MUI: Ahok statement is a blasphemy and has legal consequences


RR Laeny Sulistyawati, Ratna Ajeng Tejomukti


Governor Basuki Tjahaja (Ahok)’s statement about Alquran surah Al Maidah verse 51 has caused unrest among the people, therefore the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) reviewed the case and gave its religious statement on Tuesday. “Ahok has insulted the Holy Quran and/or the clerics. His statement has a legal consequences,” Chairman (MUI) Ma’ruf Amin said.

Ma’ruf explained Alquran surah Al Maidah verse 51 explicitly contains a prohibition for Muslims to make the Jewish and Christian as leader. “This verse as the proposition prohibition non-Muslims as a leader,’’ he said.

MUI stated Islamic clerics are obliged to convey the contents of surah Al Maidah verse 51 in order to remind every Muslim to vote for Muslim as leader. At this point, MUI statement has broken Ahok’s opinion about the verse.

Ahok believed clerics or Muslim in general who cited Al Maidah verse 51 were manipulating and politicizing the verse for political gain. “Ahok has insulted the clerics and Muslims by saying Muslims are manipulated by the verse or who ever citing the verse,” Ma’ruf said.

Also read: Jakarta Governor apologizes for offending Muslims

Further more, MUI said every Muslim should believe the truth and accuracy of surah Al-Maidah verse 51 as a guidance in choosing a leader. “It is haram to say Al Maidah verse 51 as a false guidance and it is a religious blasphemy of the Quran,” Ma’ruf underlined.

MUI said the government and the people are obligated to keep the harmony in religious life, in the society, in the state and in the nation. The government also has the obligation to prevent religious blasphemy by not neglecting the case. “We are asking the people to remain calm, not to vigilante, and let the authority handle the case. Of course, we should keep an eye in blasphemy activities and report it to the authority,” Ma’ruf said.

MUI urged the authority to act proactive and firm in religious blasphemy case. “Who ever did religious blasphemy over the Quran and the Islamic teachings or insulting the clerics and Muslims should be dealt firmly,” Ma’ruf said.

Also read: Muslim condems Jakarta Governor for religious blasphemy

In order to keep public trust in law enforcement, the case should be processed quickly and proportionally in a professional manner. “The authority should consider the sense of justice for the people,” Ma’ruf said.


Wednesday, 12 October 2016




Madura ulamas write to president over Ahok’s alleged blasphemy case




LEADERS of Islamic boarding schools have written to President Joko Widodo, urging that the due process of law should follow in the alleged case of blasphemy involving Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok).

The letter was written by leaders of these schools across Madura Island in East Java Province. “We sent a letter to Indonesian President Joko Widodo today,” chief of All-Madura Islamic Boarding Schools Association (HP3M) KH Lailurrahman said in a press briefing at Pamekasan Police Precinct here on Friday.

The letter, dated October 26, 2016, was signed by HP3M Chief KH Lailurrahman and his secretary KH Djakfar Shodik. The ulamas said if the legal process in this case was not followed, it will trigger larger rallies against Ahok, the Jakarta governor who is seeking re-election in February 2017.

In the letter, the ulamas also mentioned several articles in the 1945 Constitution that could form the legal basis for their call, including article 1 para 2; article 1 para 3; article 4 para 1; article 24 para 1; article 27 para 1; and article 30 para 4. “Article 4 para 1 of the Constitution stipulates that the President of the Republic of Indonesia holds government power in accordance with the law,” he noted.

Article 30 para 4 stipulates that the Indonesian police is a state apparatus assigned to keep security and public order, protect and serve the public and uphold the law, he underlined. He lamented that it seemed the police had not bothered about the case despite widespread protests against the Jakarta governor.

The Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) said Ahok has committed blasphemy citing a Al Maidah verse 51. Ahok told people in the Seribu Islands not to be deceived by people using the verse asking them not to elect a non-Muslim leader in the forthcoming election.

Also read: MUI: Ahok’s statement is a blasphemy and has legal consequences

MUI chairman Ma’ruf Amin pointed out in a statement that Ahok has insulted the Quran and the ulamas, and that police should investigate the case.


Saturday, 29 October 2016



Muslim figure appeals for screening of the film on the betrayal of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI)



MUSLIM figure K.H. Cholil Ridwan has put forth a request to screen a film depicting the failed coup attempt by the Communist Party (PKI) in 1965 by national television stations every year on September 30.

