Illusions in `The Illusion of an Islamic State’

Arief Munandar ,  Jakarta   |  Sun, 05/31/2009 9:55 AM  |  Opinion

The book The Illusion of an Islamic State: Expansion of Transnational Islamist Movements to Indonesia by the LibFor All Foundation, edited by former president and former chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Abdurrahman Wahid, places the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), the Council of Indonesian Jihad Fighters (MMI) and Islam Defenders Front (FPI) in a single box called “hardline Islam”.

This hardline Islam is a manifestation of Wahabism that is opposed to the “Moderate Islam” which the authors of this book claims to profess. This kind of categorization is simplistic, unfocused and runs counter to historical fact. As streams of Islamic thought, Wahabism and Salafism have obviously evolved over time, negotiating within their own places and times.

At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood (IM) is an organization that is obviously not monolithic and also cannot be separated from the dimensions of time and place. Perhaps in the past this organization was inspired by the thinking of Sayyid Qutb via monumental books like Ma’alim fit Thariq (Signposts) and Fii Zhilalil Qur-an (In the Shade of the Koran). But, it is completely wrong to equate IM with Sayyid Qutb. The real thinking of IM’s founder, Hasan Al Banna, stresses that his followers be moderate and wise in accepting differences, since IM is not a jama’atul muslimin (a group that embraces all Muslims), but a jama’atul minal muslimin, one group among many striving to restore the glory of Islam.

Syaikh Yusuf Qardlawi, the head of the World Muslim League (Rabithah *Alam al Islami), who for dozens of years has been active in IM, stressed in his work Fiqh Daulah (Jurisprudence of the State) that the daulah (state) envisaged by Islam is not a theocracy, the state of God, but rather a state built and administered to guarantee the welfare of all its residents, guided by divine values. He even stated firmly there is no reason to question democracy, because it constitutes a form of reasoning to secure collective benefits.

Then what about PKS? Even if it is true that it was inspired by or even affiliated with the IM as claimed in this book, it is just wrong to assume that this makes PKS identical to various manifestations of the Muslim Brotherhood in other countries. It is intolerable to put PKS in the same category as Wahabism, Salafism or Hizbut Tahrir, and then label them all hardline Islam. PKS has been sharply criticized by Salafi dan Hizbut Tahrir because in their view, political parties, democracy and elections are all haram (prohibited by Islamic law).

This book castigates the group it labels hardline Islam as a side which claims a monopoly on truth, and which regards all groups that do not share its way of thinking as deviant. But the “Moderate Islam” group that produced this book has done exactly the same thing. Supporters of liberalism and Islam liberal, socialism, secular nationalism, even hedonism, can sell their ideas freely – so why should a group of Muslims, who see Islam as way of life, be silenced in the era of democracy?

Take a look at the Decision of the Bathsul Masa’il Council of Nahdlatul Ulama on the Caliphate and Formalisation of Sharia, that appears in this book as an attachment. On page 253 it says: “A law which changes the form of the Indonesian state into a different form is not allowed, as long as the disadvantages are greater. Changing the legal basis of the state is also not allowed if unconstitutional means are employed, but allowed if constiutional means are used.” So why put a negative stigma on Muslim groups in Indonesia who want to struggle for “political Islam”?

And if the concept of Islam followed by PKS and HTI is considered transnational and influenced by Wahabis and others, is the concept of Islam followed by NU and Muhammadiyah then something indigenously Indonesian? It seems not.

It is a fact that the “Yellow Books” (Kitab Kuning) that have become the standard reference for NU scholars are Arabic books, in the Arabic language, written in Arabic script – exactly like Muslim Brotherhood books. The only difference is that the Brotherhood books have been translated into Indonesian while the Yellow Books are still in their original language.

History also notes that the influence of puritan Wahabism, with the concept of cleansing Islam from all unacceptable innovations and accretions, played a significant role in Muhammadiyah’s concept of Islam. So let us acknowledge that NU, Muhammadiyah, PKS, HTI and other Islamic organisations in Indonesia cannot be separated from concepts of Islam “imported” from abroad, but each of these concepts then evolved in accordance with their own place and time.

The writer is a post graduate student of sociology, at the University of Indonesia, and director of the Nurul Fikri Leadership & Management Center (NLMC)

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