By Yuri Alfrin Aladdin
Jakarta (ANTARA News) – In the morning of December 7, 2006, at an international seminar at the European Union Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, a young Indonesian Muslim intellectual spoke about Islamic radicalism and pluralism in Indonesia.
His discourse was listened to with keen interest by about 100 people attending the seminar consisting of diplomats, European academics and researchers. “Who is that guy ? He is so young and smart. His elaborations on Islam and its tolerance toward other religions in Indonesia gave me a better perspective about this religion,” said a foreign diplomat who was sitting beside me.
The young Muslim intellectual was Zuhairi Misrawi, an executive director of the Moderate Muslim Society (MMS). A group of Indonesian Muslim scholars and journalists were invited to attend the seminar themed “Democracy and Pluralism: Indonesian Perspective” held by the European Union.
On Wednesday (Dec 31,2008) or about two years after the seminar in Brussels, I met Misrawi again. He still speaks fast with his Madura’s accent. A discussion about Islam and pluralism in Indonesia with him is always interesting. He talked so eagerly about the facts of puritanism and radicalism in Indonesia.
“It must be admitted that radicalism and puritanism in Indonesia have not been able to avoid political and cultural facts,” he said. This could be perceived firstly in the phenomenon of the emergence of religious movements that rely on radical and puritan perspectives.
For example, certain organizations such as HTI (Indonesian Liberation Party), FPI (Islam Defenders’ Front), MMI (Indonesian Mujahidin Council), DDII (Indonesian Islamic Propagation Council) and the like. These movements have strong organizational structures from the top level (central), provincial, district, sub district to the lowest level (village).
Secondly, he said, the adoption of local regulations known as Sharia-based bylaws. At national level, puritan groups were struggling to push through the anti-pornography bill.
The special regional autonomy law for Aceh allowing the implementation of Islamic Sharia laws had inspired other regions to do the same thing. Aceh was considered by radical-puritan groups as the first model for the application of Islamic sharia in Indonesia.
He said there were several local regulations dealing with the implementation of Islamic sharia. For instance, regional administration regulations banning the distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages, those requiring women to wear veils in Cianjur, West Java, and district chief decree about the implementation of Islamic sharia in Pamekasan, Madura, East Java.
In addition, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the institution that gives religious advice to the state, had recently issued a fatwa (religiuos edict) prohibiting liberalism, secularism, and pluralism.
Not only did MUI forbid the existence of the Ahmadiyah sect, it also indirectly legitimized and justified the commission of acts of violent against groups supporting secularism, liberalism, and pluralism, e.g. the attacks on and eviction of Ahmadiyah members in West Java and West Southeast Nusatenggara.
Born on Feb. 5, 1977, in Sumenep, Madura, Zuhairi studied at the Al-Amien and Jami’iyyah Tahfidzil Quran Islamic boarding schools and was raised in the traditional ways of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s biggest Muslim organization with 35 million members.
After studying at Islamic boarding schools for almost six years, Zuhairi continued his education at the Ushuluddin Faculty of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt (1995-2000), and since 2006 had been studying in a post-graduate program at the Driyarkara Institute of Philosophy in Jakarta.
He was the author of several books such as Al-Quran Kitab Toleransi: Inklusivisme, Pluralisme dan Multikulturalisme (Al-Quran as The Book of Tolerance: Inclusivism, Pluralism and Multiculturalism).
Other books he wrote were Doktrin Islam Progresif (Doctrine of Progressive Islam), Islam Melawan Terorisme (Islam Against Terrorism), Dari Syariat menuju Maqashid Syariat (From Islamic Law to Purposes of Islamic Law), and Menggugat Tradisi (Deconstruction of Tradition).
Zuhairi was also a contributing writer in several books such as, Islam, Negara, dan Civil Society (Islam, State, and Civil Society), Syariat Yes, Syariat No (Islamic Law Yes, Islamic Law No), Menjadi Indonesia (Being Indonesia), Fikih Lintas Agama (Interfaith Islamic Jurisprudence), Gerakan Keislaman Pasca Orde Baru (Islamic Movement in the Post-New Order Era).
In an apparent move to prepare himself to enter the world of politics, he became head of the Inter-Religious Division of the Executive Board of Baitul Muslimin of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) at the end of 2007. Last month he officially became a member of the political party.
He has a great concern about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. He said internal problems needed to be tackled first and that all Arab countries in the Middle East should put aside their respective interests and unite to boost their bargaining power with the US and Israel in resolving the ongoing conflict.
In 2006, he visited Israel at the invitation of the Israeli government under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to provide a second opinion on Israel’s policy towards Palestine. “I told the Israeli government that Israel should use ‘soft’ politics, not ‘hard’ politics toward Palestinians. Israel should knowthat the Palestinians are already weak,” he said.
Unlike other Muslim scholars, he supported the establishment of relations between Indonesia and Israel.
What about his opinion on Muslim tolerance toward other religions ? “My interaction with adherents of other religions has been intensive, especially when I was completing my studies at the University of Al-Azhar in Cairo and when actively engaged in the inter-faith dialog. The experiences have given me a new understanding about followers of other religions. They were all created in the image of God. On most occasions, they can become more courteous and friendly than fellow Muslims,” he said.
He believed that tolerance had been developing rapidly in various countries.
“Tolerance has opened up hearts and minds in order to embark on more civil, dialogical and humane civilization. Tolerance is not merely a discourse but it has been transformed into empirical praxis. An alliance of religions for tolerance is rapidly developing all over the world to provide hope for gender justice, peace and harmony,” Zuhairi said.
He explained that there were many institutions whose concerns were about inter-faith dialog such as INTERFIDEI in Yogyakarta, the Yayasan Wakaf Paramadina and Masyarakat Dialog Antar-Agama (MADIA) in Jakarta. These organizations have branches in various places in Indonesia.
“Based on these experiences, I am particularly urged to seriously and deeply read, dig up and understand the verses of the Qur’an. Is it true that the Quranic discourse has similar tone towards the other religions? Is it true that the Qur’an urges Muslims to spread around hate against other religions? Does Islam justify violence against followers of other faiths? What is truly meant by kafir (infidel) in the Quran? Does the reality of Christians’ warmth and good intentions have a theological foundation in the Qur’an?” he asked.
“For me, learning and understanding the Qur’an is an obligation of every Muslim. Since the age of five when I was studying Islam in pesantren (Islamic traditional boarding school) up to my enrolment in university, I was obliged to study the Qur’an and memorize it. Unlike previous studies, I now learn about the Qur’an so as to unearth values of tolerance in it,” he said.
How about an allegation circulating in some internet mailing list that he rejected the five times Islamic praying as an obligation for Muslims ?
“I’m a Muslim, I graduated from an Islamic boarding school. It’s impossible for me to say that. I have never said that. It is only the hardline Muslim people who slander moderate Muslims like me,” he said.(ANTARA*)