Saturday, October 10, 2009

Learning Salaam, Making Peace on Earth

Learning universal `Salaam', making peace on Earth

Muhamad Ali , California | Wed, 09/23/2009 12:19 PM | Opinion

If one walks along the Ganges River in Benares, India, one keeps hearing the phrase "Shanti, shanti, shanti", meaning "peace, peace, peace", and when used in English, one understands it as "farewell", or "Rest in Peace", or in Hawaii, Aloha. When one sees Jews greeting each other, one hears, "Shalom", and from Muslims, one hears "Salam" or "Al-salaam mu *alaikum: "Peace be upon you." Salaam has many meanings: safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune, friendliness, and peace.

There is no religion, faith, or spiritualism that does not preach peace, yet one or some religious traditions are singled out as "a religion of the sword", "a religion of violence or terrorism", whereas others as "religion of peace", religion of pacifists, and so on.

It is often forgotten that religions and ideologies have to face occasions when tensions, conflicts, violence, and sometimes wars become inevitable for complicated different reasons: Political, economic, cultural, as well as religious.

Peace is sometimes understood as an absence of aggression, war, violence, or hostility. Peace is when there are healthy interpersonal, inter-group, inter-family, inter-church, international relationships. The causes for the absence or lack of peace can be insecurity, social injustice, economic inequality, ignorance, religious fanaticism, or chauvinist nationalism.

Indeed, some Muslim groups use the sword either in defending or expanding their universalizing faith. But Islam, like any other religion and ideology, can be used for that expansionist zeal as well as for protecting, supporting, and making a difference to make a world a better place to live.

A violent leader is more likely to see the texts such as the Koran as justifying his violent acts against the others he sees as "the enemy".

A peaceful, tolerant leader will see the Koran in an entirely different way. For him and many others the Koran is an inspiration for love of others, coexistence, and peace. They cultivate the ethos of tolerance and non-violence.

Therefore, for us, it is a time to choose whether we act as a loving, peaceful personality or otherwise. As a rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book "the Dignity of Difference", says, "if religion, or faith, cannot be part of a solution, it will certainly be part of the problem."

Islam shares such common values as love, compassion, freedom, responsibility, and interconnectedness. A Muslim is anyone who loves his or her brothers and sisters and does not kill nor incite killings of self or others. A Muslim is someone whose heart fluctuates but remains controllable and peaceful.

Peace is not a state where there is no noise, trouble or hard work: peace is in the midst of those things and still to be calm in our heart.

Islam also endorses "no coercion in matters of faith", because a coerced faith is neither genuine nor sincere. Islam emphasizes that mankind is made up of brothers and sisters, regardless of religion, race, gender, politics, and economic standing.

Global brotherhood and sisterhood manifests themselves in very local, very personal lives. "And the people of God are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, "peace"(Guidance: 63) . "Had not God checked one group of people, there would surely have been destroyed monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is much remembered." (Pilgrimage: 40)

Faith-based communities, local or global, were born out of concern about surrounding social problems. Faiths operate to make a difference. It is therefore necessary for faiths to listen to each other, to understand what the others are working on, to seek common concerns and work in co-existence, while symbolic and ritualistic differences are simply respected and valued.

A basic understanding of humanness and human kindness (that everyone has equal dignity as human before being Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, straight, gay, and so forth). If people believe in God, but they use different terms for God, then they share that humility before God. If some believe and others do not believe in God, they still share that human kindness. The Koran uses the term "children of Adam".

Peace can only last when there is such basic understanding of equality of every single being. German religion scholar Hans Kung, for instance, says, "no peace among the nations without peace among the religions, no peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions, and no dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions." I would add that there is no sound investigation of the religions without the understanding that every human being has inherent dignity.

What is sometimes missing in many peace efforts has been "an affirmation of the convergent spiritual and cultural bases for peace". There are Muslims who view God as scary, a punishing judge; but there are other Muslims who view God as a primarily loving, compassionate, forgiving power. There are Muslims who thinks that others do not deserve religious freedom, but there are other Muslims who struggle to uphold religious freedom.

There are Muslims who emphasize a Koranic passage "There is no coercion in religion" (2:256), but others stress "fight against infidels". There are Muslim women who wear headscarves, but others who do not; and so on. Among Muslims you have people who judge other Muslims as *less Islamic', not part of the Islamic community. Healthy and unhealthy relationships have started since the rise of humankind and continue today.

Why not embrace diversity when diversity is more beautiful and meaningful than homogeneity? How else would one understand a Koranic verse that says "Had your Lord so willed, He would have made humankind one community, but He made them different in order to try you with that which He had given you." (5:48)?

Peace in the heart would make it easier to accept and to cherish peace in society. A genuine, comprehensive and lasting peace will only be possible if it is based on peace within the hearts of each participating individual (fi qalbun salim). If our heart-mind is peaceful, our relationships with each other will be peaceful. If one's mind is in a mess, then our actions will be a mess.

