Mon, 14 Aug 2000

Give Islamic 'syariah' law a chance: Mujahidin leader

By Sri Wahyuni

YOGYAKARTA (JP): Some 1,500 Muslims held their first Indonesian Mujahidin Congress in Yogyakarta on Aug. 5 to Aug. 7 which resulted in the establishment of a Mujahidin Assembly and a document named the Yogyakarta Charter.

The Mujahidin (defenders of the faith) does not claim itself as a group and says the Congress was only a gathering of concerned people. It has attracted attention because the Congress raised the issue of applying syariah or Islamic law, the interpretation of which is not uniform among Muslims. Applying the syariah, the Yogyakarta Charter says, is the only way out of the "multi-dimensional" crisis.

Amid similar calls in the ongoing Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly, the Charter recommended the Assembly modify Clause 29 of the 1945 Constitution on freedom of religion, obliging Muslims to adhere to the syariah.

The Congress also wants the same statement to be added in the forward or the preamble to the Constitution, specifically to the phrase "Belief in One God." The phrase is among the five points of the state ideology Pancasila mentioned in the preamble.

The requirement for Muslims to adhere to Islamic law has been known as "the seven words" which were dropped in an earlier version of Pancasila called the Jakarta Charter following heated debates in 1945.

The Constitution, more so its introduction, has for years been considered a taboo subject for change.

The Mujahidin Assembly comprises 36 members from different groups and includes noted scholars Deliar Noer, Mawardi Noor, Ali Yafie -- all from Jakarta -- Alawy Muhammad from Madura and Ahmad Syahirul Amin from Yogyakarta.

To help explain the Mujahidin's demands The Jakarta Post talked to Irfan S. Awwas, chairman of the congress organizing committee and initiator of the congress.

Estimated to cost some Rp 650 million he said the congress received donations from parties that he would not identify, including Muslims in Sweden, Germany and Australia, besides fees of Rp 50,000 per participant.

Now a publisher, he was the chief editor of the banned Arrisalah monthly magazine in Yogyakarta and served nine years of an 11-year prison sentence for subversion. He was released in 1993 and is married with three children.

Excerpts of the interview:

Question: Why did the congress demand the adoption of the Jakarta Charter into the Constitution, which already recognizes freedom of religion?

Answer: The requirement for Muslims to apply the syariah will give us the right to apply it in their daily lives. This means that the government will no longer have any reasons to forbid us from doing so (in the 1980s, for instance, women complained of being banned by superiors or school authorities from wearing the headscarf - Ed.)

Besides, the Jakarta Charter was a result of a national consensus among Muslim and non-Muslim political figures (in August 1945). It was only because of baseless provocation that the inclusion of the seven words would make several provinces break away from the Republic that the words were finally omitted.

Yet, now it has been proven that the separation of East Timor and other demands from Irian Jaya and Aceh, are not because of religion. It is more because of the injustice they received for years from the central government.

Why did the Congress decide that the application of syariah was the only way out of the crisis, including the threat of disintegration?

Muslims are the majority in Indonesia. If the syariah is applied, no non-Muslims would be forced to practice it. It's not the same as Pancasila, which every organization was obliged (by New Order government) to adopt as the one and only basic principle for it statutes.

So there would be no reason for disintegration. You are free to practice your own religion. If any disharmony involving different religions occurs, you can just invite the involved parties to sit together and discuss the matter.

What is the task of the Mujahidin Assembly? Would its task be over once the MPR or the government agreed to its demands?

The assembly is an alliance of different components ... Its task is ensuring that the syariah is upheld by Muslims in Indonesia and in the world. Through the Assembly Muslim experts would discuss problems that Muslims face and make decisions.

The main objective is the establishment of a khilafah or one leadership for all Muslims in the world, similar to that in the Prophet's era. We want to have one leader who will unite all the world's Muslims. If the Catholics have the Pope in the Vatican, for example, why should people be suspicious if Muslims want to establish a similar leadership?

Muslims need an international leader, or what we call the amirul mukminin, the leader for all Muslims. We will soon try to convince society, especially Muslims, that only with the syariah can we create a better life and be awarded with nobility (in God's eyes).

We plan to set up representative offices in some 20 provinces. They all have the task of realizing the Assembly's programs. We will also invite mujahidin in other countries to do the same.

