Islamic or Muslim leader?

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Dr. Iding Rosyidin M.Si

Dr. Iding Rosyidin M.Si

Dr. Iding Rosyidin, M.Si

Muhammad Abduh, an Islamic reformer from Egypt, once said “I went to the West and saw Islam, not Muslims. I returned to the East and saw Muslims, not Islam.”
His statement triggers the question: which one is more important, Islamic values or Muslim themselves? If we bring it to politics, the question is: which one is more important, Islamic or Muslim leadership?
Since the era of the struggle for independence until today, Indonesian Muslims have been divided when responding to Western values such as democracy. The first group, the formalists, insists Islam should be manifested in political life. The second group, the substantives, says Islamic values are more important than Islamic symbols in sociopolitical life.
The formalists believe Islamic symbols play a pivotal role in their struggle. That is why they campaign for Islamic labels in various aspects of Indonesian life. The word “sharia,” for instance, is now in use not only in private matters such as worship but also in muamalah (business transactions). Sharia banks are the most obvious example.
On the contrary, the substantive group does not care about such Islamic labels. For them, what matters the most is the implementation of Islamic values even though in a secular form. The country, for example, does not have to be Islamic, but as long as it upholds the law and justice for all it is Islamic enough.
The public has been dragged into the classic argument about whether the capital city Jakarta should be led by a Muslim governor. Following the Feb. 15 Jakarta gubernatorial election, discourse about Muslim versus non-Muslim leaders has continued to heat up rather than subside, simply because the runoff scheduled for April 19 will pit Basuki ”Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and Chinese-Indonesian, against Anies Baswedan, a Muslim.
If we look at Quranic teachings, for instance in Surah al-Baqarah: 124, we will find that the first requirement for becoming a leader is not committing injustice. It means the leader must uphold justice for all.
Therefore, when a non-Muslim leader treats his people that way, he is seen as Islamic. On the contrary, a Muslim leader who does not promote justice violates Islamic teachings.
Islam, therefore, emphasizes the capability and capacity of leaders rather than their faiths. Governing a state or city, of course, requires certain capacities from a leader so that he or she can govern professionally. Solely relying on a leader’s beliefs can fail the government.
We can compare secular states in the West and Islamic or Muslim states in the Middle East. Unfortunately, we find many social, economic and political problems beleaguering Muslim countries up to now, which we hardly see in most Western countries. It only means that Muslim leadership does not guarantee a government will run well.
Jakarta residents now have to choose between a non-Muslim candidate as an incumbent (Ahok) and a Muslim candidate (Anies). It would be better for the voters to think carefully and critically about capability and capacity of the two rather than choosing one of them based on faith or ethnicity.
The capital city Jakarta needs a strong leader who is capable of overcoming big problems such as crime, traffic gridlock, flooding and entrenched corruption. Strong leadership has nothing to do with beliefs, but commitment and capability to solve the problems.
In the case of Ahok and Anies, Jakarta voters should compare the track record of their works. On the one hand, we have found that Ahok has proven his achievements in governing Jakarta despite his imperfections, such as his communication style. On the other hand, we have not seen yet the good legacy of Anies in his work, for example, when he was the culture and education minister.
Common sense, instead of emotion, should therefore prevail in electing a leader. Electing the Jakarta leader is searching for a person who will manage the administration, establish public facilities, distribute resources, etc. Any candidate who meets the requirements deserves a chance to lead the city.
Jakarta, as well as other predominantly Muslim regions and Indonesia, needs a leader who can realize clean government and good governance, which is in line with Islamic values. Put simply, Islamic leadership matters more than Muslim leadership.

Writer is Head of the Political Department, School of Social and Political Sciences at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN). Published at The Jakarta Post, Tuesday, February, 21st, 2017. (Farah NH/-Yuni-Zm)