Before anything else, we need to have "inner peace": by valuing the life we are in, realizing weaknesses we are attached to, hoping that a better one is possible. That inner peace can be realized at the very individual level as a mom, dad, daughter, son, partner, teacher, student, neighbor, citizen, immigrant, black, white, brown, purple, yellow, green, and so on.

Inner peace does not depend on symbols, cloths, flags we wear. It is deeply inside our own hearts. The Prophet Muhammad once reminded his followers, "Arabs are no better than non-Arabs, what defines them is their piety", "it is not about what you wear, nor about your body appearance, it is what is in your hearts." In other times, when asked to make decisions, he would reply, "consult your heart".

The idea of Islam as being "submission to the divine and the spiritual" is not to make human beings puppets, incapable, powerless, submissive, inactive, reactive, violent, unjust, discriminatory. A Muslim is someone whose words and actions are not harmful to anyone else and to anything, including plants, animals, and the natural environment.

On compassion and mercy or rahma, the Koran says, "We have not sent you except as a mercy for all beings." (21:107) Prophet Muhammad said "Have mercy on people so you may receive mercy; forgive people so you may be forgiven"

Islam states that God is love (hub) and there is no realm of existence where love does not manifest itself in some way. An Iranian-American scholar Hossein Nasr says, "metaphysically speaking, the gravitational attraction of physical bodies for each other is a particular instance of the universal principle of love operating on the level of physical reality." A woman Sufi of Bashra (in today's Iraq), Rabi'ah al-Adawiyyah, describes her love of God in her poem, "Two ways I love Three: selfishly, And next, as worthy is of Thee, Tis selfish love that I do naught, Save think on Thee with every thought."

Jalaluddin Rumi, the most widely read poet in America, says that when the pen comes to the question of describing what love is, it breaks in half. There will be no lasting peace without love. There are people who claim that they love God and because they love God and His prophet, they show hatred to others seen as "the enemy", "a threat", "obstacles", or "heretics". How come they love God but do not love His creations? How come people claim they love human beings when they hate Muslims just because they are Muslims? How come people claim they are compassionate when they perpetuate prejudices of other peoples because of their faith? Love cannot be partial. Love cannot be discriminatory. Love cannot be limited to certain beings while harboring hatred against others. "Wish for others whatever you wish for yourself."

Peace is not a state of being without anger. To abstain from anger and hard feelings is plainly impossible. Those qualities are within everyone, a Sufi philosopher Imam al-Ghazzali said "It is to live in this world productively, constructively, peacefully, not in a utopian kingdom. This world can be a paradise, heaven - when we love and bless each other, serve one another, and become the partners for one another's growth, enlightenment, and bliss".

But this world can also be a hell- in which we experience endless pain, loss of love, lack of caring, and wars. It is to compete with one another in good works, in service to the community, to the environment we live in, and to the world. It is to make peace when there are conflicts, to build and to keep peace when there is relative peace.

Jalaluddin Rumi has invited us in his poem:

Come now whoever you are!

Come without any fear of being disliked

Come whether you are a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew,

Come whoever you are!

Whether you believe or do not believe in God

This door is not a door of fear

This is a door of good wishes

The writer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor, Religious Studies Department, University of California, Riverside.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

What I am writing and hoping to publish this year

Terima kasih atas komentar-komentarny a dan sudah membaca sharing saya.Anda semua membuat saya perlu merespons balik. Awalnya, saya tulis daftar judul itu supaya bisa sharing kepada kawan-kawan saja, siapa tahu ada yang sedang menulis topik-topik yang sama, sehingga bisa tukar pikiran dan sumber. Dan siapa tahu diantara kawan-kawan ada yang mau sharing juga topik-topik apa yang mereka, Anda semua sedang riset dan tulis. Saya suka buka-bukaan. ...hihihi, karena saya pikir inilah salah satu fungsi milis ini.

Saya senyum-senyum saja, sunan Sukidi, sampe harus membawa mafia Harvard William Graham dan Eng Sengho, yang sudah professorr dan sangat established. Eh, saya suka sekali artikel Graham "Islamic traditionalism" dan Quran as a spoken word. Tapi pesan Sukidi sampe ke saya, bahwa kualitas itu lebih penting daripada kuantitas. Daftar judul yang saya tulis agak menyesatkan, seolah-olah saya menulis dalam waktu yang bersamaan sekaligus. Saya akan cerita dibawah.