One recommendation in the congress was the replacement of the Criminal Code with the syariah. Is this possible considering that Indonesians are not only Muslims?

There is no need for non-Muslims to worry about the application of the syariah as a positive law here. It will not harm them at all. Islam fully guarantees the freedom of all followers of other religions to practice what they believe in. The Koran clearly forbids its followers to force anyone to become a Muslim. Islamic law prevails only for Moslems.

Therefore, if non-Muslims committed wrong doings, they would not be automatically judged according to the Islamic law, but to the laws according to their own religions. They could even be given the chance to choose which law they want to use. This happened during the Prophet Mohammed's era and the following eras of khilafah (Muslim leadership).

So the application of the syariah wouldn't be a threat for non-Muslims?

That's right. This should have been understood by many. Yet, since secular people are always provoking us, there is always the fear among non-Muslims that they will be discriminated against if syariah is applied. In fact such a thing has never happened in the history of Islam. History shows that a Muslim majority has never oppressed non-Muslims. What has mostly happened is the opposite.

How do you view efforts in turning Indonesia into an Islamic state?

I think it's understandable if a Muslim prefers an Islamic state. Yet this is not our main goal. Our concern is the guarantee of the application of syariah regardless of the form of the state. It would mean nothing to have an Islamic state while the syariah is not upheld, would it?

I suggest that people never again use the old paradigm and suspicion to link every activity by Muslims as an effort to build an Islamic nation. Doing so will avoid conflicts. We have to be honest with each other now. Muslims have long been mistreated. I believe that if Muslims are treated the way they should be, they will not do any harm to any other community.

Muslims in Indonesia are always reactive. They will not do anything harmful unless they are harmed first.

Actually, there are three different perceptions among Muslims in struggling for the application of the syariah. They are through the jama'ah or community, through power (daulah) or by setting up an Islamic state and through the khilafah (leadership).

If Indonesia can accept the syariah as its positive law, especially for Muslims, there is no need to establish an Islamic state here. I have repeatedly said that the main point is the application of syariah. It must be much easier to accept presently since many Indonesian elite are Muslims.

We have never been given a chance to explain or to reduce non- Muslims' suspicion about the possibility of discrimination if syariah is applied. Just give us a chance to prove that Muslims can protect non-Muslims, as long as they do not treat us as enemies, of course. History has proven it so.

Therefore, I can assure you, as far as I have observed, that there is no strategy for a revolution to establish an Islamic state here. We will channel our demands through Islamic parties and organizations in a bid to uphold Islamic syariah.

What thoughts led to the congress?

It emerged from a concern toward the present condition in which no one is proposing Islam as a solution while Muslims are the majority here. And many others share the same view. Therefore we invited those sharing the same vision and mission, on how to uphold syariah, and the congress organizing committee was eventually formed.

There were in fact three reasons why we thought such a congress should be held. First is ideological. Every Muslim should expect that syariah is upheld because it is obligatory.

The second is historical. For over 700 years, since Prophet Mohammed's era, until the fall of Khilafah Usmaniah -- who was toppled by Mustafa Kemal Attaturk -- in Turkey in 1924, Muslims accepted syariah, and all Muslims practiced it under one leader known as the amirul mukminin. Yet since 1924 up to the present, most Muslims (no longer practice syariah).

Among the indications is the fact that many Muslims no longer accept syariah and can easily say it is impossible to apply it these days. As a result many of Allah's commands and prohibitions seem to be inapplicable these days.

The third reason is reality. We have witnessed during the crisis and tragedy here that non-Muslims have proposed solutions of their own. Yet no Muslim organization or group has done the same. Why? It's because religion has not been given its proper role. That is also why religion, especially in Indonesia, could never function the way it should.

Just look at adultery. It is rife nowadays despite the fact that all religions forbid such a thing. Even the existing law cannot punish them, as they do so with mutual pleasure and without anyone forcing them to do so. In this particular case, the state's law seems to be against the teaching of all religions.

(The above reasons) have motivated us to handle problems using the Islamic point of view. We believe that Islam is capable of handling the crisis should the government give Islam a chance to say what it should. History shows that Islam has the experience ... It is naive to say that Islam does not have the system of government or the system of leadership given the fact that it was once in power for over 700 years.