KH Kholil Ridwan

         KH Kholil Ridwan

G30S/PKI film must always be broadcast by national television stations in the country in the years to come,” he stated at the commemoration of the G30S/PKI treason at Lubang Buaya in East Jakarta on Thursday.
He affirmed that the government must encourage the screening of the film to remind the younger generation about the cruelties inflicted by the PKI.

Cholil, who is also one of the board members of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, said he had also appealed to include the stories about PKI’s cruelties in the school curriculum, starting from the elementary level.

He noted that the stories had so far been excluded from the books used in elementary and junior high schools.

“We must denounce the emergence of armed farmers, which are the fifth generation of the PKI. The symbol of armed farmers must be rejected,” he stated.

President Joko Widodo led the commemoration of Pancasila Sanctity Day, which falls on October 1, at the Lubang Buaya Pancasila Sanctity complex in East Jakarta on Thursday morning.

The Pancasila Sanctity Day commemoration is held annually to honor the sanctity of the state ideology against the revolt of the PKI on September 30, 1965, marked among other events, by the kidnapping of the seven army generals including General Ahmad Yani, Major General Sutoyo, Lieutenant General M.T. Haryono, Major General D.E. Pandjaitan, and Lieutenant General S. Parman.

The aforementioned high commissioned officers were killed and their bodies dumped into the well-known Lubang Buaya pit on which the Pancasila Sakti Monument now stands.

On the following day, October 1, 1965, the National Armed Forces (TNI) succeeded in crushing the PKI revolt and recovered the bodies of the generals.


Thu, October 2, 2015

MUI issues edict on homosexuality

mui homo
C83/Satya Festiani

INDONESIAN Council of Ulama (MUI) issues religious edict or fatwa on gay, lesbian, sodomy and molestation. The Indonesia’s top Islamic body stated that the fatwa was based on recent sexual harassment cases in Indonesia.

“Islamic law is build based on five principles, in which one of them is to protect dignity and offspring,” Secretary of Fatwa Commission of MUI, Asrorun Niam Sholeh, said on Thursday, January 15. MUI, he said, had the responsibility to respond the issue.

Asrorudin Niam

Asrorudin Niam

MUI had a long discuss on the issue, especially on sodomy and homosexual. In Islam, a legal way to channel sexual desire is through marriage of man and woman. “We have seen many cases of molestation, rape, sodomy, and homosexuality. Finally on December 31, we as fatwa commission agreed to issue edict on the matter,” he said.

The fatwa says that sexual intercourse can only be done by married couple, which is a man and a woman. Secondly, the fatwa says thaat sexual orientation toward similar gender or homosexual is abnormal which has to be cured.

Thirdly, MUI states that sexual intercourse between similar gender is haram. Those who commit such behavior will be punished.

Fourth, sodomy is haram and the subject will be punished by had. Fifth, homosexual partners who commit sodomy is haram and will be punished using takzir. “Takzir is a kind of punishment based on laws, while had is punishment based on Koran and Hadist,” he said.

The fatwa also rules on molestation toward children with similar gender. The subject will be punished using both had and takzir, as well as sentenced up to death. Meanwhile, a subject who commits rape will be punished using takzir. Lastly, legalizing homosexual and other abnormal sexual orientation is haram.

Thu, 15 Jan 2015

‘Jilbab’ phenomenon: Religious or cultural?

JILBOAzis Anwar Fachrudin

HOW do we deal with the so-called jilboobs, an Indonesian term for Muslim women wearing the jilbab (Islamic headscarf) while at the same time wearing clothes that emphasize their breasts (boobs)? The phenomenon of jilboobs would not be startling if we properly understood the case.

First, let’s raise again the old question: Why is the jilbab (the popular Indonesian name for hijab) a religious obligation for Muslim women? Most Indonesian Muslim women would not know the rational answer, the raison d’etre or, in terms of Islamic jurisprudence, the ‘illat al-hukm.

Many Indonesian Muslim women most likely wear the jilbab only to follow the mainstream trend — the tradition, or rather the popular culture within the Muslim community.

Hence, the emergence of jilboobs. Many would answer that the jilbab is a religious obligation only because it is God’s command, regardless of His reason. Others do not want to just criticize and they ask why their hair is considered aurat (a part of the body that should not be exposed to sight).