Makasih banyak Sheik Nadirsyah atas kesalutan Syeikh terhadap perjalanan karir yang masih sangat dini ini. Saya apresiasi sekali, bahwa kita saling mendukung satu sama lain. Dalam benak saya, Kak Edy, Anda, Kak Oman, Sukidi, Arskal, dan semua yang pernah menulis artikel dan buku; Saya selalu berusaha mengoleksi karya-karya kawan sendiri. Saya sudah beli buku-buku Anda. Kitalah yang membaca karya-karya artikel dan disertasi kawan lebih dulu.

Masing-masing judul itu sebagian besarnya sudah saya riset dan tulis, karena sejak tahun 2005 ketika saya disertasi dan ketika saya pulang ke Indonesia setiap summer. Sekalian tip buat kawan-kawan, ketika riset disertasi, kita bisa mengumpulkan bahan-bahan yang tidak terbatas untuk disertasi. Ketika saya keliling cari sumber dan wawancara di Indonesia, Malaysia, Eropa, dan bagian-bagian AS.

1.. Pluralism in Madrasah in Indonesia and Malaysia (English and French). Artikel ini saya baru mulai tulis, berdasarkan sumber-sumber yang saya kumpulkan sejak riset 2005 dan akan lanjutkan risetnya Summer ini. Artikel ini saya akan presentasikan di Copenhagen dan di Paris. Selama ini, belum ada yang menulis topik pluralisme dan sekolah agama. Banyak artikel dan beberapa buku yang menulis reform madrasah, tapi belum spesifik tentang toleransi dan pluralisme, isu yang sejak lama saya geluti. Secara metodologis, ini adalah kajian sejarah analitik, dengan teori-teori pluralisme yang berkembang di AS dan di Perancis dan anthropology of knowledgenya Talal Asad. Bagaimanakah pluralisme didefinisikan, dikonstruksikan, dan dikontestasi dalam konteks pendidikan Islam.

2. Moderate Islamism in South Sulawesi (French). Artikel ini untuk saya presentasikan di Paris, dan saya sudah kumpulkan seabreg sumber sejak 2005 dan nanti juga Summer ini.

3. Religious Pluralism in Indonesian: A Theological and Political History (French). Ini sebetulnya artikel awal untuk proyek buku kedua saya. Sumber-sumbernya dah banyak terkumpul, tinggal menulis draftnya dan menambah sumber lain yang diperlukan summer ini. Ini juga untuk Paris.

4. Liberal Islam in Indonesia (French). Saya pernah nulis soal ini sebelumnya, hasil paper kelas waktu S-3, dan baru saja selesai kelanjutannya Online Liberal Islam, untuk konferensi di Pittsburgh beberapa bulan lalu, yang akan dibukukan dalam edited volume.

5. Enemy Within: Contesting Ahmadiyah in Indonesia (English) Ini berdasarkan talk yang sudah saya sampaikan di Hawaii, dan saya akan tulis karena sumber-sumbernya sudah menunggu di meja kerja saya. Perspektif sejarah dan religious studies.

6. Constructing and Contesting Progressive Islam: Islam Hadhari in Malaysia. Ini paper untuk AAR di Montreal, dan sudah saya awali menulis draftnya, tapi saya rencana interview Badawi dan lain-lain di Malaysia summer ini.

7. Diversity of Islamic Reforms in Indonesia and Malaysia. Sudah saya tulis draftnya untuk konferensi AAR tahun lalu, dan masih menunggu untuk dipertajam.

8. Islam and Local Tradition in Java and Sulawesi, ini paper kuliah S-3 saya, dan saya harus teruskan untuk jurnal. Sumber-sumbernya sudah banyak. Perspektif sejarah dan antropologi.

9. Constructing Religious Pluralism: Asghar Ali Engineer and Abdurrahman Wahid. Ini sudah saya tulis draftnya untuk konferensi American Muslim Social Scientists di Harvard tempo lalu. Dan saya mau kirim ke jurnal.

10. Jews in Madrasah in Indonesia. Ini saya tulis karena diundang workshop ARI, NUS, Juni ini, awalnya sebagai keynote speaker tapi karena keterbatasan waktu quarter ini, saya decline, saya hanya sebagai discussant saja. Summer ini mau cari sumber yang lebih memadai untuk topik ini.

Ada beberapa artikel lagi yang saya ingin kirim ke jurnal, berasal dari disertasi saya, yang saya akan pertajam, tentang 1. Japanese occupation dan Islam di Malaya dan Indonesia; tentang 2. bureaucratizing Islam: Dutch and British policies and Islam. 3. Constructing Boundaries: fatwa, khutba, and speeches.

