The Jakarta Post
'Prophet Muhammad averred that the best religion before Allah is al-hanifiya al-samha, the essence of truth that is appeasing and inclusive.' (@fileCaknur, A-C, no.2)
Certainly, not every Muslim in Indonesia would accept and agree with what Nurcholish 'Cak Nur' Madjid (1939-2005) did or said, especially with his endeavor to renew the way Muslims understood their religion, i.e. in order to ensure their being good citizens of the world.
Indonesian Muslims, according to the prolific Muslim leader, contain within themselves three components, i.e. Islam as their religion, Indonesia as their country, and modernity as the inevitability of living in the current times.
All of them blend to represent individuals with a certain religious identity and nationality, yet with capabilities to live side by side together in a civilized way with people of different religious identities and nationalities.
To speak substantially, what Cak Nur proposed was actually the continuation of what his predecessors had done. In the 1940-1960s, for example, Muslim leaders ' especially those involved in the moderate Islamic party, Masyumi ' had been talking about what would be ideal for Indonesian Muslims following their independence from colonialism and the challenges of modernity.
First, in terms of state, none of them chose a monarchy as in Saudi Arabia or its neighbors or any other form of authoritarianism. Some of them, certainly, talked about a caliphate, the theocratic office and realm of the caliph as the supreme leader of the Muslim community and the successor to the Prophet Muhammad.
Yet, with their well-educated backgrounds, both in Western-Dutch traditions and traditional disciplines, and experience of being 'the oppressed' under colonialism, democracy became the best choice.
Besides, based on their reading of Islamic teaching and history, the caliphate and other concepts of the state available in the Islamic world would never be better than democracy, especially in culturally diverse Indonesia.
At this stage, Masyumi then became a political pillar of the newly established country with its ideals, political ethics and dreams for Muslims. These political ethics, they believed, to the greatest extent could be extracted from Islamic teachings.
Yet, we know, Cak Nur moved further with the notion 'Islam, Yes; Islamic Parties, No'.
Second, with their being both Muslims and Indonesians, what they had to do was to substantiate their personal lives with values which might be universal and occasionally unique to Islam. To make the substantiation possible, Cak Nur and his predecessors suggested ijtihad, any endeavor to better understand (or re-understand) religious teachings related to personal and public lives.
Here, we then come to the notion hanifiyya al-samha, that Islam should be the source of truth that makes Muslims appeasing and inclusive. Muslims should not threaten people of other religions, while among themselves, different understandings and practices ' as long as they do not compromise public life ' must be taken as a gift from God.
Reading Cak Nur's thinking carefully, which has now been popularized into tweets by his disciples in a collection called @fileCaknur (2013), we next come to the fact that Islamic ethics or religiosity and how Muslims should behave socially are of great concern. In a tweet we read, 'Muslims should realize that for their own wellbeing in the world and after, they have to entrust themselves to God Almighty and do good deeds for their fellow men.'
With his brilliant and universally accepted thoughts, we can see that his 'followers', if we can put it that way, not only those of modern or liberal tendencies but also more traditional Muslims, are actually all moderate and mainstream Muslims.
As criticism of what he said we might well quote what Ahmad Syafii Maarif, one of his colleagues, writes, 'I've never personally doubted Nurcholish's honesty in bringing up his ideas. What must be carefully considered is their impact on the grassroots Muslims, because they actually are the majority. Muslims are still shackled in the established traditions of the past ['¦]. One of our problems is therefore how to wisely develop ways to disseminate Islamic strategic aspirations for the nation with better quality of justice, morality and intelligence.'
In the end, what Cak Nur achieved, especially the controversies regarding various terms that he used in expressing his thoughts among traditional Muslims ' such as secularization, pluralism or modernization ' was twofold.
First, for his open-minded followers, his thoughts have provided them with real guidance as Indonesian Muslims living in modern times. They may substantiate themselves and their surroundings more through meaningful religiosity rather than symbolic but empty religious practices.
Second, he sparked controversy, which to certain established traditional Muslim leaders was taken as a threat to their understanding or even social or political status. However, to make progress we always need thoughts and movements that demand change or even force a juncture. It depends on us, then, whether to take Cak Nur as a hero or merely as the protector of reform.
The writer is a researcher at Paramadina Foundation, Jakarta.
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