Oleh: K.H. Abdurrahman Wahid
The development of Islam in Indonesia provides an interesting picture of a unique experience, one no less dramatic than the recent events in the Middle East–from Libya’s tinkering with government by militant People’s Associations to Saudi Arabia’s petroleum–supported state welfarism to Iran’s wilayate–fageeh (govemment by religious scholars). The Indonesian development is no less dramatic in its long-term impact on the future of Islam itself, although its silent dynamics have almost eluded the media so far. Less well covered by the media than those other developments–indeed, almost entirely ignored–events in Indonesia give us deeper insights into a world religion’s continuous dialogue with the process of modernization and, by extension, offer some universal elments of the responses of world religions to the disturbing effects of modernization.
This chapter does not attempt to deal with the substantive problems arising from the interaction between religion and the processes of development. It does not, for example, seek to examine the nature of the conflict between Islam and the structures of modern knowledge or value systems transmitted through development. The analysis initially assumes the validity of the religious experience and its overriding importance for societal changes in Indonesia; it proceeds on the premise that the religious vision of life and the goals of development will need to readjust to each other at a more meaningful level than at present. On these assumptions the chapter focuses on the institutional framework currently available for managing the relationship between religion and political authority and directing the religious responses to the processes of secularization that are taking place through development. The challenge to national policy is one of containing a vast heterogeneity of religious responses, ranging from inflexibly conservative positions to innovative and creative adaptations. Indonesia’s government must provide a framework of communication and tolerance among them that avoids explosive and irrational conflict and sets in motion a process of collective selection and discrimination that enables the creative forces to assume leadership and guide the transition. In this context, the Indonesian experience offers many significant lessons.
A striking phenomenon that differentiates Indonesia from other Muslim countries is that, although the other countries have religious offices at the ministerial and subministerial levels, the Ministry of Religious Affairs (Departemen Agama) in Indonesia becomes the crucial battleground for the diverse (and often mutually conflicting) politicoreligious aspirations of the governing circles and the opposition alike. Except in Egypt, religious offices in Muslim countries tend to assume the exclusive right to formulate and then implement religious policies, and thereby become instruments of state control over religious affairs. No genuine participation of nongovernmental organizations is sought; neither are these offices accountable to anyone outside the government. Even the exception to that situation, namely Egypt, does not provide any means of articulating the needs and aspirations of those outside the governing circies. Although Al-Azhar, the universally venerated body of Muslim religious scholars (ulamas), is headed by a grand scholar (with the title of Shaikh Al-Azhar) with an office outside the governmental structure, the administrative jurisdiction over him and Al-Azhar itself comes under the authority of a state minister. Budget allocations and administrative appointments are made by him, not by the grand scholar. Consequently. Only those scholars with the “right” understanding of the government’s intentions have the opportunity to be appointed to that post.
Dilemmas of the Mediating Role
The Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs has changed greatly in its relationship to the political structure of power and in its role in society. During the first phase after its establishment in 1945, it developed into the forum in which members of the opposition could express their politicoreligious aspirations. Although the president’s appointed the minister of religious affairs, the person selected was not necessarily a spokesman for the government or an executor of governmental or presidential policies. The president had to be someone who was acceptable to the different Islamic movements in the country. Furthermore, because of the active participation of various mass-based religious organizations, the ministry could not afford to be a mere mouthpiece of the government. It had to be able to interact positively with these different groups and to be sufficiently independent of government to be credible in its role.
In this complex situation the ministry is called on to play different and even conflicting roles in a wide range of activities. The ministry promotes religious education through an extensive network of nongov ernmental educational institutions, a network about one-fifth as large as the entire national system of education. At the same time, the ministry is required to ensure that the nongovernmental system conforms broadly to the state system of education, with its entirely different aims and objectives. Likewise, although the ministry has to facilitate the integration of existing religious laws into the developing national legal system, it often has to act in a way detrimental to that task by responding sympathetically to the existing religious organizations’ desire to preserve the integrity of these religious laws in anticipation of their full implementation in the future.
The ministry therefore must steer its way through the conflicting expectations about its role held by the various actors in the politicoreligious arena. Meanwhile, other developments that take place outside its jurisdiction further compound its problems. Various other ministries and subdepartments, pursuing their own programs and objectives, formulate policies that have implications for religious issues and that are often inconsistent with the main policies followed by the religious ministry. These initiatives invariably lead to hostile reactions from powerful nongovernmental organizations, with the Ministry of Religious Affairs caught in the cross fire of contending groups. In the effort to find a middle ground between opposing forces, the ministry is pushed into a mediating role that renders it ineffective. It tends to avoid initiatives of a creative nature and lacks a sense of constructive purpose. Instead, it devotes itself to formulating and implementing routine programs, thereby losing its capacity to respond to the genuine religious needs of the people.
The present situation poses a serious dilemma to both policymakers and the major organizations concerned with religious life in Indonesian society. The present institutional framework of the Ministry of Religious Affairs provides little scope for evolving dynamic, creative policies that can resolve the conflicts between religion and modernization. There is grave danger that, continued in its present form, it will stifle any genuine creative forces that emerge. On the other hand, the alternatives to the existing institutions raise a different set of problems, which can arise if the mediating role of the Ministry of Religious Affairs is removed from the scene entirely. Such a situation could lead to a heightening of conflicts between opposing factions and a deepening of the cleavage in the country’s religious life. Therefore, the effort to create an overarching framework that contains conflicts and provides for constructive interaction that can enrich the spiritual life of Indonesian society presents a crucial challenge.
To understand fully the origins and nature of this dilemma, it is necessary to examine the various efforts made to provide solutions that were fair and equitable to all parties with an active interest in the relevant issues. Within this context we should also examine the role played by a small group of young intellectuals seeking more viable and satisfying alternatives. Such an exercise requires a broad analysis of the main trends in religious thinking among the Muslims in Indonesia throughout its modern history and an identification of the crucial problems faced by Islam in contemporary Indonesian society. Such a survey also needs to define the role of the dynamic indigenous Islamic institutions that lie outside the modernized segment of Indonesian life, and their potential for regenerating and reorienting Indonesian religious consciousness.
The dynamics of interreligious relationships spring from the fact that Islam has not yet clarified its basic objectives in Indonesia–whether to pursue a legal-formalistic attitude toward life with its exclusive and sectarian orientation, or to open itself to a more cosmopolitan world view with tolerance toward other religious experiences and a readiness to gain new insights for developing itself. The approach to religious laws provides a reliable means of identifying the basic objectives pursued by Indonesian Muslims. Should past laws be accepted and implemented literally by being imposed superficially on the population at large, or should new methods of religious interpretation be pursued diligently? Should the religious approach to life be scriptural-implying a strict adherence to scripture–or more accommodating to the real situations of human life?
The legal-formalistic attitude, with its scriptural approach to life, demands a monocultural environment for its religious expression, with rigorous conformity to the prescribed life pattern and no room for any deviation. Such an approach is not consonant with the cultural plurality that is one of the salient historical characteristics of Indonesian life. It leads to a fortress mentality among minority groups–whether Islamic or non-Islamic, whether religious in nature or not–and creates socially disruptive conditions that foment deep mistrust and suspicion between Islamic and other communities.