Precisely on the latest point, a paradoxical reasoning emerges and should be examined. If a woman’s hair is aurat because it could spark a man’s lust, what if her face accentuates her beauty more than her hair? Should it be veiled, too, as many Muslim women today wear the niqab?

Again, what about her voice if it could arouse a man’s desire? Or why should not men take care of their dirty minds rather than coop up women?

However, to many Muslims who literally interpret “Islam” as “submission”, such a criticism against what Islamic law has been ruling could be considered as opposing God’s command.

That is, just raising critical questions is sometimes, or even often, prohibited. Many Muslim women, therefore, seek to take the middle way: wearing veils while featuring their breasts as they, by nature, want to keep fashionable.

Second, looking back at the context of when wearing the jilbab was originally required through spiritual revelation, it could be concluded that the jilbab is most related to the sociocultural system of earliest Islam.

Muslims can find two verses on the jilbab in the Koran: al-Ahzab 33:59 and an-Nur 24:31. Many classical Islamic references state that an-Nur 24:31 was a response toward the dress traditions of the Arab women of jahiliya (pre-Islam, literally meaning “ignorance”).

In the jahiliya period, women went out in public with naked breasts and revealed their necks to show off their adornments. Their veils were drawn backward while leaving the front parts wide open.

Al-Ahzab 33:59 was revealed after the Battle of Khandaq (5 hijriyah), while an-Nur was revealed long after that; so, Muslim women were obliged to wear jilbab just from the last years of Muhammad’s era as a Prophet.

The context of the al-Ahzab revelation was that the munafiqin (hypocrites) attacked Muslim women who, at that time, wore no jilbab and so both free-born and slaves dressed the same. Al-Ahzab’s verse was then revealed to protect free women — their jilbabs distinguished them from slaves and saved them from disrespect.

The verses were very connected to a past social system in which there were slaves. The limits of aurat for slave women was the same as for men at the time: from knee to navel. Slave women were allowed to perform prayers while keeping their breasts naked.

The second caliph Umar ibn al-Khatthab once even ordered a female slave to take off her veil because the veil, or jilbab, was an item of dress reserved for free women (libas al-hara’ir). And, at that time, there was no discourse on whether the slaves’ naked breasts incited men’s desire and lust.

This stipulation could be found in many classical books of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) — but for many the era of slavery is part of a lost memory.

The substance of the obligation for the jilbab, according to contextual interpretation, was to satisfy a sense of public decency.

This kind of interpretation is, of course, rejected by conservatives who favor the strict word of the scriptural sources — or the text rather than the context.

The epistemological interpretation of this conservative fiqh, in terms of the philosophy of Islamic law, is that what should be given more consideration is the generality of the text, not the particularity of the context.

So in this way we can know why a majority of Muslims scholars still persist in saying that the jilbab is an obligation, even though we no longer live in an era of slavery.

There is a kind of scripturalism that embodies conservative clerics’ methodology of interpretation and is more dominant among Muslim communities.

The result is that Muslim women take the middle way. Time shows the evolution of the Indonesian Muslim woman’s veil.

Before the 1980s, many Muslim women, including the wives of clerics and former first lady Sinta Nuriyah Wahid, the wife of the late president Abdurrahman Wahid, wore veils, but their hair and neck were still visible.

As the reformasi approached wearing the jilbab became predominant among Muslim women (and since then this term became popular). And now, the hijab has become more popular than the jilbab and even more and more women are wearing the niqab.

In the past, the jilbab as a religious obligation was not an overwhelming subject of discourse even among Islamic scholars.

Some consider the phenomenon of the hijab and the niqab as being related to the rise of the politics of identity within the Muslim community as a way to fight against the influence of Western culture.

It reveals that the dress code is very related to culture or tradition rather than religion. And it is not unique to Islam. Christianity and Judaism have had similar codes. According to Nasaruddin Umar in his article in the Journal of Ulumul Quran, the concept of the hijab as a head covering had been established in the Code of Hammurabi (2000 BC) and then in the Code of Assura (circa 1075 BC).

As we see, there is an evolution in female dress codes. It might be the very nature of sociocultural systems that dress codes always deal with the places and times of various cultures and civilizations.

The jilbab is no exceptional. So, in the light of this way of thinking, jilboobs may not be a problem at all.

The jilbab and its various interpretations will ultimately be judged by human history.

