Jihad Resolution and the Battle of Surabaya

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By: Muhammad As’ad

Indonesia has just celebrated National Heroes Day, which fell on Nov. 10. On that day 67 years ago, many people in Surabaya fought bravely for Indonesian independence against the Allies, including the Dutch military, who planned to regain control of the archipelago following the defeat of Japan in World War II.

Indonesian youths, led by Bung Tomo, waged a war, killing local British commander Brig. Gen. AWS Mallaby in the process, which proved the newly independent nation’s motto of “freedom or death”.

However, many of us may be unaware of the contribution of respected Muslim cleric Muhammad Hasyim Asy’ari, the founder of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), to the Nov. 10 battle of Surabaya. Hasyim issued a fatwa (religious edict) on Oct. 22, 1945 that supported and encouraged Muslims to join the battle and fight against the reoccupation of Indonesia by foreign troops.

The fatwa followed a meeting of ulema from Java and Madura in Surabaya to respond to the proclamation of Indonesia’s independence by Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta in Jakarta on Aug. 17, 1945.

The fatwa was written in pegon, an Arabic script but in Indonesian or Javanese (Amiq, 1998:88). It says, among other things, that there is an obligation (fardlu ain) for Muslims to fight against infidels (the Dutch) in order to defend Indonesian independence, that those who died during the fight against NICA (Netherlands Indies Civil Administration) would be considered martyrs and the killing of those who undermine the movement and break national unity is legitimate. This fatwa later on became well-known as the Jihad Resolution.

Naturally, the issuance of the fatwa stimulated fighters to stream into Surabaya and fight the Allied troops. The fighters included followers of the Hizbullah and Sabilillah groups from Surabaya and the surrounding cities such as Sidoarjo, Gresik, Mojokerto, Jombang and others.

The fatwa, in some ways, also kept unity of Muslim ummah (community), in general, intact. As we know, the Muslim ummah was at that time divided into several denominations. Before independence, Indonesian Muslims had been split into modernists and traditionalists, or, in terms of organization, Muhammadiyah and NU respectively.

However, the partition was irrelevant when the fatwa was issued. Hasyim played a pivotal role in convincing Muslims to put differences behind them and fight colonization. This understanding can be seen, for example, from the Muslim Congress (Kongres Umat Islam) in Sumatra, which supported the fatwa of Hasyim Asy’ari (Kedaulatan Rakyat, Dec. 19, 1945).

Muhammadiyah itself called on its followers to perform a hajat prayer (a prayer for the fulfillment of wishes) hoping Indonesian fighters win the Battle of Surabaya (Kedaulatan Rakyat, Nov. 11, 1945).

Furthermore, the fatwa can be claimed as the first of its kind enacted in Indonesia since independence. It was heeded as it was issued by a cleric who had the status of hadratus syaikh (great scholar). Until today, no other NU cleric has obtained this status.

According to Zamakhsari Dhofier, Hasyim Asy’ari was the greatest and the most well-known ulema in pre-1950s Indonesia (Dhofier, 1980).

It can be said that Hasyim was the most authoritative ulema to declare a fatwa, including the one of jihad against the Dutch colonial regime.

Contemporary fatwa on jihad in Indonesia, especially in the post-reform era, lack legitimacy as they are issued without a deep understanding of religious teachings. They also misinterpret jihad in the first place as they justify attacks on fellow Indonesian Muslims, even law enforcers like the police, merely based on anger and blind feelings.

The National Heroes Day commemoration should never be separated from our respect for the services and contributions of our fighters who died in the Battle of Surabaya, including the Sabilillah and Hizbulllah troops and most importantly, Hasyim Asy’ari.

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Footnote: This opinion article was displayed in an online newspaper, The Jakarta Post, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Tuesday, November 13th, 2012; and in paper edition, it was printed in page 7. It is also able to be searched at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2012/11/13/jihad-resolution-and-battle-surabaya.html [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: 17th November 2012].

The writer is the director of the A. Wahid Hasyim Library at the Tebuireng Islamic boarding school and researcher of the Centre for Language and Cultural Studies (CLCS) in Jombang, East Java, Indonesia.

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