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 Right or wrong my country, or … my religion?

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BerichtOnderwerp: Right or wrong my country, or … my religion?    wo 26 aug 2015 - 0:12

A nice piece of opinion read in..,

The Jakarta Post, August 26 2015

How much does religion influence the decisions you make in life?

For “Fikri”, a Muslim, religion is the measuring stick against which he evaluates everything. He complained to me about “Freddie”, who he considers to be a hypocrite.

“But that’s not the real problem. My problem with him is that he’s Catholic!” said Fikri.

Oh really? Why not also because he’s too short or too tall, non-Javanese, has a dark complexion, or whatever other attribute “Freddie” has that is a given?

One can only smile wryly at this perverted logic that, on a personal individual level, can be dismissed as being silly, narrow-minded and immature. But if you apply that kind of categorical “us-versus-them” biased thinking on a broader community level, it could have serious societal and political implications.

Simultaneous regional elections (Pilkada) at the provincial and regency/city levels will only be conducted on Dec. 9, but already various issues related to the elections are being brought to the fore. One of them is the criteria applied to the selection of a leader, specifically the validity of electing a leader from a minority group and a different religion (i.e. non-Muslim).

Indeed, sectarianism is often at the center of the smear campaigns that certain groups wage against their political opponents. Now it seems that this sectarianism is being openly and officially encouraged.

Recently, Jaih Mubarok, the deputy head of the National Sharia Committee of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) urged Muslims to choose a Muslim leader even if he or she were corrupt, rather than choose a clean leader who was not Muslim.


Mubarok’s justification: “Religion is about creed and faith (akidah), while corruption is to do with virtue and morality (ahlak)”. According to him, the latter can be changed and improved, while the former is constant.

Well I never.

I’ve heard of “right or wrong my country”, so hey, why not “right or wrong my religion”? If the former is jingoism — an extreme form of patriotism — the latter is religious bigotry — an extreme form of religiosity that is discriminatory and destructive.

Thank Allah that there are moderate Muslim people and organizations in Indonesia who engage in sane, rational and democratic thinking. One manifestation of this is a book entitled Fiqh of Diversity (Fikih Kebinekaan). I was very excited when I received an invitation to its launch and discussion.

Why? Because of its subtitle: “The view of Indonesian Islam regarding ummah, citizenship and non-Muslim leadership”. Ummah in Arabic actually means “community” or “nation”, but is often interpreted as “Islamic community” and often posited in contradiction with “citizenship” i.e. being a member of a nation-state.

Fikih Kebinekaan attempts precisely to reconstruct this line of thinking, that what is important in choosing a leader is not that he or she is Muslim, but that she or he is fair (adil). It also indicates a leader can be a woman. As we know, extremist groups tend to take issue with the possibility of women in leadership, as many did prior to Megawati Soekarnoputri’s election as Indonesia’s fifth president. She was Indonesia’s first female president and the fourth woman to lead a predominantly Muslim nation.

Fikih Kebinekaan was jointly published by the Maarif Institute ( and Mizan Publishing, with the launch and associated discussion held on Aug. 20 at the headquarters of Muhammadiyah in Jakarta.

Why there? Because while Maarif Institute is an independent NGO, it has a “cultural” relationship with Muhammadiyah as its founders are from Muhammadiyah. The institute itself is named after Ahmad Syafii Maarif, the 13th head of the organization, and the book is also a tribute to Maarif on his 80th birthday.

In the introduction, Fajar Riza ul Haq, executive director of Maarif Institute, stated that the book is an attempt to increase their efforts to strengthen and uphold the principle of diversity in Indonesia. The title also reflects the spirit and character of fiqh that provides a multitude of perspectives as well as space for differences in interpreting and understanding the Koran and the Sunnah (the sayings and doings of the prophet Muhammad).

“The tradition of respecting differences of opinion and practical choices in socio-political context is deeply rooted in the study of classical fiqh,” he wrote.

Well, who would have thought that, judging from the self-righteousness of conservative political Muslim groups who tend to dismiss and even suppress interpretations that they consider deviant. Fajar says this historical tragedy is called mihmah, or inquisition. Sounds familiar huh, even to you non-Muslims out there?

There is a concern now that the views of moderate Muslim organizations like Muhammadiyah and the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the two largest Muslim organizations in Indonesia, are being eclipsed by the discriminatory beliefs of not just MUI, but also that of extremist organizations like the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and Hizbuth Tahrir Indonesia (HTI).

Founded by Ahmad Dahlan in 1912, Muhammadiyah is a reformist socio-religious movement that advocates ijtihad — individual interpretation of the Koran and Sunnah, as opposed to taqlid, the acceptance of the traditional interpretations propounded by the ulema. Now that sounds like my kind of Islam!

One wonders if these extremist organizations actually understand Islam. Maybe they missed the verse about diversity: “O mankind! We created you from male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other, not that ye may despise each other” (Sura Hujurat, verse 13).

I reckon that, prior to the Pilkada, Fikih Kebinekaan should be used as a tool of voter education, given out free if possible. This way we can learn that Indonesia’s slogan of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) is exactly the same as the principle of diversity espoused in the Koran.

So in the coming Pilkada, make sure you vote for the just leader, regardless of her or his religion, as it’s not against Islam to choose a non-Muslim!

Julia Suryakusuma is the author of this article and also of "Julia’s Jihad"


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