Continous Indonesian Islam

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By: Azyumardi Azra

The fact that Islam in Indonesia has been viewed in a positive manner by the international society is undeniable. Different to Islam in Arab or Islam in South Asia that are continously boiling in conflicts, violences, and wars, Islam in Indonesia remains peaceful. Extremism and radicalism that continously appear in different parts of Muslim world have never been the issue in Indonesia.

That is why, it is no wonder if this becomes the primary thought of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, in his visit to Jakarta. Here, he is engaged in a dialog with five Islam notable figures of Indonesia (the Head of PP Muhammadiyah Din Syamsuddin, a figure to NU Alwi Shihab, the Executive Director of the Wahid Institute Yenny Wahid, the Head of Sunda Kelapa Mosque’s Organizing Committee Aksa Mahmud, and the writer of this article). Cameron expresses his willingness to learn why Islam in Indonesia able to reject extremism and radicalism.

PM Cameron states that of 255 millions of Indonesian citizens, 500 people are joining the Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). “Meanwhile, United Kingdom has only 2,5 millions muslim population, but more than 1000 people are joining the ISIS. What are the keys to Indonesia’s success in overcoming radicalism ideology (and movement); dampening the sphere of influence and involvement of ISIS in between Indonesian citizens?” (Kompas, 29/7/2015).

Islam Nusantara, Islam Indonesia

Undoubtedly, one of the keys is the existence and hegemony of mass organizations of Islam wasathiyah (lit. trans. “The Middle Path”) that is spreaded all around Indonesia. The two major Islam organizations in Indonesia, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhamamdiyah are currently holding their big events; NU with its 33rd Congress in Jombang, East Java (1/8/2015), and Muhammadiyah with its 47th Congress in Makassar (3/8/2015). These 2 Congresses are unquestionably the moment to strengthen Islam wasathiyah for progression and civilization, in regards to Islam rahmatan lil ‘alamin—a blessing for the universe.

Islam wasathiyah, being the main paradigm and practice of Muhammadiyah and NU, has been becoming a long tradition of Islam Nusantara (lit. trans. the archipelagic Islam). “Islam Nusantara” in academic term refers to “Southeast Asian Islam” existing in muslim parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Patani (southern Thailand), and Mindanau (southern Phillipines).

The territory of Islam Nusantara in pre-colonial literature is dubbed as “lands below the wind”. More specifically in Arab literature since the 16th Century, the territory of Islam Nusantara is dubbed as “bilad al-Jawi”, the lands of Jawi muslim—which is Southeast Asia. The people of Islam Nusantara is usually called as “ashab al-Jawiyyin” or “the people of Jawiyyin.”

The territory of Islam Nusantara or “bilad al-Jawiyyin” is one of the 8 lands of religio-cultural Islam. The other 7 are Arab, Persia/Iran, Turkey, Indian subcontinent, Sino-Islamic, Black Africa, and Western World. Though holding on to the same main principle and teaching in terms of Aqida (lit. trans. Islam’s monotheistism) and Ibada (lit. trans. Islam’s praying practice), each and every one of these lands have their own distinct religious and cultural characteristics.

The validity of Islam Nusantara is not only seen from geography-cultural side, but also from the orthodoxy of Islam Nusantara, consisting of theology of Asy’ariyah, “fikih” (lit. trans. Islamic jurisprudence) of Syafi’i, and “tasawuf” (lit. trans. mysticism) of Al-Ghazali. These 3 components of orthodoxy has altogether made wasathiyah aspect for Islam Nusantara; theology of Asy’ariyah empashizes the attitude of moderation between “wahyu” (lit. trans. divine revelation) and mind reasoning, fikih Syafi’i and tasawuf amali/ahklaqi has expressed Islam as inclusive and tolerant.

The coherence of the 3 elements of Islam Nusantara’s orthodoxy is transforming into a consolidated, established, and dominant tradition since the 17th century, a tradition that is later called as ahlus sunnah wal jamaah (Sunni). Although automatically almost all muslim in Indonesia is the follower of ahlus sunnah wal jamaah, there is differences on emphasis. NU emphasizes on the tradition of its Ulama to call themselves as the followers of “Aswaja”, a term that has evolved to become the brand name of NU. While Muhammadiyah as the followers of ahlus sunnah wal jamaah empashizes more on the aspect of modernism-reformism and ijtihad.

Since World War II, both terminologically as well as substantially, Islam Nusantara is only valid for Indonesia. Islam Nusantara now must be understood as Islam in Indonesia. The differences in position and relations between Islam with state and politics have made expression of Islam in Southeast Asian states varied. One of the example of the different expression is whether Islam has to remain inclusive or become exclusive.

In this context, Islam has not become the official religion or the state religion in Indonesia. Thus Islam in Indonesia is not part of politics or power. Meanwhile in Malaysia, Islam becomes an official state religion and automatically an integral part of power.

That is why, in Malaysia, Islam is the only religion allowed to be performed publicly and even the name “Allah” can be used only by muslim. Comparing to that in Indonesia, every religion are able to be performed publicly and the name “Allah” is also used by the Christians to dub the God.

Progressing for A Civilization

Islam in Indonesia, as represented by NU and Muhammadiyah, has almost all the potentials to progress towards a “rahmatan lil alamin” civilization. The biggest capital that is possible to progress is the independent attitude and character of Islam mass organizations, vis-a-vis state and power. These organizations should have a tradition that is independent to, or even not becoming, an instrument of power by upholding the principle of self-funding and self-regulation.

Other capital to be mentioned is diversity of institutions under NU and Muhammadiyah, starting from mosques and praying rooms, schools, madrassas, pesantren, universities, hospitals and clinics, social homes, enterprises, and other business entities. There is no other part of the world inhabited by muslim majority population that has mass organizations with diversity of institutions like those of Muhammadiyah’s and NU’s.

Many of foreign-related parties since the end of 1980s, like a professor from Chicago University in United States, Fazlur Rahman, for example, see Islam in Indonesia as the “frontliner” in advancing the global Islamic civilization. Having the wasathiyah character, Islam in Indonesia can contribute to a peaceful and harmonious world civilization.

This kind of hope towards Islam in Indonesia has been growing amid conflicts in other muslim states in Arab, South Asia, West Asia, and Africa. For that, NU, Muhammadiyah, and other mass organizations that holds the wasathiyah character not only need to increase their level of thinking and giving contribution domestically, but also must be more expansive in spreading Islam wasathiyah to the world. Hopefully, muslim in Indonesia can lead and realize Islam rahmatan lil alamin.

The writer is the professor of State Islamic University (UIN) Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta and the leader of Asian Muslim Action Network (Aman), Bangkok, Thailand

This article is published in Opinion column KOMPAS, Monday 3 August 2015