We know today many Indonesian Muslim women are not veiled. There are also many who are veiled but not considered shar’i (to be adherent to the sharia stipulation), which means there are many Muslim women who
may voluntarily sin — or be considered sinful?

Public rationality will determine the survival of the jilbab.

As we know, religion is revealed for the sake of human benefit and interest.


The writer is a graduate student at the Center for Religious and Crosscultural Studies (CRCS), Gadjah Mada University.

The Jakarta Post
Fri, September 12 2014


Islam and Democracy in Indonesia

islam democrac

Dr. Nikolaos van Dam

Dr. Nikolaos van Dam

Dr. Nikolaos van Dam

WHEN I was contemplating which thoughts I would like to share with you today, I posed myself the hypothetical question what we would think if a similar conference were to be held in Jakarta, for instance by the Muhammadiyah, one of the biggest Indonesian Muslim organizations, with as topic: “Are Christianity and democracy compatible?” Wouldn’t we be somewhat surprised if Indonesians would ask themselves whether Christianity and democracy are compatible, taking Europe as an example? We would probably react by thinking that it is so obvious that Christianity and democracy do go well together in Europe, that we do not need any academic discussion to prove it, let alone by non-European Muslim “outsiders”. Actually, we might in this case probably not even bring up the issue of religion, because we would think that it goes without saying that democracies are flourishing in the Western world, of which Europe is a part, irrespective of whether there are secular or religious inspired governments. But is it really that obvious if we look at European history? After all, didn’t we have the most ugly dictatorships in Europe in countries with populations that at the time could really be considered as having a majority of devote Christians? Aren’t the eras of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and General Franco in Spain clear examples that also Christianity (or being a Christian) and dictatorship can go well together? After all, these are examples in which big parts of Christian populations in Europe enthusiastically supported their dictatorial leaders, which led to millions of dead.

If I would say on basis of these experiences that Christianity and democracy are actually incompatible, I would almost certainly be ridiculed, because it will, rightly, be considered as nonsense. After all, most of Europe is now democratic, and the big majority is still Christian. That should be proof enough in itself, wouldn’t it? We would not need to study the Bible or other Christian texts to convince us of the thesis that democracy and Christianity (or being a Christian) are compatible.

Following the same logic, we do not have to study the Qur’an or other Islamic texts to convince us of the fact that Islam and democracy go well together, as is illustrated by countries with a Muslim majority which have democracies, like for instance Indonesia (with more than 205 million Muslims), Pakistan (178 million), Bangladesh (148 million) and Turkey (75 million), or a democracy with a very sizable Muslim population like India (which with its 177 million Muslim inhabitants almost equals Pakistan in this respect, and actually is the third largest country in the world as to the number of Muslim inhabitants after Indonesia and Pakistan). Indonesia also happens to be the third largest democracy in the world, after the United States and India.

To put it differently: there are various Islamic countries with a democratic political system, just as there are various predominantly Muslim countries that have a dictatorship. The same applies to non-Muslim countries: some are democracies; others are dictatorships, irrespective of the religions prevalent amongst its rulers or people. To me this just indicates that Islam and democracy, or being simultaneously a Muslim and democrat, can go very well together, just as the opposite may be the case. The same applies to countries with people having another religion, such as Christianity. Therefore one might draw as a main conclusion that in practice there is no specific link here between religion and either democracy or dictatorship.

To take a different, related question: is the Christian West (if we can call it Christian) democratically inclined when it comes to Islam?

We have seen various examples where Western countries have called upon the Palestinians to have free and democratic elections. When the result was a victory of the Islamic Resistance Organization Hamas, however, Western countries boycotted the results and generally refused contacts with the new Hamas local government, because of its position towards Israel. Something similar happened with the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in Algeria when it won the elections there. Their victory was rejected by the Algerian military, and this rejection was generally supported in the West.

From previous experiences the conclusion can be drawn that politicians in the West generally do indeed want to see democracy and democratic elections in the Islamic world, albeit that when the victorious parties happen to be predominantly Islamic oriented, they are not only not enthusiastic about the outcome but they sometimes even tend to reject the results, because that is not something they generally expected or wanted. One of the reasons for this rejection is the expectation that the Islamic forces that come to power through a democratic system, may turn out to misuse the same system so as to later impose their rule undemocratically. This, in turn, is based on the presumption that Islam and democracy are not really compatible. In some cases the expectations of misusing the democratic system may be quite justified, like recently in Egypt, but in other cases, like Indonesia, they are unfounded.

