The discriminative state and the compulsory faith
Muhamad Ali , Riverside, CA Fri, 06/13/2008 10:04 AM Opinion
The recently issued joint ministerial decree reprimanding and instructing Jamaah Ahmadiyah to end their religious activities and interpretations, which suggest a prophet exists following the Prophet Muhammad, is in my view an unwelcome product of collaboration between the discriminatory state and the compulsory faith.
The decree clearly favors the mainstream yet particular Islamic interpretation of the meaning of Islam and prophethood, as well as of the Constitution and Pancasila state ideology. The decree symbolically recognizes religious freedom but prohibits "an interpretation of a religion in Indonesia which is deviant from the fundamental doctrines of that religion".
In the case of Ahmadiyah, the decree charged that their religious interpretation and activities "could harm social order". The first statement shows the government officials have interfered with an internal theological dispute and endorsed favoritism toward the dominant interpretation, rather than leaving the difference to democratic procedures among Muslim groups.
The second statement indicates the government's prejudice that the group has already harmed or could harm social order. Here interpretations, rather than actions, have become the criteria.
The decree is in my view based on a narrow and exclusive understanding of the Islamic notion of prophethood and revelation. The mainstream idea of prophethood has been taken for granted even by religious scholars.
Although not stated in the decree, it is proclaimed by many religious leaders, scholars and ordinary people that Ahmadiyah has committed "religious blasphemy" (penodaan agama) and heresy (aqida). These charges of religious blasphemy and heresy are not based on a sound understanding of the Koran.
Khatam al-anbiyya may carry the meaning that Muhammad was the last prophet to receive God's revelation, but this is not the only possible interpretation, because the Koranic language has multiple meanings. Some Koranic verses clearly suggest the universality of God's revelation and prophethood throughout human history.
God's revelation is not confined to the Prophet Muhammad. God's guidance is universal and not restricted to a particular age and nation. "And there is no nation wherein a warner has not come" (35:24). "For every people a guide has been provided." (13:7). Prophets speak the language of their own nations.
The logical interpretation is that prophets were not only Arab; they could be Indian, Chinese, African and so forth, as long as they preached the existence of the divine and the good. The Koranic prophethood is inclusive: submission to God, judgment day and commitment to good works.
Many claim that prophets unmentioned in the Koran were only applicable to the period before Muhammad. This interpretation contradicts the other verses (Ghafir:78, An-Nisa:164) which clearly state there are numerous prophets untold in the Koran irrespective of time.
Traditionally, Muslim scholars have made a distinction, saying that a nabi is a divine envoy without a law and a revealed book, whereas rasul means one with a law and a revealed book; but the Koran often uses both terms interchangeably. The meaning of prophethood is complex and nuanced, not to be limited to only the Prophet Muhammad.
If the Sabeans, the Jews and Christians are mentioned in Sura Al-Baqara:62 to gain God's rewards and salvation as long as they believe in God and judgment day and do good works, then why do we pretend to be so absolute in judging an Ahmadi -- who believes in God and even in the prophethood of Muhammad while believing in another prophet or reformist -- will not be rewarded by God?
Defining Islam as the religion of the Prophet Muhammad is historical yet specific. Islam also means submission to God and good works. If Islam is the religion of all true prophets, then there is the possibility of an interpretation suggesting a prophet who follows Muhammad.
A "solution" offered by some is that Ahmadiyah should exist as a new religion, separate from Islam. This is an erroneous view and religious fallacy.
The Koran clearly states there is no compulsion in religion (Al-Baqarah:256). God gives freedom to anyone to believe and not believe in Him. Religion is based on faith and will, and these would be meaningless if induced by force, as Koranic commentator Abdullah Yusuf Ali has said.
Many say there has been a consensus (ijma') among Muslim scholars about the heresy of Ahmadiyah, and that the argument is taken for granted as an absolute truth. The fact is that a consensus is never completely a consensus because there are so many Muslims in the world. There is no consensus that consensus (ijma') is part of the source of Islam. Definitions and manifestations of Islam remain plural.
K.H. Ahmad Dahlan, K.H. Hasyim Asy'ari, Hamka and M. Quraish Shihab, to mention only a few, do not share the belief and interpretation with Ahmadiyah but they recognize difference in interpretations and have never advocated the restriction of the movement in Indonesia. It is only now that such intolerant pressure emerged in the escalated politics of "religious purity" and "closed identity", unfortunately based on narrow-minded interpretations, insensitive to goodness and justice.
In the history of all religions, orthodoxy and heterodoxy are always judged by the dominant power, never from the minority or subjugated groups. Religious heresy seen by the mainstream is not necessarily a threat to social order. Charges and campaigns against religious heresy being harmful to the social order is a narrowed-minded political act.
The Koran states that disputes in theological matters will be settled by God alone, not here in this world where human knowledge is truly limited (Al-Maidah:48). Even when one has the right to invite others, the Koran suggests inviting them with wisdom, not by political pressure or discrimination, let alone banning. Invite the people to the way of Allah with wisdom and beautiful teaching, and argue with them in ways that are best, for the Lord knows best who has strayed from his path and who receive guidance (Surah An-Nahl:125).
When there is conflict of interpretation, the Koran asks not to judge the faith of the other but to compete with one another in goodness (fastabiqul khairat:Al-Maidah:48). There are many paths to God and many ways to be Muslim. Many religious individuals forget and do not care about their intolerant actions; they are quick to spread injustice, physically or psychologically, to those who happen to have different interpretations.
Indonesians should have resumed dialog as exemplified by A. Hassan and an Ahmadi leader in Java facilitated by colonial officials. The key point here is that the state should not but respect different religious interpretations. Faith should not be compulsory, and the state should not take side in any religious interpretation, mainstream or marginal.
The writer is an assistant professor at the religious studies department of the University of California, Riverside. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org