtihad, are all moderates. According to another Muslim scholar, Taha Jabir al-Alwani, to say that moderate Muslims do not believe that jihad is one of Islam’s pillars is incorrect. However, moderate Muslims see jihad in its complete and objective meaning within a framework of self-purification, family, society, the larger human family, and the Earth. On the other hand, says Al-Alwani, the other conservatives see jihad as limited to the jihad of the sword and divide it into offensive and defensive wars.

In Indonesia, debating moderate Islam is no less political. Many believe that Muhammadiyah (since 1912) and the Nahdlatul Ulama (since 1926) are moderates, because they accept the semi-secular state ideology of Pancasila and do not promote the formalization of Islamic law at the national level. They are also moderates because they condemn terrorism and the use of violence in promoting the good and forbidding the evil (amar ma’aruf nahi mungkar). Muhammadiyah and the Nahdlatul Ulama have been promoting interfaith and inter-civilizational dialogue, peace movement, and international co-operations. Muslim figures such as late Nurcholish Madjid, Abdurrahman Wahid, Harun Nasution, Azyumardi Azra, M.Dien Syamsuddin, Hasyim Muzadi, and many more are regarded as moderates. Although they are often critical of American foreign policies on particular issues, as many others in the world, they do not show anti-Americanism. Despite minor cases where members of these two organizations become radical such as Kahar Muzakkar during the 1960s and 1970s and other cadres in the 1990s onward who joined some contemporary hardliners, these two organizations have allowed the establishment of more networks, movements, and organizations which identify and promote themselves as moderates, progressives or liberals.

They are, for example, Perhimpunan Pesantren dan Pengembangan Masyarakat (P3M), Jaringan Islam Emansipatoris (JIE), LAKPESDAM NU (Lembaga Kajian dan Pengembangan Sumber Daya Manusia) Jakarta, Lembaga Kajian Islam dan Sosial (LKiS), Paramadina, Jaringan Islam Liberal (JIL), Jaringan Islam Progresif, Jaringan Intelektual Muda Muhammadiyah (JIMM), Gerakan Islam Transformatif (GIT), Generasi Santri Progresif (GSP), Gerakan Dakwah Islam Profetik (GARDIF), Jaringan Filantropi Islam (JIFI), Gerakan Praksis Kemanusiaan Madani (Gaprikima), International Center for Islamic Pluralisme (ICIP), Center for Moderate Muslims (CMM), elSAD (Lembaga Studi Agama dan Demokrasi) Surabaya, LKPSM Yogyakarta, Kaum Muda NU, Syarikat (Masyarakat Santri untuk Kajian Sosial dan Advokasi Rakyat), LAPAR (Lembaga Advokasi & Pendidikan Anak Rakyat) Makassar, Puan Hayati, Rahima, Lentera Hati, and still more. Those peoples and networks share the notion of moderates as the non-violent since they promote their Islamic interpretations through education, training, community development, publications, dialogue and co-operations.

The question remains: what about the silent majority? The silent majority can only be identified as moderates or not by making surveys or other methods of research. Several surveys indicate that many Muslims are intolerant in the sense that they do not like Christians, Jews, and Muslim sects, and even the liberals. Many want an Islamic state and the formalization of Islam Law at regional levels, although they do not want amputation of thieves or throwing stones of the sinners. Another survey implies also that particular Arabic books allow intolerant interpretation of Islam such as domestic violence (husband against wives, parents against children in certain cases). Some 190 million Indonesian Muslims do not speak nor write, but if organizations such as Muhammadiyah, NU, and hundred more are assumed as representatives of the majority, then we can safely argue that most Indonesian Muslims are indeed moderate.

However, the establishment of the active minority calling themselves moderates or progressive from the majority implies that there remain many who are not moderates (radicals, hardliners, or the intolerant). Therefore these non-governmental organizations have more seriously and systematically been promoting the values of moderation, tolerance, pluralism, civil society, democracy, human rights, and so forth at all levels, including the grassroots and the villagers.

If Indonesians have a common understanding about who the moderates are it would be easier for them to promote empowerment agendas. To define who the moderates are is not to divide Muslim community in negative and destructive sense. It is to strengthen the Islamic values compatible to the modern, realistic way of thinking and life. It is to establish broad networks of different communities in the country to solve inter-religious and inter-organizational problems such as poverty, backwardness, terrorism and violence, injustices, corruption, diseases, and more. To minimize and contend, if not eliminate the influence of the intolerant interpretation of Islam would also mean to educate and lead the silent majority into a moderate path. If the majority believes that Islam should be moderate, amidst the threat of extremism, then the moderate active minority such as the organizations, networks, and movements mentioned above should continue promoting and strengthening moderate interpretation and application of Islam in the public sphere of Indonesia and the international community.

Muhamad Ali is a lecturer at the State Islamic University Jakarta, a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a fellow at the East-West Center, Honolulu. He can be reached at