It just depends on which Islamic oriented group one takes as an example and to which period of time one refers. Some Islamic groups are at present clearly democratically oriented, like for instance the biggest Muslim organizations in Indonesia like the Muhammadiyah and the Nahdhatul Ulema that represent a very large part of the Indonesian Muslim population, whereas other, much smaller movements like the Jemaah Islamiyah or the Hizb al-Tahrir are undemocratically oriented. They want to use or misuse the democratic system to achieve their undemocratic aims, or they even reject democratic politics and the nation state.

The Muhammadiyah and the Nahdhatul Ulema are unique in the sense that nowhere else in the Islamic world can we find such big Islamic organizations. They are at present a stabilizing force helping the further democratic transformation of the country.

These parties today represent what in the past has been called “the smiling face of Indonesian Islam”, albeit that this expression also hides less pleasant factors, such as the mass killings of alleged communists during 1965-1966 that were orchestrated by Suharto’s military and were largely carried out by killing squads recruited from the main Muslim organizations. Fortunately, times have strongly changed in the positive sense. Change, however, is not always going into one direction. There have been shifts within the Muhammadiyah and Nahdhatal Ulema from liberal and progressive to more fundamentally conservative, and it is only natural that such large organizations are not homogeneous, but contain a variety of opinion.

I consider it a good phenomenon that we want to know much more about Indonesia and the Indonesians, while welcoming at the same time if Indonesians would want to know much more about the Netherlands and Europe.

Actually, one should have expected the Dutch to be already well informed about Indonesia and Islam. Unfortunately, however, we are not that well informed at all, not to say that bigger parts of the Dutch population are quite ignorant of Indonesia, its people and its rich cultures, just as they are generally not that well informed about Islam. This is because education about Indonesia and Islam is quite minimal, if not to say inadequate. People are, unfortunately, not born with knowledge, like some bird species are, but have to obtain it during their lives through study, education, experience and their surroundings. Public education unfortunately does not really provide it. The idea that it might be a moral obligation to be at least better informed about one’s own colonial history – with both its negative and positive sides – apparently hardly finds any positive response in the Netherlands.

Who does still remember today that the Kingdom of the Netherlands once upon a time had the biggest number of Muslim citizens in the world, because of its colonies in what today is the Republic of Indonesia? And who remembers that the Consulate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Jeddah (which is now closed) was one of the most important consulates in the world because of the numerous Hajj pilgrims of the Dutch Indies who had to pass through this city on their way to Mecca? With this background in mind it was only logical that Islam was seriously studied by Dutch scholars; and that many of their Islamic studies were related to the situation in the Dutch Indies. Some of the best libraries on the subject were established in the Netherlands and many of the studies that were carried out by Dutch scholars at that time are still valuable today. The libraries and materials are still there, but the number of scholars dealing with Indonesia has drastically declined. So has the interest among students. Nevertheless, interest in Islamic studies is still very vivid, albeit that the motivations have shifted and have become quite different.
One would have expected that the Kingdom of Netherlands of today, being formerly the state with the biggest number of Muslim citizens in the world, would be populated by people having a special awareness, sensitivity, experience and knowledge about Islam. But this is not the case, and probably never has been so. Two of the reasons for this are that the people of Indonesian origin living in the Netherlands are almost exclusively Christians, and that the Dutch in the Indonesian Archipelago generally were not very close with the Muslim communities there, for fear of Islamic opposition and hostility towards Dutch colonialism.

This attitude is reflected in the collections of today’s Dutch museums. In the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam a lot is exhibited about Indonesian minorities like the Bataks, Dayaks, Papuas, and so on; but hardly anything can be found on the Muslim majority. And this is no coincidence; it was on purpose, because in the past special public attention to the Muslim population was avoided in exhibitions.

I have been following developments in the Islamic and Arab world half a century now, and for most of that time I never felt bothered by the question of whether or not Islam was compatible with democracy. To me it was not really a theme that I considered to be relevant.

On the contrary: I considered it to be a kind of non-issue, and to a certain extent I still do. Except for the fact that many people, particularly in the West, have in the meantime started to consider it to be of essential importance. Therefore it has become a controversial question, which can no longer be fully ignored. Not that it is always a realistic one based on actual facts. In a way, it tells more about the attitude of those who imagine Islam and democracy to be incompatible than about the realities in the Islamic world.