Walhasil, tulisan-tulisan tidak ujuk-ujuk sekaligus, karena ngak kuaaat juga daah....asyiknya, saya bisa nulis ini disela-sela mengajar, membimbing mahasiswa, dan campus dan public service yang semuanya wajib untuk terus naik. Seperti diceritakan syeikh Nadir. Saya mau buka-bukaan juga soal situasi saya sekarang. Posisi sekarang kan assistant professor, dan sudah direview tahun pertama oleh jurusan, fakultas, dan tingkat universitas, dengan sangat memuaskan. Ada kolega saya, orang Amerika, yang tidak lolos proses review tahun awal ini karena kurang riset/publikasi. Saya lolos dan memuaskan. Ini semakin menjadi cambuk buat saya. Visa Amrik saya akan habis tahun depan; kalo saya mau lanjut, saya wajib daftar visa namanya "Outstanding Scholar", dan syaratnya, riset dan publikasi, dan sekitar 10 letters of support yang menunjukkan saya layak bekerja di AS. Semua ini membuat saya nervous dan wajib tetap produktik. Dalam dua terakhir, istri saya kuliah S-2 di Hawaii, jadi bolak balik Hawaii, dan belum dikarunia putra/putri, makanya saya punya banyak cukup waktu untuk riset dan nulis, dan bisa sering kerja di kantor sampe tengah malam. Saya satu-satunya di kampus kayaknya yang masih di office sampe tengah malam.

Persoalan positioning keilmuan, saya adalah sejarawan, tapi bukan sejarawan ala konvensional. Saya belajar Tafsir-hadith, lalu di Divinity waktu di Edinburgh, Islamic and Middle Eastern, dan sejarah (Eropa, Timteng, Dunia, Asteng), tapi saya memposisikan diri lebih sebagai new historian, yang menulis topik-topik kontemporer dalam perspektif sejarah dan teori ilmu-ilmu sosial. Saya at home sekali dengan ini. Antara disiplin ilmu dan area studies, Asia Tenggara khususnya. Di AS dan di Eropa, scholar Islam in Southeat Asia sangat sedikit, dan saya ingin terus memperkuat positioning ini. Tulisan-tulisan dan riset saya sejauh ini masih berada pada "Islam di Asia Tenggara" ini, meskipun meneliti aspek-aspek pengaruh Timteng, AS, dan Eropa di Asia Tenggara. Jadi, saya sulit menulis artikel dari pendekatan ilmu politik (Ali Munhanif, Saiful Muzani, dst), atau filologi (Kak Oman pakarnya); kalo pun menulis tentang politik, sejauh relasinya dengan Islam, dan kasusnya di Asia Tenggara.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Gaji dan Kinerja Dosen

soal perbandingan antara dosen muda IAIN/UIN, ITB, dan dosen muda di luar negeri. Topik ini bisa jadi artikel di Kompas atau Jakarta Post nih. hehe. tapi di sini aja karena kebetulan disinggung. Di semua tempat itu, ada hubungan antara gaji dan kinerja dosen (tridarma PT dimana-mana sama: ngajar, riset, ngabdi ke publik). Di IAIN Jkt, saya ingat dulu 180 ribu gaji pertama saya, cukup besar pada tahun 1998, tapi memang kurang untuk hidup di Jakarta; nah, "ngamen" menulis, dan undangan sana sini cukup membantu. Lalu dari beasiswa ke beasiswa juga cukup membantu. Tapi ternyata, bukan jumlah uangnya, justru keterampilan lah yang membuat kita survive. Apakah menulis, atau bagi yang ahli ceramah, atau berorganisasi, dan sebagainya. Keterampilan yang terus diasah, otak yang selalu dipakai, hati yang selalu dibersihkan. Di luar negeri, memang nominal gaji itu sangat besar dibanding dengan di Indonesia, tapi pengeluaran/kebutuhan di LN (termasuk pajak ini dan itu, asuransi ini dan itu) sangat besar juga. Di LN, seorang dosen muda, pilihannya juga sewa rumah, atau beli rumah dengan cara mortgage (atawa kredit sampai 30 tahun atau lebih, karena harga rumah yah milyaran lah), nah dosen muda di Indonesia kan sudah banyak yang punya atau beli rumah, tanpa harus ada beban kredit tiap bulan selama 30 tahun. Hal lain, dosen-dosen di LN mandiri dalam banyak hal: nyupir sendiri, kadang masak dan laundry sendiri, laki-laki maupun perempuan, semuanya serba mandiri. Nah di Indonesia kan, banyaklah yang punya supir, pembantu, dan minta tolong orang sana orang sini, karena memang secara kultural dan demografis berbeda. Ada banyak hal lain juga yang menunjukkan bahwa dedikasi, mentalitas, dan keterampilan lah yang menentukan hidup yang produktif, konstruktif dan cerah dan mencerahkan.

Jadi gaji dan kinerja itu relatif dan kontekstual juga. Dedikasi seorang dosen bisa sangat besar terlepas dari gaji yang secara relatif. (Saya jadi ingat guru Muslimah di Belitung seperti dinovelkan/difilmkan Laskar Pelangi). Masa depan cerah dan suram tergantung banyak faktor yang tidak bisa direduksi hanya pada masalah gaji.

