Friday, August 31, 2007

Winning Over Indonesia's Pluralism Skeptics

Winning over Indonesia's pluralism skeptics Friday, August 24, 2007

Muhamad Ali, Jakarta

Many people say that Indonesia is a plural nation with a Muslim majority. Hardly anyone would deny the current plurality of ethnicity, languages, and religions in Indonesia. A recent interfaith group said they viewed pluralism as the nation's social capital, which should be revitalized and developed, thereby helping the Republic of Indonesia grow strong and prosper.
The problem is there are still many Indonesians who do not see such diversity as being positive and constructive in the struggle to improve the well-being of the nation. In other words, pluralism remains alien to them. Although plurality is argued to have historical roots in Indonesia, pluralism has been condemned as a foreign, Western concept.
There are some reasons why pluralism needs to be recultivated in Indonesia. Many publications continue to sow anger and hatred against others perceived to be enemies, threats and foreign forces, often without strong evidence. Such publications are filled with prejudices, stereotyping and rumors. Meanwhile, very rare public speeches and religious sermons highlight the good value of empathy, mutual understanding, respect, tolerance and pluralism. When pluralism is talked about, it is viewed merely as a passive understanding of the fact that "yes, we are different", without further active and proactive attitude and commitment.
Indeed, pluralism is a concept which has various and changing meanings.
Plurality is simply a fact, a condition or a reality of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, while pluralism is an ideal or an impulse to accept and encourage diversity.
Pluralism suggests the absence of persecution and the right to be different or defiant. It also tends to recognize outsiders and underscores the participation and responsibility of individuals and groups to form and implement society's agenda. In the political context, pluralism requires the state to give room to a variety of social customs, religious and moral beliefs, as well as groupings.
Many leaders, however, tend to emphasize consensus, unity, solidarity but ignore the value of difference and disagreement in society. They attempt to make use of the public as a sphere for mainstream ideologies and ideas, while eliminating others. Individual and group interests are pursued under the guise of public interests. They warn that pluralism is a threat to consensus and social cohesion
In Indonesia today, political cohesion and unity often win over differences and thus over the willingness to accept and encourage diversity. Many fear that to accept diversity means giving away their own convictions.
Instead, pluralism perceives that all religions are limited, partial, incomplete and that "other religions are equally valid ways to the same truth", or that "other religions speak of different but equally valid truths".
What seems potentially attractive to many Indonesians is the nation's pluralism, which is not confined to theological or religious aspects. The idea of Bhineka Tunggal Ika, or unity in diversity, is historically revolutionary. Pancasila as a creative and fascinating state ideology that goes beyond religious, ethnic, linguistic and political boundaries can be seen as a philosophy of tolerance and pluralism.
The first principle, belief in one God, has been and will be interpreted differently by different religious groups in Indonesia because naturally humans have different and changing conceptions of God. The state and religious groups cannot be tempted to force one particular conception of God on others by any sort of compulsion such as a physical threat, social pressure or rewards in the form of wealth or position.
The second pillar, justice and civilized humanism, signifies humane and just treatment for all, regardless of differences in age, gender, civilization and sociopolitical status. As the golden rule says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
The third principle, Indonesian unity, comes from the positive recognition of Indonesia's diversity in ethnicity, religion, island, political affiliation and other identity categories. Indonesian unity means Indonesians are to work for social cohesion as a community sharing common history and future. As a political community, Indonesians need to unite to improve their well-being, solve their problems, face their challenges and manage their differences. However, this sense of unity should not mean uniformity, which may lead to indoctrination or the politicization of sectarian beliefs.
The forth pillar, democracy based on wisdom and consultation, carries fundamental principles such as the absence of authoritarianism and absolutism, the presence of empathy, being considerate of others, being wise when making decisions concerning others, mutual listening, understanding and respect.
Democracy also means social equity. This is connected to the last pillar, social justice for all Indonesians, which means individuals in Indonesia should be treated as equal citizens who deserve equal access to resources, education, health and other public opportunities. Indonesian pluralism is the basis for equal citizenship and equal treatment before the law. There is no place for the majority simply because of their major quantity that a group claims to represent that majority while in reality in that majority there is so much difference.
Pluralism is an advanced philosophy and attitude to be shown by the state or civil society. It requires sincerity, empathy, mutual understanding and commitment to dialogues and cooperation. Indonesia's plurality can be a great and invaluable asset for the just and prosperous nation. The challenge is for all Indonesians to master the ways of making differences and disagreements work for them, rather than against them.

Islamic Caliphate Unnecessary

Islamic caliphate revival unnecessary, unrealistic Friday, August 10, 2007

Muhamad Ali, Hawai, Manoa

Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) will host an international caliphate conference on Sunday in Jakarta, inviting speakers from various Islamic organizations. It remains to be seen the extent to which the idea of an international caliphate gains support in Indonesia and the Muslim world, but the revival of the world Islamic caliphate is neither a religious obligation nor a realistic endeavor.

