Hasyim Muzadi Interview

May 14th, 2006, in Society, by

Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) is the largest Muslim body in the country and is chiefly responsible for the reputation of Indonesia as a place of moderate Islam. Its current leader, Hasyim Muzadi, gives his opinions on the sharia debate.

Voices have been raised of late that the NU has moved to the 'right' and is no longer moderate. An interviewer from Gatra magazine recently asked Hasyim Muzadi for clarification of the issue of NU's position on Islamic sharia law in Indonesia.

Hasyim Muzadi
Hasyim Muzadi

According to surveys over 70% of people support sharia and the support is growing. At the same time, laws at all levels of government are being promulgated that have Islamic elements, both implicit and explicit. Debate rages. The campaign for a khilafah (caliphate) system also grows. People are beginning to worry that Indonesia is becoming an Islamic state. Does the NU still have a commitment to a unified Indonesian state, [a secular state]?

In July of this year we will have a conference. Hopefully then we will reaffirm the position we arrived at in 1984, that is, that the system of Indonesia, based in NKRI (Negara Kesatuan Republik Indonesia, the unitary/unified republic of Indonesia), Pancasila (the five principles on which the state is based) and the 1945 constitution, constitutes the final effort of the Muslim community.

What is NU's attitude to the application of Sharia?

Currently there are those who demand sharia and there are those who are horrified at the sound of the word. In Arab terminology there are these two poles, ifrad (being over-zealous in religion) and tafrid (being slack in religion).

For the NU it is not a matter of being pro or anti sharia. We look at how sharia can develop within the system of the unified republic. Sharia must not be opposed to the state. The NU already has a way of looking at it, that is, that tathbiq al-syariat (application of sharia) in an in-context way can be done in civil society but not within the nation state. Contextual application of sharia is for the NU community and it consists in being faithful, charitable, etc. For the commandments of God wa man lam yahkum bima anzalallahu fa ulaika humul kafirun (whoever does not judge actions according to what has been revealed by God is an infidel), the term man (whoever) refers to persons not institutions.

Can laws be based on sharia?

At the level of the nation state what can come from religion is only the ideals/nobility. Only the spirit of sharia can be included. Then there are the processes, the packaging, the format, done in a democratic manner, in an Indonesian way, and in a way that is in harmony with "Unity In Diversity" (the motto of Indonesia). So that there is no longer any conflict between religion and the state because both are in proportion.

For example, we are now making an anti-corruption law. We don't need to call it the "Islamic Anti-Corruption Law" because anti-corruption is already an Islamic thing. The text of Islam must not be included in such a law because that would make the nation rebel. It would create a split. On top of this all religions are against corruption. But when you add the word "Islam", when it becomes tathbiq syariah lafdhan (a literal application of sharia) that can cause the nation to break up. But when it's tathbiq syariah maknan (a substantive implementation of sharia) that is no problem.

What is the NU's view on the campaign for a caliphate?

What does it mean? If it means the caliphate of Khulafaur Rasyidin (?) after Muhammad died that is no longer relevant now. But if it means a system that is democratic, like the one we have now, then it's something we would consider.

According to the NU, when Muhammad lived there were two things which were not decided by him. First, who would succeed him, and second, how succession would occur. On Monday Muhammad died and he wasn't buried till Wednesday because it had to wait on a meeting over who would replace him. The point is the caliphate was not decided on by Muhammad. If it wasn't determined by him then the caliphate is something that is the result of human thought rather than a rule from God.

Its application should be in accordance with the condition of the state and the nation, the place, the time, and current thought. So it's not logical to force the caliphate in terms of the one that existed in the time of Khulafaur Rasyidin. This is what makes various groups restless and fidgety, those who don't understand the root of the matter.

How is Islam relevant to the needs of today?

Muslims should make Islam a productive religion. Don't keep fighting over symbolic matters, caliphate or no caliphate, sharia or no sharia. It's enough, we should practice Islam in a practical way so that it gives rise to brotherhood, justice, and prosperity. Don't think about the law/sharia in terms of symbols. Making farmers prosperous, that is sharia. Making Indonesia peaceful, that is sharia. Indonesia must be just, that too is sharia. Don't be diverted into matters of symbolism, that causes problems to the point that Islam becomes unproductive.

You recommend the implementation of sharia in spirit, not literally. Do you consider the anti-pornography and indecency law (RUU APP) to be an example of implementation of sharia in spirit? It seems there is a lot of fierce opposition to the law.

The NU board already has a position on the RUU APP. We need the RUU APP to be passed with care taken over articles of the law and with provisions that take into account the diversity of the country. This is important. Without rules it's difficult to deal with public displays of sexuality that go over the top. It creates a negative effect on the culture of young people who have become hedonistic these days. Free sex also causes disease. The attitude of the NU is representative of parents, teachers, educators, and religious leaders.

From others' point of view the diversity of the country cannot be harmed. Because of that there have to be exceptions in the law. For example, for religious reasons, Balinese people sometimes go topless. If the religion says that then we have to tolerate it. Same with Papuan men wearing the penis sheath. But if you wear the penis sheath in Pasar Baru, in Jakarta, that is indecency. If you want to be naked do it at your own place don't do it at Gambir (train) station (in Jakarta).