Belakangan saya melihat di banyak kampus di Indonesia ada kesadaran dan peningkatan perhatian terhadap masalah gaji ini. Semoga upaya-upaya ini bisa membantu mengangkat kinerja para dosen, meskipun, seperti pengalaman saya, yang paling penting adalah dedikasi dan keterampilan mencipta dan menghasilkan yang bermanfaat. Mentalitas lah yang paling penting. Karena bisa saja nanti meskipun gaji dosen sudah memadai, tapi ngamen sana sini tetap jalan, perhatian terhadap mahasiswa tidak bertambah baik, penelitian tidak juga menjadi kebiasaan, menulis juga tidak meningkat, kebiasaan menonton dan ngomong lebih kuat. Lalu, apa fungsinya gaji naik itu kalo pola pikir dan mentalitas dosen kita tidak mengalami suatu "paradigm shift" (mengutip Thomas Kuhn)?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Islam Yoga Practice and Religious Essentialism

Islam, yoga practice, and religious essentialism
Muhamad Ali , Riverside, CA | Fri, 01/30/2009 1:58 PM | Opinion

The recent banning through a fatwa by the Ulema Councils in Malaysia and in Indonesia (Majelis Ulama Indonesi, MUI) of a particular form of yoga, the one with “Hindu elements”, poses some questions regarding the relationship between Islam, Hinduism, and other religions, and is filled with unnecessary essentialisms that have preoccupied Muslim scholars and society at large.

Understandably the fatwa was an attempt of some of the ulemas dominating the Council to guard the faith of the Islamic community from “corruption” and “heresies”.

Fatwas, although not legally binding to Muslims, are heard and followed by many Muslims who feel they need practical guidance from religious authorities.

In Indonesia, the MUI has served that purpose from 1975 to date, with much controversy about their existence and their role in the country.

The fatwa on yoga demonstrates that a religion is inherently pure, without any outside influences. It implies that Islam is pure, and its purity should be maintained.

The current discourse and the fatwa on yoga have overlooked the fact that Islam is historically and religiously diverse and complex; and yoga is also a very complex idea and practice.

The banning of a particular form of yoga for Muslims ignores the similarities and interaction between some forms of Sufism and some forms of yoga throughout history.

Yoga has been viewed and practiced in different and changing ways.

In Sanskrit, yoga can mean “to unite” or “to control”. It can be related to action, devotion, or knowledge. As a concept and practice, yoga has become not uniquely Hindu; it prevails in Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and other religions.

And it has become popular among many people today without any religious affiliation. Among Sufi Muslims, there are such yogic-like practices as recitation (zikir), invocation (doa) and exercise (riyadha) as part of their methods (suluks).

There is some ambivalence among those ulemas who tend to see purification as their major concern.

They ignore the fact that many ideas from the Koran and prophet Muhammad have influenced those who are not institutionally part of the Muslim community.

For example, Sufi Jalaluddin Rumi has been influential in the US, Europe and Australia; the so-called “non-Muslims” have learned much from Rumi without necessarily being “Muslim” if this term refers to a person who follows Muhammad as the main model.

Many of the verses that Rumi uses in his poems are Koranic and derived from Muhammad’s sayings and traditions, but “non-Muslims” do not necessarily consider these as corrupting their religious beliefs or unbelief (Catholic, Jewish, Hindus, Buddhist, etc).

It is theologically unfair to appreciate one’s tradition influencing others while not appreciating other traditions influencing yours.

On the other hand, there is a curious question regarding the Council’s differentiation between what is religious and what is not religious. The ban was directed at yoga which involves Hindu chanting and ritual.

Yoga aimed at physical health and mental discipline is permissible. Here we see how religion has been defined as exclusively ritualistic. Physical health is not considered religious.

This is very interesting because the ulemas are used to defining Islam as a complete way of life, which includes the maintenance of physical health. They must be aware that the Koran and Muhammad’s traditions talk about maintaining physical health and mental discipline by various means.

It seems that the ulemas of the Council believe that the means of keeping a Muslim healthy can be anything, including yoga, but the one without other “religious” elements.

By allowing physical discipline and banning mental and spiritual discipline, the ulemas seem to distinguish belief from practice, mind from body movement. They usually do not want to make distinctions between belief and practice, mind and body movement.

A more fundamental issue, I think, is the scholarly and popularly held view about the contradiction between Islam and Hinduism. Islam has been believed to be monotheistic, whereas Hinduism polytheistic, and therefore both are inherently antagonistic.

This is a simplification of the long and complex history of what we label Islam and Hinduism.

There were Muslims, either Sufis, philosophers, scholars, or lay people, who practiced the traditions of India – later called “Hinduism” – without seeing contradictions.

