Life

In search of Mohammad Natsir's
spirit in Islamic Revivalism

Last July the country commemorated the 100th birthday of Mohammad Natsir (1908-1993), one of the country's founding fathers.

The statesman had complex thoughts and ideas but is better known for his stance on Islamic ideology. Author Imdadun Rahmat dubs him the "ummu al-radla'ah", the "wetnurse" of contemporary Islamic revivalism.

Scholars and politicians agree that the fifth prime minister of the country (1950-1951) cannot be labeled in a mechanistic way simply as a proponent of Islamic ideology. His nationalist credentials were especially reflected in his noted mosi integral (parliamentary resolution laying down a unitary state) that helped save the newly-born Indonesia from federalism, while being consistent with his Islamic ideology and desire to have Islamic values as the foundation of the state.

Natsir's political struggle was channeled through a once major political party, the Majelis Syuro Muslimin Indonesia (Masyumi, the Consultative Council of Indonesian Muslims, 1943-1960) in which Natsir was the main influence.

Natsir was born into the Minang ethnic group on July 17, 1908 in Minangkabau, West Sumatra and appointed prime minister in 1950, "as a consequence of being the chairman of the biggest party at that time," writes scholar-cum-politician Yusril Ihza Mahendra in his monograph Mohammad Natsir, Modernisme Islam dan Demokrasi (Mohammad Natsir, Islamic Modernism and Democracy). Before opting for the presidential system - as a modern and up-to-date political system - Indonesia once embraced the parliamentarian system that was characterized by short-term cabinets led by prime ministers. Some cabinets only lasted a few months.

That Natsir was critical of secularism is well-known; it was on this point that he opposed President Sukarno, who embraced nationalist-secular ideology.

When Sukarno tended to side with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) vis a vis the anti-communist parties, Natsir - as Masyumi chairperson - took up an insurrectionary position against the Sukarno government through his involvement in the CIA-sponsored Pemerintahan Revolusioner Republik Indonesia (PRRI, the Revolutionary Government of Republic Indonesia) in Padang, West Sumatra, in 1958.

For his role in the PRRI, Natsir was imprisoned without trial and his Masyumi party was banned. He was released only after Soeharto took political power in the turbulent year of 1965, but his Masyumi was not given an opportunity to resume its activities.

Natsir, who believed that the national ideology Pancasila would "flourish" in the soil of Islam, continued his struggle through dakwah (propagation) and established the Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia (DDII, the Indonesian Council of Islamic Propagation) in 1967, that then played a major role in producing generations of Islamic revivalists.

According to Yusril, Natsir was not in favor of a theocratic state that would ascribe a divinely inspired and infallible character to state authority. Natsir had his own thesis on the religion-and-state issue, which he dubbed the "theistic state". Yusril writes "Islam, according to Natsir, does not separate spiritual and worldly affairs. The spiritual is the basis of the worldly aspects. It means universal religious ethics should become the basis for political life."

"In terms of the religion-and-state issue Natsir, apparently, perceived the state as the *tool' for (the implementation of) religious values, Thus Natsir was not for din wa dawlah (Islam as the religion and state)," Yusril said.

Through his Islamic party, Natsir not only struggled for (political) Islam as the state ideology, but he was also for modernism, democracy and human rights, sources said.

Imdadun Rahmat's book, Arus Baru Islam Radikal. Transmisi Revivalisme Islam Timur Tengah ke Indonesia (New flow of radical Islam. The transmission of Middle-Eastern Islamic revivalism to Indonesia, published in 2005), specifically mentions Mohammad Natsir as the most influential figure behind contemporary Islamic revivalism in Indonesia.

The book, which originally was his master's thesis at the University of Indonesia's school of middle-east studies, divides Islamic revivalism into three major strains:- the tarbiyah (literary means education) - later transformed into the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia with their pan-Islamism agenda and the Dakwah Salafi that followed the "authentic" Islamic way of life as shown by pious ancestors (Salaf al Salih).

Each of these movements was ideologically rooted in Middle-Eastern Ikhwanul Muslimin (such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt), Hizbut Tahrir (established in Palestine) and the Jama'ah Salafi movements, especially in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, (representing the continuum from Wahhabism, a conservative and intolerant form of Islam).