In tourist areas you can lie on the beach in a bikini but don't wear a bikini at Tanah Abang station in Jakarta. This all has to be set down. If there are no rules those who suffer are the young generation.

Why is there so much opposition to the law? Because pornography has already become part of the penetration of world culture and it has become an industry. These two things strengthen each other. Destroying the principles of sharia while making money, that's something big. Muslims must not see pornography as a small problem.

So a legal approach is a good idea but it's not adequate to protect Muslim culture/society. There has to be a movement against it. For example by the NU and Muhammadiyah, by individuals, by families and children. As Muslims are we already moral? As Indonesians are we already moral? Because if it's only done from the legal side, and the law cannot lift people's moral standards, then extremists will use the law for violent ends.

RUU APP is thought to carry connotations of Arabisation or Talibanisation. Is it a veiled form of sharia application?

Oh no. I'm sure people who think that haven't read the draft law. It's not Arabisation or Islamisation. Women who cover their faces except the eyes, that's not Islam, that's Arab culture before Islam came. There's no connection.

It's just that there are radical groups who support the law and create the impression that it's Arabisation. People worry about it too much. And there's the possibility the concern over the law comes from pornography businesses.

The Tangerang law against prostitution is also controversial, some see it as having the spirit of Islamisation. What do you think?

It's true that prostitution is already forbidden in the criminal code. If the police did their job they wouldn't need any special regional regulation against it. There's already a law against it but it's not enforced so people come to say that there is no law against it. My friends in the parliament have to understand things in terms of the national law and have to understand that a literal application of sharia will cause the disintegration of the nation.

Is there a need for a special regional regulation which adopts Islamic sharia to guard public "order"?

It's not needed, there are already relevant articles in the criminal code.

What about local laws that require Koran reading ability for civil service applicants and those who want to get married? What about dress regulations and such like?

Yeah, don't need them. They will later just disturb the national legal system. If there is a rule to read the Quran it doesn't need to go into law, it's enough that it be a recommendation. My Muslim friends would be better off to implement tathbiq al-syariat, sharia in spirit.

There are indications that regional Islamic laws have become political commodities for mayors.

That's true. We mustn't do things which aren't in harmony with the national system. It's also caused by the system of regional autonomy. If it's not in harmony with the national system will our country remain unitary or will it become federal? If federal it's dangerous for national integrity.

Can the campaign for a caliphate be viewed as subversive given that its mission is to change the form of the state?

If it happened during the time of the New Order then yes. But in the reformed era now it has to be done in a legal way. I look at it from the side of the development of Islam in Indonesia. The result is not clear but there have already been many excesses.

Has the position of the NU moved to the right and become more hardline?

No. Wev'e been too far on the left for a long time and are just moving back to the centre. We are not the same as the hardline Muslims. I've met with hardline Muslims but that doesn't mean I agree with them. From the hard left we have moved to the centre but people think that is a move to the right.

My role is to place the NU in the centre. But the hardline Muslims are also a part of Islam, we can't view them as unislamic or isolate them. At the same time wer'e not anti-western, just anti injustice, anti hegemony, anti attacks on the weak, but not anti-western.

The NU has to be a meeting point for all elements of Islam. But that doesn't mean wer'e the same as them. There has to be organisation that can talk to anyone and that's the NU.

By getting close to hardline groups does the NU still accommodate liberal views from young people?

We still accommodate all views. Then we sort the views between those which are valuable and those that aren't. It's impossible that Islamic thought just stays the same because there are technological, social, etc. developments. But the religion cannot be left behind.

If we later take a position which is outside of Islam then what? That's the problem. What if the position harms Islam, the Quran, and Muhammad. It must be within the development of Islam not a sell-out of the religion.

And then there are my friends who strive for a literal application of sharia and they use violence or threats for their ends. Theyr'e not involved in education, they don't build mosques, they don't engage in dakwah, they just fight over the constitution of the state. Groups like this have experienced a lot of difficulties around the world. In England mosques which try to change the English constitution have been shut down. Also in Holland and Australia. So this is not a sharia problem but a dakwah one.

The NU has branches around the world. We've inspired them to promote a modern and moderate Islam but through right thinking not a sell out.

Are you sure that Muslims in Indonesia are still confident in the [secular] nation state and not a religious state?

If that is allowed to happen it would be dangerous. The government is weak in doing its job. The NU has to start with itself. It has to return to right faith and develop within the context of the nation and the global situation.

What is your message for minorities who feel threatened by Islamicization?

We say that if Islam develops in the right way it must be the same for other religions. Make laws that have Islamic aspects and aspects of other religions, universal values, within a democratic process and in the Indonesian way.

According to LSI surveys the agenda of the NU is the one most supported by the people. But the same survey says more than 70% of people want sharia applied. Whereas the NU does not support sharia application. How can this be?

Because the method of applying sharia is not made clear in the questions. Muslims want Islam to progress, naturally. If that's not so then it's not normal. But the most important thing in sharia application is not to tear the country apart. In the time of Mohammed there was rule created, the Mitsaqul Madinah, that said those of other religions were free to practice their faith as long as it didn't disturb Islam.


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