Does Islam adapt itself to society or does society adapt itself to Islam?

Some describe Indonesia as an Islamic country, although there are many people with other religions living here. These constitute some 10% of the population, making up some 24 million people. In 2009 not less than 10 of the 33 Provinces in Indonesia had a non-Muslim Governor. Instead of calling Indonesia an Islamic country, it is more appropriate to describe it as “the country with the biggest Muslim population of the world”. Different from what some Western observers tend to suggest, Indonesia’s official state ideology, the Pancasila, is not really secular, because its first principle is the “belief in One God”. There is no strict separation between religion and state, and since the Indonesian state with its Pancasila ideology “is already Islamic enough”, there is, as Professor Azyumardi Azra has pointed out, “no strong reason for mainstream Muslims to transform Indonesia into an Islamic state”. At the same time the principle of “unity in diversity” is to be respected. It is even the slogan in the national weapon: “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”.

It should be added here that many of the more purist Muslims have in the course of time rejected the Pancasila. They wanted to give a constitutional status to the Shari’ah, at least during the discussions on the Jakarta Charter, as the preamble to the 1945 Constitution was called. But they failed, and the Pancasila was succesfully imposed from above, which, in turn, strengthened Indonesia’s unity in diversity. By way of an exception in the Islamic world, Islam in Indonesia was not placed above other officially recognized religions but was allocated a place side by side with Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and Buddhism.

In 2005 the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI, Indonesian Council of Islamic Scholars) issued a fatwa (religious opinion) declaring secularism, pluralism and religious liberalism to be incompatible with Islam. Fatwas like these were also an attack against the thought of prominent liberal reformers like Abdarrahman Wahid (later Indonesian president) and Nurcholish Majid. Many Muslims did, however, protest against the fatwas of the Majelis Ulema Indonesia, including the former chairmen of the Muhammadiyah and the Nahdhatul Ulema.

Respect for unity in diversity is clearly reflected in a special phenomenon in Indonesia, which I did not come across in any Arab Islamic country, and that is the greeting of different religious communities with their respective greeting formulas, even if one does not belong to one of these communities. When addressing a Muslim audience it is fully accepted in Indonesia to start with the Islamic greeting of “assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh”, also by non-Muslims (although not all Muslims appreciate this); when addressing Christians in for instance Manado, a Muslim, on the other hand, might start with “shalom”, and in Bali the Buddhist greetings might be used. It is, however, appropriate to, after a religious formula, always add the more general and religiously neutral formula of: “Salam sejahtera bagi kita semua”, so as not to exclude anyone in the audience from being addressed.

islam democSome have noted that “the Islam” does not really exist, because there are so many forms of Islam. I would argue, rather, that although Islam does have so many varieties and whereas there is such a rich diversity in Islamic communities, this does not exclude “the Islam” from existing. It merely means that there are different interpretations of it. Certain basic principles of Islam are, however, the same everywhere. What is different are the regional and cultural diversities among Islamic communities.

Islam emanated in a specific Arabian social and cultural environment, existing in the Arabian Peninsula at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. It is only natural, therefore, that the original Islam contains many Arab specifics. Although Islam can be said to be a universalistic religion, it can also be said that it started as an Arab religion, revealed in the Arabic language. This language is so much part of Islam, that it is considered inappropriate to do the ritual prayer (Salat) in any other language than Arabic. An Indonesian religious leader who led the ritual prayers in Indonesian was imprisoned for this one day in the past.

When Islam spread outside the Arabian Peninsula and came into contact with other cultures, Islam adapted itself to these regions in the sense that various local habits and traditions where not only being accepted as not contradicting those of Islam, but were later on also sometimes interpreted by the local populations as being in line with Islam, if not Islamic itself. Many people who as new Muslims continued part of their former traditions, gradually came to argue that these traditions were in fact part of Islam. In the traditional West Sumatra Minangkabau society, for instance, Minang culture is said to be based on Islam: “culture based on religion, which in turn is being based on the Qur’an”. One might, however, also say that Islam has merged here to a large extent with local culture, because Islamic religion and Adat are in this region perceived to be almost identical. A remarkable aspect of Minang society is that, different from Arab Islamic custom, it has a matriarchal system. There is nothing which prevents the Minang from being both devote Muslims and having a matriarchal system.

