Islamic law is not as perfect
as many Muslims insist

If a secular law failed, then blame the law. When Islamic law fails, blame the stupid human behind the law who cannot carry out Divine Will. I certainly disagree with these propositions; however, this is what some Indonesian Muslims believe.

Just recently, I watched a live-to-air Islamic sermon (I was expecting the news, not this live preaching) on TV. The topic revolved around the conflict between antigraft body KPK and the National Police, and how Islam would respond.

A phone-caller said, “The chaotic events in our legal system are a reminder from God Almighty that secular law will not solve problems. So, return to Sharia and believe me, God will guide and save us.”

The preacher, a well-known Islamic “televangelist” said there was a need to return to God in such a crisis.

On the contrary, when an Islamic project fails, the proponent of Islamic law will argue that the imperfect governing apparatus needs more time to best apply the law. Problems following the implementation of Islamic law in Aceh are not recognized as Islamic’s law inability to adequately meet contemporary social-political needs, but rather a failure of the particular local government to properly implement Islamic law.

A member of an Islamist movement calling for the re-establishment of the historical Islamic caliphate and the self-proclaimed “Islamic” republics of Pakistan and Iran are good examples to see the problems in implementing what they believe is an “Islamic state” in the modern world. Both projects, unfortunately, are bad examples to follow. They become authoritarian states and failed to bring about economic maslahah (welfare) for their people.

However, many Muslims insisted they are not Islamic because their systems are not “caliphate”. If a caliphate is re-established, it will be unlike Pakistan or Iran. He simply dismissed that the challenges would remain the same: poverty, human-rights abuses, less-educated citizens, and, most importantly, incapable Muslim leaders dealing with those problems. Who can be like the just caliph Umar ibn Khattab to run a modern caliphate and deal with much more complex societies?

In Muslim modern history, a trend to return to Islam as a panacea is not unique to Indonesia. During the 1950s, when the newborn Arab nation-states were trying to modernize their countries, a secular path was taken. After a decade of secularization’s failure, the late 1960s marked a turning point: the dawn of religious revivalism (a call to return to Islamic principles).

Esposito (Islam: The Straight Path, 1998) identified four causes for Islamic revivalism at that time:
First, it was an identity crisis precipitated by a sense of failure.

Second, there was disillusionment with the West and the failure of Western-inspired government to respond adequately to the needs of their society.

Third, the newfound sense of pride and power from the success of the Arab-Israeli war and the Arab Oil Embargo.

Fourth, the quest for a more authentic identity rooted in Islamic history.

It has been more than a decade after the 1998 Reformasi (marked by the fall of Soeharto) when we dreamed of a “new” Indonesia. We decided to follow a Western-inspired political system called democracy and we promised not to change our sacred ideology of Pancasila, an Indonesian version of basically a secular state. But after a decade of painstaking effort, we find there is not much difference.

Three common enemies – corruption, collusion, and nepotism – are still apparent.

If this secular-democratic project continues to fail, then the door will soon open for an alternative we may not expect: Islamic revivalism. Comparing with causes of Islamic revivalism in the 1970s, I can identify three already available causes:

First, we are occupied by a sense of failure to establish a trustworthy legal system.

Second, for some, the failure is simply because it is not Islamic law.

Third, an assumed success story of Islamic economy, particularly Islamic banking, in persuading non-Muslim Western countries to invest in Islamic economics.

History, for Mark Twain, does not repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes (M.C. Ricklefs, 2007). What happened in the Middle East in 1970 – an Islamic revivalism that gave birth to the Iranian Revolution – may not be repeated here. But a similar “revolution” can begin due to our failure to keep the rule of law enforced.

The writer is a lecturer at
Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic
University, Yogyakarta.

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