Abu Rayhan Al-Biruni, a Persian philosopher and scientist of the 11th century, for example, in his Kitab al-Hind, studied the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and appreciated the Hindu philosophical and spiritual system. Based on Hindu texts, Al-Biruni regarded Hinduism as monotheistic because not all Hindus worship multiple gods.

For example, many Hindus regard God is one, eternal, without beginning and end, acting by freewill, almighty, all-wise, living, giving life, ruling, preserving, unique, and so forth. These are some of the divine qualities not unlike the beautiful 99 attributes of God (asma al-husna) as described in the Koran.

In India, there were some Arab rulers, such as Muhammad Ibn Qasim, who saw Hindus as ahl al-kitab (people of the books) because they had scriptures – from the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Ghita, among others. Thus, it is a gross simplification of belief among most Muslims – and most monotheists – to view Hinduism as of polytheism and idolatry.

There are many Hindus who only worship and give reverence to one supreme power – either Vishnu or Shiva – or their manifestations avatar or Brahman (in the Upanishad). Muslims also discuss some ideas of karma and reincarnation.

There are Sufis who do not see Hindus as necessarily kafir, usually defined as “non-believers”, because Hindus believe in God and have divine scriptures.

Indonesian Muslims are actually well-known for their long history of religious and cultural accommodation with animistic, Hindu, and Buddhist ideas – including stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

And this has become one of the major factors that facilitate the transmission and localization of Islam in many parts of the archipelago. Religious diversity and interpenetration between ideas and practices need be seen as a strength rather than weakness.

When relating to other religions, the ulemas have a responsibility to understand the complex and different and shared aspects of religions and not be satisfied with unnecessary oversimplifications and essentialism.

There is today a greater responsibility for those who claim themselves as ulemas to reform themselves by broadening their perspectives. In fact, the Koran defines the ulemas as those who are learned in various different disciplines, not simply the so-called traditional revealed knowledge.

The Council’s fatwas are one among many voices of Islamic interpretation in Indonesia.

In fact, religious authority has become increasingly diverse and dispersed; and more and more people are being educated through the increasing means of learning and communication.

These fatwas, like others, should remain voices in the public sphere, and hopefully will not be linked to any political or legal institution that would enforce them.

The writer teaches Islam and Asian religions. He is currently an assistant professor at the University of California, Riverside.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Barack Obama and Revival of American Values

Barack Obama and revival of American values
Muhamad Ali , Riverside, CA | Wed, 01/21/2009 10:58 AM | Opinion

Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency of the United States of America is a historic moment for Indonesians as much as for Americans and others around the world. Barack Obama has been shaped by history and is making history.

To me, Barack Obama is the second person I become proud of whom I can personally and intellectually relate to after Muhammad Ali, a Muslim African-American boxer.

As an Indonesian, born and raised in Indonesia and who studied abroad for a doctoral degree at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and as an assistant professor at the University of California, Riverside, I have become increasingly in love with America as much as with Indonesia. America has its shared values. And so does Indonesia.

The greater challenge for America and Indonesia is how to revive those values and who can lead the nation in the right direction.

During my five-year residence while studying in Hawaii I found the people incredibly diverse and hospitable. I volunteered in the international student’s organization as well as in the Indonesian community. I learned that bridging differences was the key to resolving miscommunication, prejudice, and hatred between people.

I enjoyed teaching a workshop on Islam to teachers at the Punahou School, which Obama attended, because we learned so much from each other’s cultures.

I have become more aware that when we emphasize the common values, problems and issues will be easier to handle.

I knew his half sister Maya Soetoro Ng before I knew her brother as a senator. Maya Soetoro is a humble, straightforward and intelligent friend, before and even after her brother’s candidacy.

She is very proud of her Indonesian heritage, loves Indonesian food and is always excited to talk about Indonesia. Barack Obama sometimes speaks a few Indonesian words with her.
Making jokes about names was fun when Arabic names became an issue, especially after 9/11.

In interviews, Barack Hussein Obama admitted that his name had become a liability after 9/11 and the Bush administration’s war on terror, as many associate Obama with Arabs and Islam.

Obama often jokes with his friends about his name, as I often do with friends and others.

Obama’s spiritual faith is even more revealing. In his autobiography Dreams from My Father, he saw his Kenyan father as being a Muslim “thinking religion to be so much superstition”, and this influences one of his spiritual life stages.

On his Indonesian step-father, Lolo Soetoro, Barack Obama wrote, “like many Indonesians, Lolo followed a brand of Islam that could make room for the remnants of more ancient animist and Hindu faiths…” His memory of his Indonesian stepfather was that of accommodative Islam and tolerant religiosity shaped by Indonesian syncretism.

Obama felt his mother’s “secularism”, but his mother for him was “the most spiritually awakened person” he had ever known, having instincts of kindness, charity, love, discipline, empathy and hard work. Obama recalled his time in schools in Indonesia.