Imdadun argues that the three strains identified by him share the same revivalist characteristics with those in the Middle East, namely that they embrace the din wa dawlah concept (Islam as religion and state), that the foundation of Islam is Al-Qur'an, the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad and the tradition of the Sahabah (the Prophet's followers), with puritanism as their agenda, sharia law as the basis of state law and jihad (holy war) as a main support or means through which to reach the nizam islami (the Islamic system)

He chooses the term revivalism as it encompasses political as well as apolitical movements that range from the moderate end of the scale politically to the radical end of the spectrum. "Islamic revivalism is a (contemporary) phenomena in almost all the Islamic world. It is an expression of the wish of Muslims to return to Islam as the way of life, as an alternative to secularism," Imdadun added.

In the context of the Middle East, revivalism emerged in the 20th century as a response to world crises, while at the same time some Muslims perceived that Islamic culture and way of life were under threat from non-Islamic influences like secularism and modernity, that were sponsored by Muslim states themselves. Among the revivalists, the Ikhwanul Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) remains the biggest influence, with the islamization of all aspects of life as its agenda.

In Indonesia revivalism started to emerge in the 1980s, marked by the rise of religious activities, Islamic dress code, the emergence of Islamic economic institutions, the islamization of family laws, the Ijo-royo-royo phenomena in politics and bureaucracy (referring to the green-color symbolism of Islam in politics), and the emergence of Islamic political parties. "The most contemporary phenomenon is the formalization of sharia law," Imdadun said.

Imdadun, the freelance researcher and activist from several NGOs, including the Indonesian Conference on Religions and Peace (ICRP) and the Interfaith Dialog Society (Madia) shared his research findings with The Jakarta Post around Natsir's role in the transmission of Middle-Eastern Islamic revivalism to Indonesia.

Question: It is interesting to read that you named Pak Natsir as "ummu al-radla'ah" ("wetnurse") of the revivalists, could you please elaborate?

Answer: Pak Natsir was a great statesman with complex thoughts and ideas. His (state) ideology was Islam but his political expression was nationalist. It was the institution he established, the DDII, which initiated, in the 1970s, the sending out of young Muslims to study in the Middle East. The alumni later become the agents of the transmission of Middle-Eastern revivalism to Indonesia.

Second, the alumni of the DDII-owned school, the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences (LIPIA, also the almamater of Imdadun), later became influential agents of both the Salafi and Tarbiyah movements. It was also the DDII that laid the foundation of the propagation movements in campuses. The campus movements eventually became the new trend in the Islamic movement in the form of Tarbiyah, the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia and Dakwah Salafi movements.

Finally, it was also the DDII that played a role in the translation of revivalist literature into Bahasa Indonesia, among others those of Hassan Al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb and Yusuf Al Qardawi from the Ikhwanul Muslimin, and of the noted Pakistani thinker Abul A'la Al-Maududi.

What are the differences between Pak Natsir and the contemporary revivalists?

Pak Natsir was their "wetnurse", but the "children" also inherited the "genes" of their Middle East roots. The two also had different historical settings. Pak Natsir was part of the generation of founding fathers who (when needed) put national interests above personal or group ideology.

Natsir was open-minded, open to sources originating from non-Islamic backgrounds and more tolerant than contemporary revivalists, who are only willing to refer to sources originated from the Islamic tradition.

There has also developed a theology of hatred (towards "the others") among the revivalists, a theology that was not embraced by Natsir.

Actually, the descendants from Natsir's Masyumi range in very broad spectrum, from revivalist radicals to modernist groups like the Islamic Student Association (HMI) as represented by Nurcholis Madjid (1939-2005, the influential Muslim thinker, famous for his slogan: Islam Yes, Islamic Party No).

You specifically mentioned about the Middle-Eastern character of contemporary revivalist Islam vis a vis the so-called cultural Islam that was represented, especially, by the (largest Islamic organization) Nahdlatul Ulama, NU. What do you mean by this Middle-Eastern character?

The history of Islam in the Middle East was the history of conquest. It is very different from the character of Islam in Indonesia that was shaped by cultural encounters. The expression of Middle Eastern Islam is around the theme of (Islamic) supremacy, their historical orientation goes back to the Middle-East during the era of the Prophet Muhammad, thus their activism is now focused on the purification of Islam.

(The Dakwah Salafi movement translates the idea of authentic Islam into, among other things, a dress code whereby men wear long beards, Arab-style robes, turbans and trousers right to their ankles, with women wearing a form of enveloping dark-colored veil *niqab* in public places.)

On the other hand, the historical orientation of Indonesian cultural Islam is Indonesian history. This is the reason why cultural Islam's references in Indonesia usually go back to the Wali Sanga (the local nine saints who propagated Islam to Java)

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