More generally, one might say that in large parts of Indonesia Islam has adapted itself to the local cultures and traditions, or has embedded itself into them, instead of fully adapting to the culture and traditions of the Arabian Peninsula the other way around. A similar phenomenon could be said to have taken place in other regions of what today is considered to be the Islamic world outside the Arabian Peninsula.

The aspect of peaceful coexistence of Indonesian cultures, traditions and Islam has been formulated most clearly, if not bluntly, by one of the most prominent members and thinkers of the Liberal Islamic Network (JIL: Jaringan Islam Liberal) the Indonesian Ulil Abshar-Abdallah in 2002, and I quote here from Martin van Bruinessen’s article “What happened to the smiling face of Indonesian Islam?”:

“I consider Islam as a living organism”, Ulil began his declaration, “and not as a dead monument erected in the seventh century…” There is a strong tendency these days to treat Islam as a monument, petrified and immutable, and it is time to challenge that attitude. We need interpretations that are non-literal, substantive, contextual and consonant with the heartbeat of a human civilization that is ever-changing. The substance of Islam should be separated from the culture of the Arabian peninsula, and it is that universal substance that has to be interpreted in accordance with the local cultural context. Whipping, stoning and the cutting of hands, the jilbab (full female covering) and beard are Arab cultural peculiarities and there is no reason why other Muslims should follow them.”

It is not surprising that Ulil’s remarks caused great controversy, even though many well-educated Muslims in Indonesia may share his views. Some orthodox Muslims even wanted him to be sentenced to death.

Indeed, by far not all Indonesian Muslims accept the local cultural and syncretic mystical elements as part of Islam. Some of the more orthodox Muslims tend to strongly reject them as unislamic. And although abangan, or Javanese syncretic oriented Muslims, do not enjoy formal recognition, most of them feel that the Pancasila protects them from santri (or more orthodox) pressure to conform to formal Islam. Tensions between more and less orthodox Muslims have existed throughout history and are bound to remain, varying in intensity from time to time, and making change always a possibility in one direction or another.

I would like to give a few practical examples, typical for Islamic tolerance in Indonesia:

– The Ramayana is a very popular epic in Indonesia, Java in particular. When I saw this dance performed in Yogyakarta for the first time, I asked what the religion of the dancers was. The reply was that they were all Muslims. I was amazed because I considered the Ramayana performance to be Hindu, and therefore was surprised that such a dance related to another religion could be performed by Muslims. A friend of mine, who had studied Indonesia for a long time, explained, however, that the Ramayana should in this case not be considered as a Hindu dance, but rather as a performance which was an expression of Indonesian or Javanese culture. Therefore culture was the key concept here, not religion.

– Something similar is the case when you look at many of the Javanese mosques. As has been described by Prof. Pijper in his well-known study on the mosques of Java, the roof or roofs of the typically Javanese mosques consist of various layers, the forms of which go back to Hindu-Javanese times, and may symbolize various heavens. These have nothing to do with Islam, but rather with the heavens existing in Hinduism. Here, again, the present shape has nothing to do with Hindu religion, but is rather a residue of Hindu culture in Java.

– Whereas in many other countries with Islamic majorities the use of Arabic Islamic names is very popular, in Indonesia, Java in particular, it is more common to frequently use traditional Javanese names. For that reason it is often not possible to know someone’s religious identity. But the ethnic and cultural background is often easily recognized. It is another example of the fact that traditional culture is given a prominent place in Indonesian society.

– Quite particular is also the performing by women of Qur’an recitals during opening ceremonies of important gatherings. In other Islamic or Arab countries I have never noticed such a phenomenon. It simply is an Indonesian tradition that reflects more the position of women in society than religion itself. Indonesia’s feminist movement is most dynamic and diverse.

When turning to the elections in Indonesia, one can note that the religious parties do not dominate the political scene, even if they theoretically could. During the legislative elections of April 2014 the Islamic-based parties had an impressive 32 percent of the total votes, enough to put forward their own presidential candidate. This prompted a number of prominent clerics from a wide range of Muslim organizations, including Professor Din Syamsuddin, the chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), to call for a coalition in an effort to indeed put forward their own presidential candidate for the presidential elections next July. Nothing came of it, however, because Islamic-based parties prefer to pragmatically cooperate with secular nationalist parties in order to obtain positions of political power, preferably in government, that offer more benefits than being in the formal parliamentary opposition. Political pragmatism prevails among the Islamic-based parties, as has been the case during earlier elections.