“In Indonesia, I had spent two years at a Muslim school, two years at a Catholic school. In the Muslim school, the teacher wrote to tell my mother that I made faces during Koranic studies. My mother wasn’t overtly concerned.

“Be respectful,’ she’d said.” His spiritual journey did not end there. He became a member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago which has since transformed his spiritualism and faith.

As an American, with a diverse religious, cultural, national and racial background, Obama believes in what others would call a civil religion. Obama said that Americans should acknowledge the power of faith and its diversity in the lives of Americans.

“Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers,” wrote Obama in his The Audacity of Hope. In speeches he delivers, he would end with “May God bless America.”

More importantly, Obama advocates an active and authentic faith to turn American back to its core values inherited from the founding fathers and shaped by influential figures.

He recognizes faith not for faith; it is for community empowerment. Obama’s faith has been and continues to be shaped by problems and challenges facing America.

Barack Obama’s journey was that of not only dreams, but of clarity in how to fulfill these dreams: Perseverance, discipline and hard work. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln in particular have long inspired him as dreamers of their times, and as role models for the struggle toward racial justice, freedom, equality and citizenship rights. King’s speech “I Have a Dream” shapes and echoes Obama’s rise to presidency.

“All men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” King said powerfully. And that was how Obama became inspired.

The challenges Obama’s administration are facing now are greater than the time of King’s and any previous American presidents: Two wars to finish, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to mediate, economic crises to navigate, healthcare and education to improve.

A great lesson to learn however is not so much about his sound judgment of the details of each
problem and challenge, but his repeated attempts to turn to American values.

Barack Obama demonstrates an inspiring intelligence, a calm and cool personality, and great oratory skills. Obama has brought many Americans of common values and common destiny together.

He believes that problems of injustice, the economic crisis, and the diminishing image of Americans in the world require a change of hearts and minds before anything else.

In cultivating American values, Obama puts the emphasis on education. For him, academic success is not enough without proper values and preparation for responsible citizenship.

Obama’s administration, for example, promises to encourage schools and parents to work together to establish expectations for student attendance, behavior, and homework, calling parents to turn off the TV and video games, and expect all students to engage in community service.

Moreover, in facing the challenges, Obama stresses a shared responsibility. “It is not about me, it is about you, all Americans,” he said. When he met the pilot who successfully landed a plane in trouble, he said, “If everyone does his job, we are going to be fine.” Everyone needs to serve the country. Everyone has to take the burden.

For Obama, politics, like science, depends on the ability to persuade one another of common aims based on a common reality. For him, it is to ensure that persuasion rather than violence or intimidation determines the political outcome.

Internationally, Obama has received worldwide support. His first speech during the campaign period in Berlin is perhaps one of the best speeches ever delivered.

“Look at Berlin, where Germans and Americans learned to work together and trust each other less than three years after facing each other on the field of battle,” he said. Trust is perhaps what the key value is but it is often missing in many international relationships.

In Berlin, Obama emphasized common humanity. “Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice: It is the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.” “That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another.

“The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand.

“The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrations; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.”

If there is a crucial lesson for Indonesians to learn, Barack Obama’s successful rise to presidency shows that it is the people’s minds and hearts that should be transformed before anything else.

It is to revive American shared values in order to move forward. It is to have vision and hope, in turmoil and in peace. It is to have dreams and a clear path to follow.

Congratulations to President Barack H. Obama! And may God bless you (as your name means) and America, Indonesia, and all the people around the world!

The writer is assistant professor, Religious Studies Department, University of California, Riverside.

Obama's Faith

Obama's faith comes to the public square
James A. Donahue

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Religion - and its role in public life - more often than not gets a bad rap. Those who see religion as divisive may be prone to speculate what may become of the religious right or the religious left in an Obama administration. They may be failing to see the forest for the trees.

Far from religious views that can be used to divide people, Barack Obama's faith may be a powerful offering and an invitation to people in America and around the world to work together on solutions to the dire economic, political and social problems confronting us. A careful reading of Obama's books and his speech on faith at Jim Wallis's 2006 Call to Renewal conference discloses that our president-elect sees his religious beliefs as informing and shaping his values. In turn, his values and ethical outlooks may shape our policies.

During the campaign, as Obama spoke often about his personal faith, his words suggested a commitment greater than a political ploy to woo faith voters. In a speech last summer to a conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, he spoke not of what divides us, but of how our common values can lead to constructive policy: "The challenges we face today - war and poverty, joblessness and homelessness, violent streets and crumbling schools - are not simply technical problems in search of a 10-point plan. They are moral problems ... and so the values we believe in - empathy and justice and responsibility to ourselves and our neighbors - these cannot only be expressed in our churches and our synagogues but in our policies and in our laws."