Efforts to overcome this deplorable situation through the reformulation of Islam’s attitude toward life in general–a profoundly agonizing task presenting extremely hard choices from a very limited list of options–provide another perspective of the grave problems facing Islam in Indonesia today. The intensification of these problems itself creates the conditions that stimulate the Islamic intellectual community to new efforts to discover the appropriate answers and make the adequate . It is the impetus needed to develop a creative process in which the positive legacy of the past is used to rediscover the essence of religious experience in its totality, which goes beyond the legal-formalistic framework and monocultural approach to life.
The Dialogue between Religion and the Centers of
Power: a Historical Overview
The origins of Islam in Indonesia can be traced far back, but the spread of Islam as a major religion of the region took place only from the thirteenth century A.D., according to available historical accounts and archaeological evidence. The interinsular trade that became the means of propagating Islam concealed the profound fact that Islam actually came to Indonesia in the context of Sufi movements. In this first phase the Muslims organized their efforts to proselytize the Indonesian population by establishing, propagating, and maintaining Sufi orders throughout the Archipelago.
Until recently Islamic studies presented Sufism as an institution that stood in diametrical opposition to Islamic law (Shari’ah). This distortion of historical reality has contributed to the erroneous view that the Islamic institutions in the Arabian peninsula were the direct source and inspiration of Islam in Indonesia. The existence of Sufi-leaning kingdoms in the northern part of Sumatra since the thirteenth century does not substantiate this view. It is more probable that the early Sufi kingdoms adopted their religious practices from regions such as present-day Bangladesh, rather than from Arabia proper.
The dialogue between coastal Islamic communities and the non-Is- lamic hinterland kingdoms of Java and Sumatra showed that a long and protracted chain of spiritual warfare took place between the mainly Sufi culture and the indigenous spiritualism deeply rooted in pre-Hindu and the subsequent Hindu-Buddhist religious beliefs of those hinterland kingdoms. That dialogue ended in bloodbaths during different periods, such as when the Kartasura (Central Java) ruler Amangkurat slaughtered more than six thousand of the Muslim religious scholars in his kingdom, as well as the sixteen-year war between adherents of the Shari’ah and the followers of indigenous common laws in West Sumatra during the first half of the nineteenth century.
The dialogue Islam had with centers of power throughout its history in Indonesia reveals three main types of interaction. The first type, developed first by the Acehnese at the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, shows Islam as the polity that established unified kingdoms out of a plurality of smaller communities. In this type of relationship between Islam and the state, reality as defined by religious concepts is accepted formally as the doctrine of the state. With later developments, however, when political authorities and holders of state power became incapable of maintaining the purity of religious doctrine and upholding the religious norms, and failed to resist the penetration of foreign political power and the concomitant expansion of alien culture, the function of defending the teachings of Islam as formalized in the state doctrines was taken over by the religious scholars, both intellectually and institutionally. Subsequent military defeats suffered by the Indonesian rulers could not dislodge the fact that the view of governance held by the scholars had become accepted by the people. The former rulers lost their rights to reestablish their rules, since they were so thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the scholars by their collaboration with the enemy–so much so that it was impossible to bring about a genuine reconciliation between the two groups that could be regarded as the elite and the counterelite.
The second type of relationship between Islam and the state could be found in the case of West Sumatra. The absence of a strong central government in that area in the past created an environment in which the Muslims were able to develop their ideology, adapting and adhering to the existing indigenous beliefs and faith, and unchecked by any formal establishment. The sixteen-year-long Paderi (Priests’) War demonstrated the capability of the religious scholars to challenge the authority of the indigenous pre-Islamic common law. The fact that the Dutch colonial government championed the common law and finally defeated these religious scholars militarily did not alter the fact that ultimately these scholars achieved what they had sought: the redefinition of feality in a fundamental manner. That common law is based on religious law, and that the latter is based on the Qur’an is the guiding principle accepted formally for the whole community ever since.
The third type of interaction between Islam and state power is symbolized by the Javanese case. Islam came to the island when the Hindu- Buddhist tradition began to disintegrate. Although Islam contributed greatly to the final demise of the last East Javanese Hindu-Buddhist kingdom of Majapahit, it failed to replace that kingdom with a new central-hinterland power that was Islamic in nature. Instead, Islam contented itself with establishing small coastal kingdoms, whereas the Hindu-Buddhist tradition was left intact to become the nucleus of a future strong central power (kraton). With the emergence of a powerful kingdom in Central Java, not yet fully Islamic, which replaced the kingdom of Majapahit, a new interaction developed–a multikratonic relationship between the central power and peripheral kingdoms, analogous to a cluster of kratons in which the strong one had to keep the weaker ones always weak. The religious establishment in the form of those peripheral kingdoms (and later the religious scholars) emerged as the rivals contending for power with the ruling centers. An uneasy interaction developed and has continued between the two ever since.
Along with this type of relationship that grew in seventeenth-century Java, however, there were other developments, particularly in the modern period after independence. Religious scholars of other islands, especially from Minangkabau in West Sumatra and Aceh, who derived their own realities from their respective situations in the past, gave expression to different aspirations. Deriving those aspirations from historical situations in which the religious establishment played a more central role in the state and the structure of power, they found it hard until the last decade to get used to the idea of a peripheral relationship for Islam vis-à-vis the state. With the demise of the widely dispersed Islamic political party Masjumi in the last quarter of the 1950-1960 decade at the hand of the Sukarno government, as expressed by the national orientation of Javaconcentrated Islamic movements such as the Nahdatul Ulama (Awakàening of the Religious Scholars) and Muhammadiyah, the more centrally functioning relationship between Islam and the state in the past periods of Aceh and West Sumatra became a local pattern, to be tolerated or not according to the wishes of the central government in Jakarta.
A surprising interaction did take place as a result of the dialogue between the peripheral and central variants–for example, the Javanese variant of the heretical branch of Islamic mystical movement, the Wahdaniyah. This “Javanese belief” (kejawen), in which full communion of a worshipper with his God is stressed in the most expressive form–the anthropomorphic doctrine of manunggaling kawula lan Gusti (“full union between the and his lord”)–is prevalent in the Javanese elite culture up to modern times and forms the basic aspiration of the formally acknowledged aliran kepercayaan (‘‘creed without religious affiliation”) now supported heavily by the government and looked on with misgivings and outright anger by the leadership of Islamic movements at large.
