SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) A scholar, a poet and a comedian shared their opinions about what constitutes Indonesian Islam and how it differs from that adhered to by fundamentalists.
During the discussion “Understanding Islam” at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2014 on Thursday, the three speakers promoted Islam in Indonesia as “moderate”, saying hardliners were only a tiny minority among those who upheld tolerance and peace in this country with its diverse religions.
In the post-9/11 world, Islam has been both accused and staunchly defended across borders.
A prominent Muslim scholar known for his moderate views, Azyumardi Azra, pointed out that Indonesian Islam was different from elsewhere, including the Middle East.
“Indonesian Islam is different from other places, including the Middle East. The absolute majority is moderate, and has been used to living with adherents of other religions peacefully for centuries without any bloodshed,” said Azra, who is known for his firm opposition to the persecution of the Indonesian minority Ahmadiyah and Shia groups.
“Of course, there are isolated cases of Islamic communal conflicts, but that is usually related to politics,” he added, citing a conflict in Sampang, Madura.
The professor, who strongly opposed the adoption of sharia into Indonesian law, added that fundamentalists were present in the country as tiny minority groups, like the ones who twice bombed Bali, but they basically gained their hard-line principles elsewhere, not from Indonesia.
However, he stressed, although Indonesian Islam was “colorful and flexible”, that did not mean that Muslims here were less Islamic or not loyal in implementing Islamic practices.
Poet Goenawan Mohamad, who supports the Islamic Liberal Network (JIL), shared his experience on being a liberal Muslim.
The founder and editor of Tempo magazine said his views, which were similar to some prominent Muslim figures known for their pluralistic and moderate beliefs, like Nurcholis Madjid and Abdurrahman Wahid, were that “Faith is not like a fortress. That is why I choose to be a liberated Muslim”.
“Fundamentalists say we should not interpret Islam, but I think Islam is always an interpretation,” said Goenawan, who marked his 70th birthday by republishing several of his works, including Marxisme, Seni, Pembebasan (Marxism, the Arts, Emancipation), Indonesia/Proses (Indonesia/Process) and Puisi dan Antipuisi (Poetry and Antipoetry).
Regarding the growing concerns about Islamic State (IS) movement, Azra commented, “It is basically a Middle Eastern Islamic phenomenon, not from Indonesia where Islam is moderate, accommodative and peaceful.”
Meanwhile, Goenawan said that IS was “a threat for everyone, not only for Muslims, because they kill people”.
Sacha Stevenson, who is best known for the YouTube series “How to Act Indonesian”, expressed her opinions in a wittier way, including talking about how she had been threatened for uploading her videos, which went viral on the Internet, wearing a jilbab (headscarf).
“I wore a hijab for six years, but now I’m more Islam KTP,” she said wittily referring to a Muslim who does not really practice Islam in their daily life but is recorded as Muslim on their identity card.
She also talked of her concerns about fundamentalists like the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), which was “using Islam to sell themselves”, including in this year’s presidential election, in which the FPI was associated with one of the candidates.
“Hardliners are a minority here, but they have a loud voice.”
She categorized Indonesian Muslim into groups: the liberal Muslim community that was quite educated, hardliners — consisting of two minority groups — and the majority, who were those who wore the jilbab not for religion but more for cultural reasons.