Tue, 23 Aug 1994

In pursuit of wisdom

Although the republic is now 49 years old, the calls for unity and cohesion among the people continue unabated. This does not mean that the unity of this nation is in danger, but simply serves as a reminder of how precious unity is for a nation of such vast cultural and ethnic diversity as Indonesia.

Although we must guard this unity, there is certainly not a single citizen here who would want this country to become a sterile vacuum because once a bacterium entered the entire nation would be fatally contaminated.

That is why our nation's constitution guarantees freedom of expression and dissension. Even freedom of worship is respected, meaning that differences in the way of understanding religious teachings should also have a place in society.

However, the question has haunted us as to when a difference in religious belief -- particularly different contingencies within each given religion -- can be regarded deviant in theological terms and therefore hazardous to national unity. Also, the questions as to whether the state should step in to resolve such a debate and how that could be done, have yet to be answered.

These questions are quite relevant now as the authorities mull over whether to ban Darul Arqam, an Islamic group said to be gaining a foothold among young educated people due to its economic activities and the sense of brotherhood and solidarity it instills among its adherents. The country's council of ulemas (MUI) has urged the attorney general to ban the organization for unspecified reasons, and several Moslem organizations have echoed that opinion. On the other hand, security agencies have expressed reservation on whether the group has the potential to stir up any trouble here.

Islam is an open religion, which has a great tolerance towards differences of opinion, so we are interested in determining whether the council's request is based on findings that the group has deviated from true Islamic teachings, or is just being viewed askance because it has its own interpretation of theology. We are also curious to know whether the ban -- if it is decided -- will even be enforceable. After all, whatever differences exist are simply matters of theological interpretation. Apparently a great many people share our interest because Al Arqam has become a topic of debate nationwide of late, with a variety of stances being taken.

Amid this debate, those who support the idea of the ban, might find it of value to study the recent messages voiced by President Soeharto. He has repeatedly called on the public to demonstrate the virtues of wisdom, tolerance and tactfulness in handling religious problems as is set forth in the Islamic faith.

Last week the President reminded all Moslems of Prophet Muhammad's saying 14 centuries ago that differences of opinion among his followers were a blessing. Indeed, differences of opinion need not be divisive. When received with an open, tolerant mind, varied opinions on a given issue can enrich and deepen understanding.