One integrative element in what was seemingly a divisive and conflict-ridden process was the adoption of the pre-Islamic institution of pesantren by the Sufi leaders for their mystical endeavors. (Pesantren, the place of the santri–-the learned ones in the scripture, derived from the word shastera–-is a residential educational institution–not necessarily school–where the students try to master religious sciences and the members of the outside community get their basic religious public instruction and personal religious guidance from the master, called kiyai. Now there are about 7,000 pesantren dispersed among Indonesia’s 65,000 villages, ranging from small compounds with only a few santris to those with more than 3,000 students schooled in different types of schools and courses, including nonreligious ones.) They transformed this institution into the place used for their collective religious rituals such as nyepi (literally, “isolating oneself”), which differs from the original Javanese concept of self-annihilation, as a temporal rejection of worldly life. Pesantren was transformed into the place for pursuing a more purified life and gaining a deeper understanding of the “secret of the righteous life according to Allah”. Individual instructions for attaining that secret (ma’rifah) in the form of personal guidance in rituals through different stages under a master (murshid), made up the main feature of life in pesantren for centuries, up to the time of the abrupt changes that followed the first onslaughts of the process of modernization.
Responses to the Process of Modernization
During the first half of the nineteenth century, the colonial administration introduced the beginning of a socioeconomic change so profound that it influenced irrevocably the history of Muslims in the Archipelago, then known as the Netherlands Indies by the colonialists and Nusantara by the natives. The abrupt change consisted first in the forced cultivation system (cultuurstelsel) to provide the mother country with practically unpaid crops of export commodities, and subsequently the outright exploitation of large tracts of land by the big plantations and sugar mills owned by private capital. This socioeconomic change resulted also in a profound change in the nature of adopted religious institutions such as pesantren. Capitalist exploitation of the economy resulted in the emergence of active rich farmers in Java’s rural areas and a cluster of dynamic groups of native entrepreneurs in the towns.
With the improvements in communication, the newly emerging well- to-do class of farmers and urban entrepreneurs established links with the Middle East. They began to send their sons to institutions in the Middle Eastern countries to be educated. There was a growing consciousness of the need to reformulate and redefine the functions of the prevailing religious institutions and approaches. The nouveaux riches were not satisfied with the ritualistic approach of the Indonesian Sufist institutions The reformist ideas that were gaining ground in the religious states of the Middle East offered some basis for a reorientation of the religious establishment in Indonesia. The new elite consequently gave a new socioreligious thrust that put the main emphasis on developing a legalistic approach. The central concern became the interpretation, application, and adaptation of religious laws in relation to the needs of contemporary society. Figh, the discipline of religious law, became the main vehicle for the propagation of Islam. The formulation of religious laws came to be regarded as an important part of the religious scholars’ functions, both socially and individually.
The very fact that this kind of legalism proceeded directly to “purify” Sufism of alleged un-Islamic excesses, and thereby made it dependent on the Shari’ah jurists (or juriconsults, according to the late J Schacht) for legitimacy, proved beyond doubt that a fundamental shift both in ideology and power occurred in the second part of the nineteenth century. Accepted religious disciplines, known as the fourteen religious sciences, as formulated by the renowned sixteenth-century Egyptian Qur’anic exegesist Al-Sayuti in his Itmam Al–Dirayah, were adopted as the main curricula for pesantren from that time. In this way, Indonesian Muslims relied mainly on a form of adaptive legalism to face the chal- lenge of modernization. One of the main functions of pesantren since the end of the last century has been to provide public forums in which religious scholars could instruct the general population in the detailed implementation of adaptive legalism-legalism that, while maintaining Islamic principles, also implied a gradual framework for change through religious laws
Far from isolating themselves from the changes taking place outside their pesantrens, those religious scholars responded to modernization by formulating a new set of legal decisions reflecting a close interaction between the legacy of the past, as prescribed in the old law books, and the ever changing situation in real life. Legal maxims, legal theories, and legal philosophies of the past were used to discover and formulate answers to questions posed by the community concerning injunctions for or against practices prevalent among the population. The legal maxims (qawa’id al fiqh) constitute practical guidance on how to make decisions in particular cases-for example, the popular maxims that whatever is unattainable in full should not be rejected entirely, that local customs should provide a basis for a legal decision, and that prevention of destructive action is given priority over performing good deeds. Legal theories (usul al–figh) as formulated since the ninth century A.D. provide the complete set of rules on how to treat Qur’anic sayings and the Prophet’s traditions (hadiths) and apply them to real cases found in everyday life. Although not entirely accommodating to human needs, those theories do provide a good balance between literal adherence to the scripture and human reasoning. The legal philosophy (hikmah al–tashri’) of the last two centuries examines ways of relating religious laws to the development of sciences in various fields. Thus ablution, as the ritual required for praying, is explained in the context of health practices; fasting (sawm) is explained in a dietary context. Often shallow in spiritual content and meaningless scientifically, those explanations nevertheless provide a viable framework relating religious laws to actual conditions of life.
This approach, however has a serious drawback that renders it in- capable of coping fully with the challenge of modernization. The drawback lies in the laws’ complete lack of any societal framework needed to formulate an adequate response to the processes of change and the problems of life as manifested through these processes. Those laws remain casuistic in nature, relevant only to individual cases without clarifying the fundamental aspects of life besieged by the process of modemization, such as the relation between transcendental faith and empirical scientific reasoning. The laws that were intended to be the appropriate response to the challenge of modernization-a response that necessitates their adaptability to changing situations-become routinized and ossified into rigid rules with no capacity to adapt sensitively to human aspirations. What was a dynamic tool to remold society becomes a mass of formulas for the denial of creativity. A revitalizing process becomes an inert tradition, and the resulting adaptive legalism is transformed into legal traditionalism.
The Puritan Reaction
While the traditionalists were busy elaborating their casuistic laws, another development followed soon after. The inability of the traditionalists to provide a societal framework that could adequately respond to the challenge of modernization led to a reverse movement that campaigned in its fullest sense. According to this approach, Islam had to be purified from all aspects alien to its original character and purpose as a liberating religion for mankind as a whole. It had to be returned to its primary sources: the Qur’an and the Prophet’s traditions. Human intervention, whether in the form of independent interpretative methods or some other form, had to be rejected for its deviationistic effects on Islam. Putting Islam on the right path meant a return to the original mission: to relive the golden age of the Prophet and his companions.
The simplicity of the faith should constitute the strength needed to face the onslaughts of modernization. The explicit injunction to use one’s reasoning faculties should form the basic attitude toward the development of scientific knowledge. The injunctions for equality should be translated into egalitarian economic structures. The direct return to the fountainhead of religion would also diminish the dominant role of the religious scholars in religious life. Innovation (ijtihad) symbolizes the direct relation between Allah and His worshipper, regardless of the degrees of the person’s religious knowledge.
The liberation from religious traditionalism means the elaboration of a new societal framework and structure that could translate the basic norms into social reality in the life of the Muslims. Stress on economic undertakings, pursuit of nonreligious sciences, and establishment of health services for the public, combined with charitable works for orphans, old people, and the disabled, made up the main elements in the way of life advocated by the puritanical movements such as Muhammadiyah and Persis (Persatuan Islam or Islamic Unity). The first of these is now the largest of the movements, having originated in West Sumatra and currently headquartered in the central Javanese town of Yogyakarta. With a chain of thousands of schools and hundreds of health clinics, Muhammadiyah has left its imprint on the modern history of Indonesia. Persis, a more locally situated movement and more narrowly oriented in its social perspectives than Muhammadiyah, now takes a somewhat more militant viewpoint in religious questions. Other movements of similar persuasion. Such as the organization of Indonesians of Arabic extraction, Al-Irshad, have developed lesser variants of this basic puritanical strain.
