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In this year’s run-up to Indonesian Independence Day on Aug. 17, I noticed not just the usual proliferation of red and white flags, but also red and white ketupat cases being offered at intersections by street vendors. What gives?
In case you didn’t know, ketupat are the ubiquitous rice cakes served at Idul Fitri celebrations. As Idul Fitri fell on Aug. 19 and 20 this year — right after Indonesia’s national celebration — street vendors sold little red and white ketupats to be hung from car rearview mirrors.
What a great way to combine religious and national sentiments! Our majority religion and our plural nation in one neat package!
Except, not everyone gets it. Rhoma Irama, for example, seemed to have been struggling with the pluralism that rests at the heart of our patchwork nation, when he made SARA (ethnicity, religion, race, intergroup affiliation) slurs against Jakarta gubernatorial candidate Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s running mate, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian.
Rhoma, of course, is the self-proclaimed “king of dangdut” (a genre of Indonesian pop music derived from Malay, Arabic and Hindustani music) who became religious after his haj pilgrimage to Mecca in 1975.
He gave up long hair, tight pants and shirtless performances on stage, and swapped his rock style of music for short hair, Muslim garb, more wives and a decidedly Islamic moral tone.
Rhoma claimed he was only citing the Koran when he said that Muslims should only vote for Muslim leaders, and wasn’t running down Ahok (see “Defiant Rhoma insists he did ‘what Allah has commanded’”, The Jakarta Post, Aug. 7). But a video provided to the Jakarta Election Supervisory Committee (Panwaslu) put the lie to his claim (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiYEc2z30mo). “If the capital of a Muslim country is led by a Christian, it would be an embarrassment”, Rhoma had quipped.
Had Rhoma been found guilty of a campaign violation, he could have been put in the slammer for up to six years. Amazingly, the Panwaslu accepted his explanation that his comments were made in the context of a religious sermon, and not as part of an electoral campaign. So that makes it alright?
The tension between allegiance to one’s faith and to the nation is a long-standing source of debate among Muslims.
Unlike other religions, Islamic beliefs cover economics, politics and governance. Conservative Muslims, therefore, sometimes see Islam and nationalism as polar opposites.
Muslim scholars like Sheik Imran Hosein and Abdur Raheem Green (a British convert) even claim that nationalism is akin to tribalism and is a form of shirk (idolatry or polytheism) — an unforgiveable crime. Hosein adds that nationalism is a Western agenda to divide the Muslim world into nation states and thus prevent Muslims from reviving the caliphate.
But not all Muslims agree. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who was in Indonesia recently, published a book in 2005 entitled What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right with America. He sees national pride as Islamically OK.
Imam Feisal is also known as the “Ground Zero Imam”, because of his initiative to build a community
center near the site of the 9/11 World Trade Center tragedy in lower Manhattan.
Like Rhoma now, Imam Feisal was in the spotlight two years ago, but for the opposite reason. If Rhoma’s message is divisive, Imam Feisal’s is inclusive.
And that got me thinking — why can’t what’s right with Indonesia be right with Islam as well? I thought of looking at the principles of Pancasila, Indonesia’s state philosophy, in the light of Islamic thinking.
The first principle, “Belief in one God” is an idea that Muslims can agree with.
The second principle, “A just and civilized humanity”, parallels the Islamic belief that human rights are conferred by God (even if humans often seem to forget this).
The third principle, “The unity of Indonesia”, embodies the notion of nationalism.
However, if we go back to Sukarno’s June 1, 1945 speech, which marked the birth of Pancasila, Sukarno quoted Gandhi: “I am a nationalist, but my nation is humanity”. Humanity is definitely something that Islam values.
The fourth principle, “Democracy guided by the inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations among representatives”.
This, of course, reflects the deeply Islamic notion that the ummat (Muslim community) should be led by shura or mutual consultation with representatives.
The fifth principle of Pancasila is “Social justice for all Indonesian people”. Justice is fundamental to Islam too. In fact, the Indonesian word for justice, adil, comes straight from the Arabic ‘adl.
So what’s Rhoma’s problem? Clearly, what’s good for Islam is good for Indonesia as well! In fact, one of my Muslim scholar friends cited a well-known teaching in Islam “Hubbul wathon minal Iman” — love of one’s nation is part of (Islamic) faith.
Yet another friend, the rector of an Islamic university, said that, “If the role of the nation is vital to protect its people, then my Islamic faith defends nationalism.”
So, Rhoma, our nation is as plural and diverse as the origins of the dangdut music you love — and that’s something every good Muslim should be proud of rather than try to drag down. How about that as the theme of your next sermon?
The writer (www.juliasuryakusuma.com) is the author of Jihad Julia.