Indonesia and Awakening of Islam


By: Sirikit Syah

The Sampang incident — some say “tragedy” — was very unfortunate. I cannot help remembering the speech by Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in July 2012, during the Islamic Awakening Conference in Tehran.

“Our duty now is to humanize human beings, grab again the dignity of humankind. We, as human beings, particularly Muslims all around the world, have been forced into poverty, humiliation, torture, oppression. It is time for us to awaken, and rebuild our great civilization,” Ahmadinejad said.

During my 10-day visit to Iran, I met with hundreds of Muslim women from around the world, who wore many kinds clothes, and with Iranian women, who were all dressed in black, and we got along okay.

Tight jeans and long-sleeved T-shirts were welcome. The Iranian women with chadors did not see us differently. We spoke the same language, about common concerns and at an equal level. Clothes did not matter. Even the way we prayed, which was different from each other, did not matter.

Some of us imagined, “If only Shia and Sunni reconciled … the Muslim problem would be no more, and Islam would be once again a great and respected civilization, as it was several centuries ago.”

Unfortunately, there is a clash within Islamic civilization, pitting Shiite against Sunni, and in Indonesia, liberal interpretations of Islam clash against the more fundamentalist.

The Shiites in Sampang, on the East Java island of Madura, are perhaps the Muslims Ahmadinejad was speaking of — the ones who live in poverty, oppression and humiliation.

They have no freedom to embrace their beliefs, or the way they interpret and practice their faith. Their houses are burned, and their families are killed. We don’t need to go so far as Sudan, Kashmir, Palestine or Myanmar to understand Ahmadinejad’s points. Here, on our own land, before our eyes, our brothers are treated as if they are not human beings.

Of course, there are reports that what happened in Sampang on Aug. 26 had nothing to do with religion, or race. The media and the men behind the media, who set the agenda, are assumed to be the ones who write the scenario.

Even the police view the attack as an ordinary crime. Some organizations say the case was about a love triangle. All avenues are sought to make public think that it was not what we think it was.

The various unclear statements from the government and social-religious leaders do not help solve the problem. A statement by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) in East Java that Shia beliefs were “heretical” perhaps fueled the latent conflict between the villagers.

A friend of mine, quoting MUI officials, says that the Shiites have condemned Muslims outside their group as “deviant”. It is not nice to hear. It is hate speech and may further spread hatred. But what I don’t understand is that the ulema responded to the alleged hate speech by doing exactly the same.

We feel that religion is on the rise lately. The downfall of autocracy in the Middle East and the rising of Islamic Brotherhood are signals of this rise. Piety has come back and won.

Paradoxically, many common/ordinary people leave religions. They become atheists or agnostics. A friend of mine, who was Muslim and then followed Buddhism and Christianity and eventually became agnostic, says: “Religion teaches us to undermine others. Either you are with us — follow the same religion — or you are against us. I don’t like that.”

I replied to her: “Many followers are bad, be it in Christianity, Buddhism or Islam. But don’t judge the religion on the way the followers live their lives. Without religion, we don’t have values, norms that distinguish us from other creatures.”

I, as millions of other people in Indonesia, have never received clarification from the authorities (government and religious leaders) on the status of the Ahmadiyah. Do they have the right to exist?

Are they violating any Indonesian laws (blasphemy toward Islam, for instance)? Now, we are in the haze of the case of Shiites in Sampang. Do they have the right to live? Are Shia beliefs forbidden?

If yes, who bans them and why? We need a logical and intellectual explanation, rather than just, “It’s only a crime.” Such an answer insults our logic and intelligence. There have been victims in Sampang and many other places — they are human beings, not numbers.

While the government acts awkwardly in handling this issue, religious authorities (MUI, especially the East Java chapter) declare Shia beliefs to be “deviant” and other organizations — both liberal and radical — are busy debating about policies, Indonesian Muslims need somebody or an entity to bring all parties together to discuss these issues in a mature and intellectual manner.

The Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) may play that role. Perhaps it can generate momentum for the revival of ICMI, to prove its objective standing and to bring about a solution for the nation’s problems.


Footnote: This opinion article was displayed in an online newspaper, The Jakarta Post, in Jakarta, Indonesia: Wed, 5 September 2012 and in paper edition is 6th page. It is also able to be searched at: [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: 6 September 2012].

The writer is an ICMI chairperson in East Java and a media observer.



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