The call for a more simplified religious belief combined with the stress on developing a modernistic societal framework should work ideally as the logical response to the challenge of modernization. The actual experience, however, shows that this is far from the reality. It is true that the societal framework developed so far has been able to sustain social activities quite extensive in range and scale, but difficulties abound when trying to adapt this framework to respond to the main challenges of modernization. The charitable character of their works fails to take into account the structural nature of poverty. It is true that the strong emphasis these movements place on educational programs has aided the establishment of both religious and modern secular schools throughout the country and has facilitated the emergence of Muslim scientists and scholars in practically all disciplines. From this, however, it would not be correct to conclude that the movements have been successful in reconciling religious ideology with modern knowledge. The attitude toward the modern empirical sciences is still ambivalent in that the approaches developed so far are apologetic in describing the relationship between Islam and modern science. As a result, a spurious reconciliation between the two emerges in the most unfortunate form: whatever is good about the various sciences is claimed to originate in Islam (or, at least, anticipated and corroborated by this religion), whereas the undesired aspects of the same sciences are blamed on the “Western materialistic and secular civilization” that produces them.
The failure of the puritanical movements to develop a viable response to the challenge of modernization originates in their insistence on purification. Such a demand stipulates the total acceptance of the Scripture and a noninterpretive adherence to it. What emerges is a literal approach to the understanding of religious teachings: strict Scripturalism becomes unavoidable. Although the pursuit of knowledge and egalitarian goals, a readiness to concretize the religious consciousness into a corresponding societal framework, and the liberation of individuals from the domination of religious scholars are the main pillars of modernistic puritanism in Islam, strict Scripturalism obstructs any significant new approaches to religious beliefs and, consequently, new ideological adaptations.
The transcendental concerns of these puritanical movements, despite their ostensible dynamism and modern orientation, lose their relevance in the face of the growing consciousness of the need for a humanism significantly different from the one developed so far by the traditional ideologies. The inability of the Islamic puritanical movements to put the whole religious experience in a sociohistorical perspective is exposed glaringly in their pet slogan of presenting the zakat (almsgiving) injunction as Islam’s basic concern for social justice. Although they understand zakat’s role as a redistributive tool to secure the basic needs of the poor, they remain unable to relate its nature to the social origins of poverty: the exploitative social structures that grow from a lack of any limit on individual property.
Although the Iranian revolution provides an opportunity to observe how a just society can be developed from a middle position that corresponds neither to the accepted capitalist model nor to the socialist one, the theoretical underpinnings of the undertaking are still shaky and seem somewhat artificial. How to transform the ideal frameworks developed so far into constitutional and societal ones remains a hard question to answer. Even if we grant that the Iranian revolution is committed to positive social goals-by accepting at face value the countervailing force it creates against the repressive nature of a Westernised type of modernization-Islamic puritanism still must find satisfying answers to the fact that many puritan Muslims collaborate with oppressive regimes in the Muslim countries to suppress the genuine aspirations of the people. The ideological contradictions in such situations are blatantly illustrated by the attitude of Pakistani Muslim purists toward the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They have argued that the execution was feasible according to Islamic constitutional laws but at the same time are eager to claim that one of the basic political convictions of Islam is democracy.
The literal implementation of Qur’anic and Prophetic injunctions in the form in which they were elaborated in their original historical context and without modification by new humanitarian perceptions of the dignity of the human being as an individual has bizarre consequences. It leads to atrocities by law, such as cutting off the hands of thieves, stoning to death those guilty of adultery, or publicly beheading criminals sentenced to death. The same attitude continues to place woman in a position subordinate to man, at least in practice. At best, the Islamic puritanical approach provides only a partial reinterpretation of Qur’anic verses and the Prophet’s traditions. Although it denounces slavery as un-Islamic according to the principle of the gradual approach of Islam to the aboliltion of slavery, based on the equality of human beings as explicitly upheld by the Qur’an and the Prophet’s traditions, it fails to adopt a similar approach to the issue of a man having more than one wife. On this matter it merely prescribes moral injunctions to limit oneself voluntarily to one wife, but it does not give legal decisions at all. The same thing applies to the question of population control. Many eminent socalled modernist puritans reject the idea of family planning and see it as a plot to decrease the number of Muslims, even part of an alleged Christianization scheme.
Their views on inequality are equally superficial, since they do not go to the root of the matter, but merely accuse both capitalism and Marxism of being unable to eliminate inequality. These Muslims, however, purists themselves, are unable to provide more effective alternatives in terms of their own ideology. Their demand for equality consists only of protection of Muslim members of the middle class against the increasing economic power of Chinese businessmen and those of Chinese descent. It is not strange, then, that their main complaints are usually against what they term cultural penetration from the West, with its ensuing tendencies toward moral decadence among Indonesian Muslims, especially youth. A refinement on this theme is the persistent accusation that modern scientists still deify the natural sciences.
The failure of such Muslim modernists, as they are called by U.S. social scientists on dubious grounds, to respond positively to the challenge of the modernization process can be seen by comparing their views with what actually takes place in Indonesia. Registered acceptors or participants in national family-planning programs are increasing dramatically. They are still unable to combat so-called indicators of moral decadence, despite their concentration on indoctrinating the nation against it. Members of the younger generation of practicing Muslims increasingly express their dismay over their limited options to move within the confines of ethnic, religious, economic, cultural, and political barriers. The empty promises to bring ultimate justice and true democracy merely bore them. The speed with which the young reading public snapped up the recently published memoirs of the late young religious rebel, Ahmad Wahib, with its denunciation of so-called modemist puritanism, shows the extent of disappointment with this self-proclaimed reformation.
Modern Islamic education in Indonesia reflects the dilemma that now faces Indonesian Muslims. In need of far-ranging and complete acquisition of modern technology, institutions of Islamic education among the modemist Muslims are beset by two equally irrelevant issues: How to balance religious instructions against nonreligious ones, and how to explain modern sciences in a Qur’anic context. The best minds in physics. Biology, medicine, chemistry, and astronomy are engaged in futile exercises that will give only shallow and short-lived relief. The modern Islamic education system, however, cannot afford to cut itself off from much needed natural scientists and experts despite their unconvincing endeavors. These endeavors at best succeed only in producing false or contrived explanations reconciling Islam with modern science and find expression in high-sounding terms such as “an Islamic framework of sciences.” They present their religion in such terms as “Islam as scientific discipline” instead of trying to develop a new universal framework that can overcome sectarian and exclusive tendencies.
Whereas the adaptive legalism of the traditionalist religious scholars develops into a rigid traditionalism that fails to respond satisfactorily to the problems of modernization, Islamic modernist puritanism tends to be vague and amorphous in its ideology, without any coherent direction. As a result, its carefully elaborated basic framework of rationalization is readily used to support exploitative social structures and repressive military regimes throughout the Islamic world on the one hand, and the agents of change in an oppositional role on the other.