To make a long story short: Islam and democracy, or being simultaneously a Muslim and democrat, are fully compatible in Indonesia, as well as in quite a number of other countries with a Muslim majority. This being said, I should add that the perpetuation of democracy is not something that should be taken for granted, neither in Indonesia nor anywhere elsewhere in the world.

* Dr. Nikolaos van Dam was ambassador of The Netherlands to Indonesia, Germany, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq (1988-2010). He is the author of The Struggle for Political Power in Syria (London: I.B. Tauris, 2011, 4th edition).

Martin van Bruinessen, What happened to the smiling face of Indonesian Islam?, RSIS Working Paper No. 222, Singapore, 2011, p. 1; 3; 41-42.

Azyumardi Azra, ‘Indonesian Islam, Mainstream Muslims and Politics’, in: Umar Hadi, Abdul Mu’ti,, Islam in Indonesia, Jakarta, 2009.

Martin van Bruinessen, ‘Islamic state or state Islam? Fifty years of state-Islam relations in Indonesia’, in: Ingrid Wessel (ed.), Indonesien am Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts, Hamburg: Abera-Verlag, 1996, p. 19-34.

Martin van Bruinessen, ‘Indonesian Muslims and Their Place in the Larger World of Islam’, in: Anthony Reid (ed.), Indonesia rising: the repositioning of Asia’s third giant, Singapore: ISEAS, 2012, pp. 117-140.

— Delivered at the Round Table Conference Indonesia Nederland Society, The Hague, Senate Building, 25 June 2014

islam democracy

Watchdog examines Cadbury’s halal status


Yuliasri Perdani and Linda Yulisman

THE Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) is testing 13 products made by British confectioner Cadbury to ensure they comply with Islamic standards following uproar in Malaysia over the discovery that two varieties of chocolate bar were contaminated with pork DNA.

The agency’s head, Roy Alexander Sparingga, said on Friday that the sampling tests were aimed at ensuring no Cadbury products contained pork, which is forbidden under Islamic dietary standards.

“We are conducting tests on 13 Cadbury products that have obtained licenses for distribution in Indonesia, eight of which are chocolate bar varieties,” Roy said.

The Malaysian authorities recently found traces of pork DNA in Cadbury Dairy Milk Hazelnut and Cadbury Dairy Milk Roast Almond bars, both manufactured in Malaysia. “The two varieties are not legally sold here,” Roy noted.

Aside from the tests, the BPOM would keep an eye on import-export activities along the country’s borders over concerns the products had been smuggled into Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population. “We have increased supervision along the borders, in particular along the eastern coast of Sumatra,” he said.

Roy called on the public not to worry as the BPOM had taken all necessary steps to ensure food safety as well as halal compliance.

The agency has initiated the precautionary tests despite a decision by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) to confirm the halal status of all Cadbury products legally sold on the market.

“After the case in Malaysia, we immediately examined 10 Cadbury products on the market, all of them tested negative for pork DNA,” said head of the MUI’s food and drugs unit Lukmanul Hakim.

According to Lukmanul, the MUI first certified Cadbury Indonesia products in the 1990s but the company stopped renewing the halal certification around 1996 or 1997.

“At the time, they started producing all products in Malaysia and opted to only use halal certification issued by the Malaysian authorities. The company only reapplied for MUI certification earlier this year,” said Lukmanul.

Trade Minister Muhammad Lutfi said that his ministry would study the issue while noting that non-halal products could be imported into the country. “In Indonesia, there is no obligation to sell halal products,” he said. However, Lutfi noted that due to the sensitive nature of the market, there was pressure on the authorities and companies to declare whether food products met Islamic standards.

Commenting on the issue, the Association of Indonesian Retailers (Aprindo) deputy secretary-general Satria Hamid said that all members of the association would continue to sell Cadbury products that had been certified by the BPOM and the MUI.

“We have instructed our members to check all Cadbury products to ensure they have complied with distribution rules and halal licenses,” he said.

Indonesian Cacao Industry Association (AIKI) chairman Piter Jasman suggested that the concerns over Cadbury products could provide the impetus for global confectionery companies to build their production plants in Indonesia.

“Consumers trust domestic products more as the production process must comply with national regulations and standards,” Peter said.

Cadbury Indonesia could not be reached for comment.

The Jakarta Post
Sat, May 31 2014,