By Darul Aqsha
BLOGGERS and Facebook users in Indonesia, were upset after a May meeting of hundreds of ulama (Muslim scholars) from Java and Madura urged top religious authorities to issue fatwa, or edict, banning Facebook for Muslims.
They condemned the ulama, members of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU, Revival of Muslim Scholars), ” Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation,” through their blogs and Facebook’s statuses, called them as conservative and backward, blind of modern technology and need to be “educated”. “They should live in caves or in forests with monkeys,” one of Facebook users said.
In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, Facebook is the top-ranked site with an estimated 831,000 Facebook users, beating out even search engines Yahoo and Google.
Enda Nasution, a well-known Internet observer and active user of Facebook, dubbed as the Father of the Indonesian bloggers, considered the ulama, having no important things to do than issuing the edict, adding that the edict is just the ulama’s joke. “Don’t be half-hearted ways, why don’t they issue the same (banning) edict for the internet, mobile phone, or anything which can be used excessively,” he said as quoted by Sabili.
A May meeting held in Pesantren Putri Hidayatul Mubtadaat Lirboyo, Kediri, East Java, where the controversy begins, is part of Bahats al-Masa’il (Discussions of Cases) to discuss various issues in the community, based on fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) through the classical Islamic books known as Kitab Kuning.
The meeting has become NU’s ulama tradition for years. In the last meeting, current issues such as the use of modern gadgets and social networking media (cellular phone, 3G, chatting, Friendster, Facebook, and so on) became the hottest agenda in the forum.
The outcry subsided after the forum’s speaker Muchammad Nabil Haroen of the Pesantren Lirboyo held a press conference, clarifying that they were not after a ban and that he himself and some ulama also had Facebook accounts.
Haroen confirmed that the forum never issued edict banning Facebook because it is merely a new communication medium created by human beings. “We just banned its usage if it is used excessively and could drive lust,” he explained, citing an example on the usage of a knife, which could be positive or negative, depends on the user behind it.
According to Haroen, many criticisms were bias and excessive because the critics did not understand the forum’s decision completely.
According to Hatta Syamsuddin, a lecturer at an Islamic college in Surakarta, Central Java, Facebook as a medium has neutral status (halal). “It depends on the Facebook users who later change its ‘status’ to be haram or to keep in its neutrality (halal),” he said, commenting on the outcry.
From the fierce criticisms, we found that the critics, both from media and Facebook users, apparently had generalised the ulama.
Without any knowledge about the fiqh and the development of Islam in Indonesia, ” including the Islamic civilisation and empathy over the roles of ulama before, during, and after the country’s independence,” their criticisms on any fatwa will always be bias and too excessive.
Depending on how we see the context, we can always see things from the positive side as ulama did. Even Facebook spokeswoman Debbie Frost said, “We have seen many people and organisations use Facebook to advance a positive agenda.”
The Brunei Times
Tuesday, July 7, 2009