The Proliferation of Dissident Groups
It is not strange, then, that elements dissatisfied with that kind of puritanism, seeking to establish-as their own answer to the current splinter groups-a neo-orthodoxy with various objectives, have grown up in Indonesia. This is largely a result of the inconclusive efforts at puritanical reformation over the last seven decades, which at best can be characterized as a period of arrested development. The splinter groups that have emerged have only one characteristic in common: each claims for itself the title rightful Muslims. Each group views all other Muslims outside its own community as infidels, which has further intensified the fortress mentality and produced various psychological defense mechanisms such as forms of messianism, which are often found in many of these movements. These traits are often condemned by both the established movements-the traditionalists and puritans-but these splinter groups have shown their viability by surviving against all odds (including government bans instigated by the established movements).
Divisive in nature, the splinter groups become a haven for talented people who feel strangled in their religious expression by either the legalism of the traditionalists or the Scripturalism of the puritans. In this sense, the real contribution of these neo-orthodox splinter groups, such as the Islam Jama’ah movement in East Java and the Istiqamah Group in West Java, just disbanded by the government, is the fact that they provide opportunity for the critique of the established traditionalism and Scripturalism and offer some kind of alternative. Thus they become the last resorts for many people who are otherwise ready to abandon Islam altogether.
This role is evident in the development of a new phenomenon in the life of Islam in Indonesia today-that is, the use of the splinter groups as political tools by competing factions within the ruling circles. Each political faction feels the need to be included in the Islamic community (ummah) but without being identified with either the traditionalists or the modernist puritans. Their shallow Islamic identification, labeled by one observer “sociocultural Muslim,” as opposed to the political (and fuller) one, makes it easier for these diverse political factions to patronize these splinter groups, albeit discreetly, so as not to antagonize the majority of the population. The splinter groups play one further important role: the countervailing function of containing the militant demands of the established movements for restrictive policies toward non-Muslims. By insisting on the necessity of consensus on the question of non-Muslims, the ruling circles can use these neo-orthodox splinter groups to stall the demands of the militants.
The emergence of short-lived splinter groups within the Islamic polity in Indonesia coincides also with another kind of neo-orthodoxy—the revival of Sufism. Although Sufi movements still have to seek legitimacy from Shari’ah juriconsults, religious scholars today exercise little control over them. The inability of the traditionalists to provide an appropriate response to the needs of development and modernization, as well as their inability to contain the puritanical movements and the neo-orthodox splinter groups, has given a new impetus to Sufi leaders to provide their own answers to the problems faced by Islam in Indonesia.
Sufism has a long tradition of absorbing outside influences into its unique spiritualism. By stressing the salvation of the individual worshipper through meditation, introspective personal piety, and other modes of inner reflection. Sufism has been able throughout its history to adapt its outer forms while retaining its total integrity. This absorptive capacity clearly attracts many people experiencing psychological strains in reconciling their needs in various contemporary life situations with their conventional religious morality and their formal faith. Sufism’s spiritual core, the universal sharing of personal experiences in search of Ultimate Truth, gives its adherents the strong sense of belonging that is so intensely needed by modern man. Self-identification with a large, active brotherhood certainly helps to overcome the sense of alienation that is prevalent in modern life. This explains why a revival of Sufism seems to be likely in Indonesia now, despite the long-recognized backward- looking orientation of Sufism. Visits to sacred tombs, frequent voluntary self-withdrawals (khalwat), the personal allegiance (bai’ah) to the masters, and similar features of a Sufi’s life in general constitute the orientation to the past so prevalent among Sufi movements.
The way Indonesian adherents of Sufism reconcile the conflicting demands of forward-looking modernization with the backward-looking orientation of its own tradition is a curious phenomenon in itself. Merchants, rich farmers, government employees, and other professionals are required by their respective professions to be dynamic and forward-looking in their life orientation. By observing pro forma outward manifestations of a backward-looking Sufi orientation, but still not allowing such an orientation to direct them in their occupations and their everyday life, they are able to retain the modem world view their professions demand. By visiting the sacred tombs and expressing openly their full allegiance to their masters, they can symbolically participate in Sufism while continuing to be the shrewd merchants, enterprising farmers, industrious employees they were before their conversion to Sufism. This kind of adaptation, though interesting, provides only a shallow understanding of the basic faith of Islam, which stresses the compatibility of the external secular life and the inner spiritual life of a Muslim. That is why Sufism still does not satisfy the religious scholars’ intellectual needs. Hence the old problem of mutual distrust and recrimination between non-Sufi scholars and Sufi leaders, especially the nonscholar ones.
The politicization of Sufi movements, as in the case of the neo- orthodox splinter groups, is also revealing. Besides using local Sufi groups as political clients to back up their authority, local government officials are often converted to Sufism for the same reason that they relate to the splinter groups: while finding a spiritual refuge from their anxieties, they can still retain their loyalty to the government. Although the past history of Sufism in Indonesia is replete with cases of such messianistic and millenarianistic movements emerging and again rapidly declining and disintegrating-as is illustrated by the more than four hundred local rebellions against the Dutch colonial administration during the nineteenth century in Java alone-the present nonconfrontational character of the Sufi movements makes it easier for the government officals to relate to them. When politicization does occur in these movements, the process often furthers the initiative of the government and is beneficial to government policy as a whole. By declaring them nonpolitical, it can at the same use them for its own political purposes and show its attitude of acceptance toward the Islamic movement at large without having to encourage movements that are more clearly opposed to its policies.
Hence the emergence of the unique response of the ordinary traditionalist Muslims in Indonesia now, of having a double loyalty-to their Sufi masters and to the Shari’ah religious scholars at the same time. The Sufi masters provide them with spiritual salvation, and the non–Sufi scholars provide the channel through which they can express political views that diverge from those of the government! One can be tempted by this kind of dual approach in religious life–salvation seeking together with the practical need to bend religious injunctions here and there–to see the beginnings of an unformulated secularization process. The constant need to reconcile competing drives–the loyalties to the things of the past and the need to calculate the imperatives of the worldly present–can also be interpreted as the pragmatic dialogue between religion and development. This type of problem solving, however, by evading the hard process of making conscious choices in all their spiritual implications–not just as haphazard compromises undertaken by these new Sufists–brings with it serious dangers of being marooned in a spiritual middle ground, unable to compete fully in worldly matters because of minimal adherence to certain religious teachings, but at the same time also unable to get the deep satisfaction and peace of mind expected from spiritual affiliation with the Sufi movement. In a sense, then, what is achieved is not any meaningful solution to the central problem of defining one’s identity in the modern context. In both the spiritual and secular sense.
