Nostra Aetate Fellow ‘16 at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome
This is a disclaimer. If you are looking to find any justification to equate the calls to end Perda Ramadhan, the regional bylaw enforced to maintain solemnity during the fasting month, to an Islamophobic act, you can stop reading now.
Far from associating the calls to end Perda Ramadhan as Islamophobia, I argue that the so-called Perda Ramadhan shares the same ideological platform with several Islamophobic socio-political discourses in Europe and the US.
Furthermore, I also argue that such double standards and hypocrisy showed by some elements of Indonesia’s Muslim community regarding the Perda Ramadhan issue is rooted in a toxic victimology that justifies inflicting pain on others in order to alleviate a perceived pain being suffered.
I was not surprised to read that the blind support for Perda Ramadhan was coming from certain Muslim elements in the country. What surprised me was the rhetoric used by important officials like the Indonesian Ulema Council head Ma’ruf Amin and Serang Mayor Tubagus Haerul Jaman to defend practices of “food-seller raids” during the Islamic fasting month.
They said Perda Ramadhan was a manifestation of “local aspirations” and “social norms” that demands people, regardless of their religious beliefs and professions, to not sell food and beverages in the daytime during Ramadhan.
Thus, more than just a local bylaw, Perda Ramadhan is perceived as an arbitrary standard of good citizenship in one locality. In other words, to not sell any food and beverages during the daytime of Ramadhan is not only a legal obligation but also a moral one.
The framing of intrusive laws as a reflection of social norms specific to certain communities can also be found in cases in Western countries, such as the ruling that obliges students in northern Switzerland to shake their teachers’ hands after two Muslim students refused to shake their teacher’s hands because of their religious belief.
The same principle of communal particularism is also behind the anti-immigrant discourse advocated by the right wing Alternative for Germany Party (AfD), who describes Islam as being incompatible with the German constitution.
Last but not least, the infamous Donald Trump has been using the same rhetoric of right-wing populism to justify his Islamophobic, xenophobic and homophobic stances.
Funnily enough, in order to advocate for our Muslim brothers and sisters in Europe and America, we in Indonesia would use the argument of religious and cultural pluralism while consistently insisting on the compatibility of Islamic values and democracy.
In case you have not seen the parallel: Ma’ruf Amin’s and Haerul Jaman’s rhetoric of Serang as a “special region” in which piety is equaled with not opening your food stalls during the daytime of Ramadhan, regardless if it affects your ability to provide for your family is essentially the same rhetoric used by European and American extreme right-wing groups and personas when they say Europe or America is a “special region in which integration is equaled with throwing out your religio-cultural identity to readily internalize a set of foreign religio-cultural conventions regardless of the consequences”.
In short, Ma’ruf Amin’s and Haerul Jaman’s rhetoric is exactly the same word-play used by Islamophobes in Europe and America.
It is a rhetoric that is being drawn to differentiate “us” versus “them” in order to strengthen the identity of the former by demonizing the latter.
The second important message from such rhetoric is that it comes out of a deep sense of victimization that places “us” as victims of never-ending threats from “them” (read: others).
In the context of Perda Ramadhan in Indonesia, the “victims” are those “devout Muslims” whose fasting needs to be protected from the “unruly Muslims and non-Muslims” who dare to sell or buy food and
beverages during the daytime of Ramadhan.
The fact is, with a population over 200 million, Indonesian Muslims are practically facing threats from no one. Take that number coupled with the strong political lobby from several Islamic parties and groups and it will be easy to see that Indonesian Muslims are dominating the socio-political and cultural dimensions of the country.
The danger of victimology is that it does not get you anywhere. It stagnates self-reflection, closes dialogue and drags you into an endless conflictual dynamic where you are busy blaming others for your own mistakes.
Widespread acceptance of conspiracy theories, such as the “Illuminati” or “the Jewish conspiracy” behind almost every single crisis in the country is testimony of the low-reflective capacity of some elements in Indonesia’s Muslim community.
Drawing a line between “us” and “them” and subscribing to narratives about one’s pure self is indeed temporally reassuring. But it is also just that, temporal.
There is no particularity that is not affected by other particularities. We all are unique in the sense that each of us is a diversity-accumulating entity driven toward our ever-changing selves.
Neither an Ulema Council head nor a mayor of a city can essentialize the meaning of being a good Muslim for the society of Serang – not to mention politicize the meaning, decode it into an intrusive law and use it to classify society into categories of “good Muslim” versus “bad Muslim”.
In addition, to play the victim all our life is to practically kill ourselves. We can shout all we want that the problem is not in the ways we understand piety and express our faith in daily life, but that will not make anything better. Problems persist unless we start to take responsibility.
Broadening and deepening our understanding of Ramadhan is imperative, and once we do that we will see just how obsolete Perda Ramadhan is.
The writer is a Nostra Aetate fellow 2016 at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome.
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