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Jakarta Post

Religious without religion

  • Muhammad As’ad

    The Jakarta Post

Jombang, East Java   /   Fri, December 27, 2013   /  11:20 am

To be a religious believer we have to follow certain strict rules which cannot be violated. For instance as Muslims we believe that Allah is the only God and the Prophet Muhammad is His messenger; we must regularly observe the five daily prayers (shalat), pay zakat (alms), fast (saum) during the month of Ramadhan, and perform the haj (pilgrimage) at least once in a lifetime '€” all these are the five pillars of Islam. As Muslims we cannot evade those five pillars except for some specific exceptions.

Another important step is to make religion a part of our life. The number of Muslims in this country is remarkable. How can we say that we are not religious?

However, Transparency International'€™s 2012 Corruption Perception Index showed that Indonesia was ranked 118 out of 176 countries; worse than in 2011 when Indonesia was ranked 100. The Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) even issued an edict in 2000, stating that bribery, corruption and gratification is forbidden.

Nonetheless, these rules fail to deter corruption. For instance, the treasurer of MUI, Chairunnisa, who is also a lawmaker of the Golkar party, was arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) along with the former Constitutional Court chief Akil Mochtar. We probably have religious piety but we certainly do not have social piety.

In terms of religiosity, we are quite remarkable. We can see many Indonesian people celebrating religious activities, rituals and commemorations. Nevertheless, this religiosity does not seem to influence our life.

Recently I was invited by the Japan Foundation to an intellectual exchange program. Japan resembles a nation that religious people might think and imagine as a religious country. Everything is well ordered, the streets are clean even in a rural area like Fudai, a village in Iwate prefecture where I visited. We could say that the Japanese people are very religious, through their adherence to a moral code of conduct in daily life.

However the World Values Survey in 2010 showed most Japanese think religion is not important. Only 9.9 percent said that religion was very important. Interestingly, this proportion is decreasing over time.

Apparently religious rituals are not an important factor in determining the good progress of a country particularly in the Japanese case.

In comparison one could refer to an article published in the Berkeley-based Global Economy Journal in 2010, on '€œHow Islamic are Islamic countries?'€ It measured the degree of Islam in some countries especially in the field of economy, education, corruption, financial systems and human rights.

Interestingly, most Islamic countries including Indonesia ranked low. Most of the high ranks were occupied by non Muslim countries; New Zealand came first, followed by Luxembourg. This fact once again shows that many developed countries are already religious even though some of them claim to be non-religious countries.

I am not saying that we have to copy most of those countries, leaving behind our religious rituals and focusing on social piety. We can do better than those who think that religion is not important.

We have to implement our religious values so that they are embedded in everyday life, by helping to stop corruption, for instance, or not lying to ourselves. By applying our religion we can contribute to making our country better.

The writer is the director of the Pesantren Tebuireng Social Fund (LSPT) and a participant in the 2013 Invitation Program for Young Muslim Intellectuals in Southeast Asia.