Panchasila: The Primacy of Religion and the Modern State
This complex situation, which has witnessed the emergence of different types of responses to the process of modernization, is made even more complex by the issue of secularism, which has entered the scene in the last decade. Although Muslim intellectuals had been beset by the question of the separation of church and state since the establishment of formal Islamic organizations during the first three decades of this century, those organizations themselves did not feel an acute need to respond explicatly to the idea of a secular state until recent years. One reason was that those in favor of the idea never declared their ideology in clearly defined terms. They were satisfied merely to express a general need for a modern state viable for all sections of the society. Even when the need to decide the nature of the newly independent state arose in 1945, these nationalists- as distinguished from the Muslim ideologues-agreed to soft-pedal their secular aspirations by accepting a compromise with their Muslim counterparts in the form of the panchasila state philosophy, a set of five principles for guiding the life of the nation. The issue of a state philosophy, posed as a national problem for the religious scholars, was resolved in such a generalized way that eventually it came to be interpreted loosely in different ways for different purposes. The five silas or principles- namely, belief in one God, acceptance of humanitarianism, commitment to Indonesian nationality and social justice, and acceptance of people’s sovereignty through representatives-could provide the formulation for keeping Islam free from a direct relationship with the state, without ever saying so. As a result, the Islamic movements at that time perceived no unacceptable contradiction between the state philosophy and their own politicoreligious aspirations.
This state philosophy declares belief in one God to be one of its basic tenets, which means no antireligious aspirations are given the right to grow in Indonesia. Nontheocratic acceptance of religion in the life of the nation provides Indonesia with a model of reconciliation between leading nonreligious and religious values, to be preserved and managed through a delicate act of balancing. Panchasila caters to the fundamental yearnings of the Muslim majority for a clearly pronounced religious participation in politics. This acceptance of the religious role in the political life of the nation differentiates panchasila from the exclusive ideologies of that time. How to provide for a society’s religious aspirations by giving it a central role in the sharing of power, yet safeguard the system against the danger of a theocratic state, is the question panchasila seeks to answer.
Puritan Muslim intellectuals and traditionalist religious scholars challenged the state philosophy, not because they rejected it but because a crucial formula to maintain their political role in a leading position-namely, the phrase “with obligations to implement Islamic Law for adherents of Islam” -had been deleted from the preamble of the then prevailing version of the 1945 constitution. The Islamic challenge to promulgate the state philosophy and the constitution containing it resulted in a constitutional deadlock, which was overcome only by Sukano’s presidential decree to “return to the 1945 constitution” in July 1959. The dissolution of the constituent assembly and the elected parliament of 1955, together with the introduction of a guided democracy with fully or partially government-appointed legislative assemblies ever since-the present government’s rejection of that kind of so-called democracy not- withstanding-made it impossible for even law scholars to discuss the question of secularism openly. At the same time the lack of meaningful discussions on the merits and dangers of separating state power from religious authority made it impossible for the government to adopt a clear policy on this matter. The government has been forced to maintain the status quo of noncommitment to secularism ever since.
This stalemate induced various Islamic organizations to pronounce their own cultural views of rejecting the atheistic ideology of secularism, introduced by capitalist and socialist ideologies as something alien to the nature of the Indonesian people and contradictory to the teachings of Islam. Various developmental policies were, and still are, branded as secular in character by those religious circles and accordingly opposed vehemently by the Islamic mass media. Should the government try to defend a particular policy branded as secularistic in nature by those people, the pointing finger is unfailingly directed to “certain secularist elements within the government.” These recriminations against the secularists, which have continued for two decades, gathered such an intensity that President Suharto has been forced lately to declare that Indonesia is not a secular state and panchasila is not a secular ideology. One case proves this stalemate clearly. In 1973 the government tabled a marriage-act bill before the Parliament. It was perceived by religious scholars and nearly all sectors of Islamic movements as secular in nature. The opposition to it, including a temporary occupation of the plenary chamber of the Parliament, was so strong, that the government was forced to shelve the bill and adopt a more or less Islamic act instead- the one legally in force now.
From these accounts it is logical to compare the situation to the present one in Pakistan: the dismantling of Western laws and the promulgation of Islamic laws in their place. The tactics (and antics) of Islamic groups that oppose secularistic policies of the government, including such actions as walkouts from parliamentary voting sessions, clearly intimidate other sections of society to the extent that the latter are compelled to take a low profile for the time being. Further observation, however, reveals that dynamic forces are at work under this superficial conformity. It is here, beneath the surface, that the real developments take place. There was already partial adaptation to the thrust of modernization since colonial times, as is apparent from the responses of both traditionalist and puritan Muslims to the challenge of the Westernized school system. The modernist puritans adopted the Westernized school system in toto and developed a framework appropriate for that kind of undertaking. They were called Muslim modernists by Western historians and social scientists precisely because of this trait, and the name is applied to them even today, particularly when religious militants launch attacks against secularists. The traditionalists likewise developed an early response in the form of modifying their age-old religious systems, which evolved into the modified school system called the madrasah adopted by their pesantrens.
The Search for a Modernist Islamic Faith
This tradition, with its religious underpinnings, runs strongly in a steady- albeit nonverbal-manner. Sons and daughters of pious religious scholars gradually enter the modern world properly, either as graduates of modern and fully secularized universities or as professionals educated in specialized disciplines. True, there is a tendency toward militancy in an increasing number of modernized Muslims, but another important development has also occurred simultaneously. In the early 1970s a Muslim intellectual, formerly educated in the traditional pesantren way and subsequently graduated from the State Islamic University, called for a radical restructuring of the creed. Nurcholish Madjid spelled out the idea of secularization of nonsacral teachings of Islam developed throughout the ages. He argued that except for the essential beliefs constituting the central faith of Islam, all teachings should be reviewed to accommodate the ever changing human situation. He accepts the theologically acknowledged central position of man in the life of the universe (God creates man as His vice-regent on this earth and puts him in the best form of creation, so that he is able to pursue the righteous way of life beneficial to all other creatures and the universe as a whole) as the basis for his desacralization of the unsacral beliefs of Islam. This call, according to Madjid, is the way to secularize life without becoming secularist. Secularism and secularization of Islam are not identical, since in the very idea of secularization the basic adherence to Islam is still preserved. It is intended only to make Islam relevant to the contemporary world, not to abrogate its right to regulate human life.
A bitter backlash from the militant Muslim modernists followed Madjid’s exposition, and he was forced to moderate his position to accommodate views closer to the general trends of Islamic thought. He has been able so far to resist pressure to retreat entirely from his main ideas, and he has modified his approach only to the extent that he admits that secularization is a misnomer while still maintaining the basic concept connoted by the word. In doing so, he is able to deflect the attacks of powerful critics and continues to enjoy the confidence and intellectual respect of tens of thousands of young Muslim university graduates and professionals beset by the problem of reconciling their basic religious beliefs with the demands of the professional roles assigned to them in a society undergoing a process of modernization.
Madjid’s call to a modernistic Islamic faith is echoed in the responses of various groups of young intellectuals. A group of activists in rural development, for example, tries to formulate the framework of a movement to develop the traditional institution of pesantren as the base for the socioeconomic transformation of the rural areas. In this endeavour the group must develop its own viable religious ideology in the face of fatalism and the belief in predestined roles still prevalent among village religious communities. This type of effort to deal with problems of modemization in the name of Islam, as undertaken by different groups in various places, represents the diversified pattern of Islamic responses to the current situation in Indonesia.