According to the HTI, the caliphate is a form of leadership aimed at unifying all Muslim people around the world, with the objective of implementing Islamic sharia and conducting Islamic proselytizing (da'wa) throughout the world. The Islamic caliphate is a political system with a caliph or imam as the head of government with his deputies and functionaries.

In their reading, the last Islamic caliphate had to end in 1924 when the Ottoman Empire fell during the World War I. For them, the Muslim community today is no longer under the true Islamic leadership that is the caliphate, and they have lived under a secular political order which appears to have failed to meet Islamic needs.

According to them, it is not the existing presidents, monarchs or prime ministers of the nation-states that should lead, serve, and protect the Muslim people. Only one world Islamic leader, a sort of Muslim papacy, should lead Muslims; the caliph has to be trustworthy and should base his policies upon Islamic sharia only.

The goal of this modern caliphate movement remains the unity of both sentiment and politics, which has been a compelling but unrealized dream. Hizbut Tahrir was intellectually founded by Taqiyuddin al-Nabhany (1905-1978) in Lebanon.

He produced a number of works, including Nizham al-Islam (Islamic government) in which he promotes the ideas of Islamic unity, male leadership, of Arabic as the only Islamic language, the punishment for Muslim conversion to other religions.

He also proposed the prohibition of political parties not based on Islam, the unlimited period of the caliph, the definition of jihad as the military force, the shu'ra as the right of Muslims and not the right of non-Muslims, and other ideas.

There is some appeal to unite all Muslims when they feel under siege and they see they are subjugated by "foreign" forces. There is a strong spirit among its leaders and followers to pursue an Islamic order they believe is not being achieved within the existing political order.
The above observation seems to make sense among desperate and utopian Muslim scholars and leaders. However, there is no instruction to create a political caliphate system in the Koran and in the Hadith. The term khalifah in one verse of the Koran denotes vice regent in its general term.

The history of Muslim rulers, imams, sultans, or caliphs, is not a perfect history; Islamic history is not a history without dark sides of its actors; it contains glories and weaknesses, rises and falls, justice and exploitation, successes and crises, integration and conflicts. There is no guarantee that having caliphs solve all problems.

It is misleading to believe that to revive an Islamic political caliphate is a religious obligation for every Muslim. This argument is not based on a sound interpretation of the Koran, the Hadith, and complex Muslim history.

It is also misleading to view Western civilization as the opposite of an Islamic civilization. It is historically untrue to believe that there is one unified Western civilization and that there is only a destructive Western civilization.

There is no such thing as an Islamic civilization without interaction with other civilizations and cultures. There is no such thing as a unique Western civilization without interactions with various cultures. A shared civilization is the rule rather than the exception when Muslims and non-Muslims lived together and protected their common countries.

The caliphate system is more historical than normative; it cannot be seen as a universal practice to be applied today and in the future. A political system has changed and will change according to time and place. To strengthen the ties of the Muslims wherever they may be does not demand such world political unity as caliphate.

It is historically wrong to blame that all rulers in the West were corrupt, despot, and anti-Islamic. Muslim societies had different experiences under non-Muslim rulers. Many Muslims lived peacefully and could be good Muslims under different religious and non-religious rulers. A more objective reading of both Muslim and non-Muslim histories is crucial.

Today the rulers of Muslims as well as others are the presidents, the prime ministers, the governors, the regents, and other titles within different strata. There is no necessary conflict between the Islamic ummah and the nation-state. The meaning of nation varies and changes, but it has a soul or spiritual principle.

It is a community of people who feel that they belong together in the double sense that they share significant elements of a common heritage and that they have a common destiny for the future. The scope of an Islamic ummah can be international, but can also be national, regional, local, and organizational.

The real challenge facing Muslims today is not the unified political leadership such as caliph, let alone with characteristics promoted by scholars unaware of diverse local histories, cultures, and political systems of Muslims, such as in Indonesia.

Strong, clean and good governance, improved education, cleanness and health, law and order, and other more fundamental issues can be achieved within the existing nation-state system. The real challenges for Muslims today include law enforcement without the formalization of sharia, cultural empowerment without changing the basic political system of the Indonesian nation-state. Other challenges are how to strengthen civil society, and the consolidation of civilized democracy with strong and good governance. Muslims today do not need a caliphate to solve their real problems.

Criticisms against the revival of the caliphate are usually attacked as cynical, secular, anti-Islamic, Islamophobic, and given other labels. If this still comes from some people, they need to reread and reexamine their interpretations of the Koran, the Hadith, Muslim history, and world history, by developing more objective and contextual interpretations.