Obama claims that the separation of church and state is important for democracy and for religious practices to thrive. His is a cosmopolitan identity forged from multiple identities, and the view that all of humanity belongs to a single moral community, and deserves justice and basic human rights.

He places a high premium on tolerance. And yet, as a deeply faithful man, he has a low tolerance for religious certainty. In a 2004 interview with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Cathleen Falsani, Obama said, "In my own public policy, I'm very suspicious of religious certainty expressing itself in politics. Now, that's different from a belief that values have to inform our public policy..."

So what might religion in the public square look like in the Obama administration? We get a glimpse of this in who Obama invited to give invocations at his inauguration. Rick Warren, pastor of the powerful Saddleback Church, will give the main invocation today. New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, a gay man at the center of the Anglican church's global battle over homosexuality, delivered a prayer for Obama at Sunday's event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Rather than showing alliance, Obama is showcasing the value of inclusivity.

Religious values and ethical outlooks point to the worth of each person as an individual, and as part of the larger human family. They can offer unity if there is the willingness to engage in open and honest dialogue, especially with those who believe differently than we do. From that dialogue can emerge new priorities, policies to solve domestic problems and the framework for peacemaking among nations.

Religion gets its bad rap is because it is misused. But if we distinguish between religions as institutions, and the values and ethical outlooks underpinning the world's great faiths, we can see that religion has much to offer beyond being a source of personal solace. As the world waits with great hope for the new administration to begin work, we can be optimistic that our new leader will be led not by narrowly conceived "truths" derived from religious doctrine, and not by culture war issues that divide. He will be guided by "a belief that we're all connected." We should take him up on his invitation to rise above what divides us.

James A. Donahue is president and professor of ethics at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

This article appeared on page B - 7 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Siege of Gaza

The siege of Gaza: Barack Obama's first “test”?

By John L. Esposito

While some had predicted Barack Obama would be "tested" early in his administration by America's enemy Osama, Obama's first major foreign policy "test" has instead come from America's ally, Israel.

Israel's war in Gaza has been calculated and deliberately planned to occur at this time. The Israeli government has taken advantage of a world in which many are distracted by the global economic crisis and the celebration of Christmas and the New Year.

Equally important the bombing of Gaza has been executed on George Bush's "watch" so that Israel can count on a Bush administration whose failure to act as an honest broker was seen most starkly in the U.S. silence and support during the Israeli war in Lebanon.

The Israelis struck during the U.S. presidential transition and before Barack Obama, who could prove less sympathetic, takes office.

The pretense for the bombings and threat to invade Gaza with ground troops is Hamas breaking the ceasefire by shelling Israel. However, Hamas started shelling after the talks to renew it failed.

Israel ignores the fact that during the ceasefire, Israel put up blockades to stop essential goods from getting in. The siege created a humanitarian catastrophe for Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinian residents by restricting the provision of food, fuel, medicine, electricity, and other necessities of life.

The U.S. and Europe were complicit in the blockade of a democratically elected Hamas government, a siege whose primary victims have been Gaza civilians. Hamas fighters vented their anger by firing rockets.

Reports have been circulating for sometime in the Israeli press that the Israeli military was planning for and looking for a pretext or provocation to strike. Despite the fact that the fighters shelling did not kill a single Israeli, Israel acts as if it has been driven to a "fight to the bitter end."

Following a past pattern, most recently in its humiliating defeat in the Israeli-Hezbollah war, the Israeli military engages in an all-out war that ignores moral and international standards of warfare: the bombings and massacre of more than 375 people and injuring of some 700 lacks any sense of proportionality.

Mosques and the Islamic University have been targeted and destroyed as have homes and hospitals. The Bush administration lamely and falsely blames Hamas, holding it alone responsible for the deaths. If Palestinians had slaughtered and injured a similar number of Israelis, the administration would denounce such actions as war crimes and rightly seek to mobilize the international community.

The international community must move swiftly not only to demand an immediate ceasefire as has the UN and EU but also put pressure on the Bush administration, which has in recent years claimed that it wishes to act multi-laterally and not unilaterally as it had in the decision to invade Iraq.

While the shelling by Hamas' fighters cannot be condoned, Israel's unbridled military response must also be condemned. Until the Israeli government gets a message that the international community will hold Israel to the same standards as it does other nations and the Palestinians, there can be no hope for peace negotiations to work.

President-elect Barack Obama cannot remain silent. While he is right to acknowledge that until January 20th George Bush is in charge of American foreign policy, for him to remain silent now will be seen as simply condoning Israel's devastation of Gaza and undermine his promise of a new international vision and a new approach to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. He will be brush-stroked by the failed policies of the Bush administration in the Middle East and lose his credibility before he even comes to office with an Arab and Muslim world that sees his election as one of hope and promise.

-- John L. Esposito is University Professor and Professor of Religion & International Affairs, Georgetown University and co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think.

Source: Middle East Online