The main point of contention between the puritan Muslim modernists and those who try to accommodate the demands of modernization lies in the methods of treating the very sources of Islam: the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet. For the puritan modernists, these two sources comprise the bulk of teachings to be implemented fully or partially in a literal way, whereas for the accommodating intellectuals, the Qur’anic verses and the traditions of the Prophet represent an ideological core, with the main function of providing an inspirational center for the responses Muslims must formulate in various individual or collective situations. In this approach, personalization of the different responses is inevitable, making a single pattern of religious thinking practically unattainable Conformity of thought is not a desirable end in itself, and the plurality of opinions and religious views becomes the natural expression of the search for the truth.
This flexible framework for developing religious views is, however, anathema to the militant so-called modernists. One possible reason for the increasing miluancy of their religious views, which express strong opposition to those government policies they deem secularistic, is a sense of being threatened by these loose, flexible methods of interpreting basic sources of Islamic faith. Hence the sigh of relief detected among them since Nurcholish Madjid has shown what they regard as a readiness to recant his mistakes. A comment on how these so-called heretics (a term of criticism in religious teachings employed by the majority of Muslims everywhere, since the traditions of the Prophet threaten such people with purgatorial punishments in the life hereafter) should pursue their aspirations is worthwhile here, although it falls outside the scope of this narration. These innovators cum reformers are expected to present their undertaking and reinterpretation not as a reformation, since such a presentation connotes that the literal interpretation of the Scripture is not adequate. Purification of religious teachings from un-Islamic elements- a process that took place over the past hundred years and has coalesced into the present ossified attitudes and militant tendencies-is proudly viewed by these so-called modernists as the one and only reformation (tajdid) needed to reinvigorate Islam. They regard further developments as merely heresies (bid’ah) that should be condemned categorically. Tactically, whatever the young intellectuals formulate should be presented as a continuation of the previous puritanical reformation, not as a departure from it.
The case of one young intellectual is noteworthy here. He works in the Ministry of Religious Affairs and for the past ten years was branded a deviationist for his tolerance toward the Ahmadiyah splinter group. A few years ago he argued that Islam should consider the sociohistorical context of the Prophetic traditions when formulating the framework needed to implement the Scripture. He brought up the question of the spirit of zakat (almsgiving to the poor) and inquired whether it should be kept in its present form of charitable deeds incorporated into the Islamic way of life. According to him, we should understand the historical background of this injunction. It was revealed to the Prophet during the time when the commercial activities of the Arabs in the market places were the main occupation of the ordinary people, and agriculture was the main field of work for the elite (the cost of claiming the arid lands and maintaining them agriculturally as viable production units was so high that only the elite could undertake agricultural enterprises). Consequently. Islam imposes zakat of between 5 and 10 percent of the harvests reaped as an egalitarian measure to redistribute wealth in a limited way in favor of the majority of the population, who are usually the poor traders. It was the rich agricultural elite, the minority in the community, who were taxed. This young intellectual questioned the continuance of this kind of imposition in a sociohistorical context that had changed entirely. Commerce is now concentrated in the hands of the few in Southeast Asia, and agriculture is dispersed among the poorest sections of the society- so much so that it is impossible to carry out the literal implementation of the zakat injunction without contradicting its previous egalitarian spirit.
To continue the imposition of a 10-percent zakat on the diminishing harvests of the poor, while letting the rich escape with only 2.5 percent of their yearly profits, constitutes a flagrant violation of the very sense of justice that Islam has nurtured from the beginning of its history. This restructuring of zakat naturally caused an uproar, not because the militants did not understand the basic issues involved, but because they were indignant at the call to discard the definite percentage already prescribed by the Prophet himself. When another young intellectual called for enlarging the zakat injunction to include professionals with their high incomes, as well as narrowing the application of the same injunction to a few types of farming jobs only, without changing a word from the Prophetic traditions, he was praised by the Islamic media as a resourceful intellectual worthy of the name reformer.
The basic contention of whether to follow a literal interpretation of the Qur’anic passages and Prophetic traditions relates to the attitude taken toward interpreting the Islamic heritage. According to the militants, the reigns of the Prophet and his subsequent first four Righteous Caliphs, regardless of their time span, represent a golden age to be emulated in its entirety-a period in which there was no separation of the power of the state from that of the religion. Islam has no church, but its laws should be the base of the state’s life.
Intellectuals more accommodating to the modernization process think differently. The past heritage of Islam, according to them, should be recast in an entirely new context. The development of human history. With its full impact on human society and the personality of the individual, imposes its own laws beside the laws formulated by Islam in the past. One of these impacts is the need to separate the power of religious establishments from that of the state. The subjective nature of Islamic judgment of events should be tempered by the objective nature of scientific findings. Only by giving concessions to such an extent can Islam redefine its own priorities, reformulate its world view, and restructure its teachings-a process needed to place Islam in the mainstream of human development. It is natural, then, that a group of young Muslim activists believing in tolerance to different ideologies as well as religious affiliations emerged a few years ago, under the banner of working for humanitarian causes.
The new group, involving a considerable number of people, is led by a young Muslim intellectual. It seeks ways to make amends for the traumatic experience of the communists in the second half of the 1960s at the hands of Islamic groups. More than half a million people died- most of them innocent-and more than a hundred thousand were detained for long periods. More than ten thousand of these detainees were still in jail when the young Muslim intellectuals’ institution was established. This institution began soliciting funds from society, mobilizing volunteers, and creating goodwill to secure the release of the remaining detainees, preparing their introduction into normal life after their release and helping them rehabilitate themselves on a self-reliant basis. In the process these active intellectuals find that an openness to attitudes that are different and even antagonistic to those they themselves hold is essential in enabling them to serve these unfortunate victims fully and satisfactorily. The nonconformist attitude of the detainees toward everything in the prevailing system, including religious beliefs held in high esteem by those helping them, is understood as the natural product of their own past ideology as well as the inhuman ordeal they had to undergo during their long detention period.
When extended to religious attitudes, this discipline of tolerance toward ideologies alien to Islamic teachings transforms itself into tolerance toward internal developments within Islam itself. Bold religious ideas and concepts began to get a hearing from these young intellectuals. Criticisms leveled against the religiou establishments, sunch as indictment of its indifference to the exploitation of Islam by existing unjust structures for their own purposes, began to be circulated to a limited extent in printed form. A group of young professionals even began to publish a mimeographed journal questioning the validity of established theological doctrines such as the doctrine of the orthodoxy about predetermination and free will (gadna and qadar), which forms one of the arkan al–iman (“six principles of faith”).
Much depends on the outcome of the dialogue between these contending schools of thought. The ideological consensus that will emerge as the agreed societal solutions to the central problems now faced by Islam will be crucial for the future of Indonesian society, since it will constitute the meeting ground needed for the creation and dynamic interaction between the Islamic center and other forces of change in Indonesian society.
Where the Dilemma Lies
The Ministry of Religious Affairs was born as a political compromise during the early days of independence. By accepting panchasila as the state philosophy, and the 1945 constitution based on it, Islamic groups got an institutional substitute for their former theocratic political aspirations in the form of this ministry. Although probably intended as a temporary compromise by more secularist groups. Like the framework of the state philosophy as envisaged by the Islamic polity at that time, the ministry developed into a permanent fixture with a unique role.
In the beginning, it was concerned mainly with the promotion of Islamic education in its various systems and the supervision of religious life in general (including establishing the rights to officiate at marriages and divorces and to settle disputes concerning inheritance according to religious laws). The educational wing soon flowered into a full-fledged national program engaged in formulating guiding principles for modem religious education (including the use of the school system in the primarysecondary-tertiary levels, the maintenance of educational standards through state examination systems, and related matters), giving aid and assistance to private schools run by different organizations; and developing pilot projects to refine educational systems that already existed. At present, the religious-school system is one-fifth as large as the national education system. A dual national system of education inevitably emerged, with one-fifth of it under the jurisdiction of the ministry, including fourteen state Islamic universities in different provinces, whereas the rest comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs. Another inevitable consequence is the ensuing confusion, which defies internally consistent solutions to the problems the dual system creates.
The supervision of religious life also developed into a miscellany of different kinds of activity, from the yearly task of organizing pilgrimages to Mecca for at least thirty thousand Muslims, to monitoring (and banning, if necessary) religious and intellectual trends that were contrary to the beliefs of the religions acknowledged by the state, including the ban on discussing openly the merits and dangers of atheism. This wing of the ministry developed into the present-day octopus with so many arms (information, planning, religious courts, supervision of endowments. Maintenance of mosques and other places of religious worship, and so on) that it is difficult to find a government agency without its counterpart within the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The ministry now is hopelessly entangled in so many overlapping joint projects with other government agencies that it seems to act more and more as a state within a state, with these works resembling joint enterprises between two sovereign states. The ministry’s activities in the health field can be used here to illustrate this kind of entanglement: nutrition education, public health, and family planning are all major fields in which the ministry is active with different types of programs in each.
The ministry’s overlapping functions are apparent from the purposes formulated at the beginning of its life:
1.to promote religious life in general;
2.to safeguard acknowledged religions from elements detrimental to their existence;
3.to supervise nongovernmental activities in religious fields and provide them with necessary assistance.
The promotion of religious life now includes the mammoth undertakings of providing religious lectures and texts (including the preparation and printing of both the Qur’an and the Bible on a massive scale) and establishing agencies to organize and supervise pilgrimages to Mecca. Its works include the establishment of an Ulama Council of Indonesia at national, provincial, and subprovincial levels, as the meeting point between government agencies and nongovernmental religious organizations. From this point of view, the ministry plays a variety of positive roles for religious life in Indonesia, the most important being legitimizing both government and nongovernmental initiatives in the religious field; Clarifying and expounding the aspirations of nongovernmental religious organizations to other government agencies; mediating in brief but potentially troublesome conflicts and misunderstandings among government and nongovernmental institutions about each other’s intentions over sensitive matters such as the recently proposed Panca Agama (joint religious instructions in schools among adherents of different religions); and pioneering new forms of religious education, albeit still by presenting and implanting conventional religious views. The ministry forms a model of a moderating institution in a society troubled by deep cleavages in nearly every facet of life, including the religious one.
Nevertheless, a considered appraisal of the ministry’s role shows that its negative effects on balance outweigh all these positive aspects. This is manifested in the ministry’s present predicament. It is now embroiled in a bitter fight for survival between those who demand a more secular orientation toward religion and the so-called Muslim modernists described earlier. In the past the ministry acted only as a traffic officer in disputes between various sections of the community. It is now under pressure to develop a more active pasture-that is, resisting ideas that run contrary to the wishes of the main religious nongovernmental establishment. The ministry has attempted to cope with this problem and to limit the articulation of ideas and opinions of the younger generation through an ingenious device: let diversity run in full force, if necessary by giving rights of expression to minority Islamic groups and splinter groups to carry out their activities. This Islamic pluralism, it is hoped, will liberate the Muslims from narrow conformity to the formal orthodox doctrines. This liberation is a necessary prelude to the emergence of healthy responses to the process of modernization, beyond the formalistic response that reiterates Islam’s superiority to other systems of life without showing anything concrete to support that claim.
This kind of pluralism in the Islamic sphere, of course, runs counter to the institutionalized nature of the activity of the ministry. Although it is beneficial for the Islamic polity to have the ministry’s legitimizing role and various forms of support, especially in the field of religious education (resulting, among other things, in the emergence of those young intellectuals who question the feasibility of retaining the ministry itself). The ministry’s inherently bureaucratic approach to socioreligious developments is a formidable obstacle to this very pluralism. Moreover, the ministry’s predilection for centralizing authority in itself in formulating religious policies-at least to the extent that they concern the religious perceptions of the Muslims-makes it impossible to develop an adequate and viable framework of Islamic pluralism in a governmental context.
Consequently the fundamental question is that of the very existence of the ministry itself. The following questions reflect the ethical dilemma inherent in maintaining a Ministry of Religious Affairs:
- How can the ministry’s symbolic role as guarantor of a religious orientation in national life be translated into a more functional role of promoting diversity-not only among different religions and cultural groupings but, more important, within the Islamic polity itself?
- How can the ministry define in a holistic sense the role of religion in development, without merely making religion supportive of development in other sectors with their own nonreligious global and Sectoral objectives?
- How can the ministry shoulder the burden of giving religion a central role in development, while at the same time promoting the necessary processes of socioeconomic transformation and modernization-two things that often run counter to each other in the developing countries? 4. Is it possible to contain the tendency for religious bureaucratization within the ministry so as to fulfill the acute need to accommodate the creativity of the intellectuals, with their search for new insights and perceptions in the religious life?
It is increasingly felt that the ministry is not a part of the process of social transformation, but even becomes an obstacle to the changes needed to create more fertile ground for the religious aspirations that could give a more adequate response to the problems of modernization. The new religious conscience that presses for a just, democratic, and egalitarian society, free from any kind of exploitation and domination of one sector of the community by another-to take one example of a religiopolitical aspiration among the younger generation-is certainly anathema to a ministry ensconced within a government not yet fully democratic. Equally negative reactions can be expected in the case of other similar aspirations.
The institution has already fulfilled its original role of guaranteeing the acceptance of the role of religion in the life of the nation in a formal and definitive way, however deficient that role may be. Can it be transformed into an institutional framework that takes forward this acceptance into the more positive task of developing the rich, pluralistic religious conscience of Indonesian society, to respond to the need for socioeconomic change and the concomitant problems of modernization? Or has it fulfilled its life span and outlived its purpose, and must it now be removed from the scene to liberate the religious life from ngid institutional constraints?