Mon, 21 Aug 2000

'Make religion relevant all the time'

Some groups have been campaigning for the inclusion of syariah (Islamic law) in the Constitution. The following is an excerpt from the views of Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid, conveyed during a discussion held after his Friday sermon at his Paramadina school in South Jakarta.

JAKARTA: Introducing a sentence from the Jakarta Charter (the earlier document on Pancasila state ideology) that contains syariah (Islamic law) into the Constitution will be a setback for both Indonesians and Muslims.

The sentence that says "Belief in God, with the obligation for Muslims to comply with Islamic law" has caused disagreements since 1945.

That is why the proclamation text read by first president Sukarno on Aug. 17, 1945 was so short. Actually, it was the Jakarta Charter that was going to be read that day. Because of tugs-of-war among various parties, the Charter was not used. A compromise was made: Sukarno drafted the proclamation text.

The disagreements were finally settled on Aug. 18, 1945, one day after the proclamation of independence. Four people played a pivotal role in finding the solution. They were first vice president Mohammad Hatta, Ki Bagoes Hadikoesoemo (then chairman of the Muhammadiyah Muslim organization), Kasman Singodimedjo (representing PETA armed volunteers), and M. Hassan, representing Aceh. These four figures were all highly respected figures.

From this perspective, I want to say that we have to respect the solution offered by them. The solution given by Ki Bagoes Hadikoesoemo by changing the (above) sentence with a new sentence: Ketuhanan yang maha esa (Belief in one God) is more the principle and more in line with the Koran than the sentence in the Jakarta Charter.

The sentence in the Jakarta Charter only mentions ketuhanan. What kind of ketuhanan (divinity) is this? That's a big question, without qualification. But after adding yang maha esa, it becomes tauhid (acknowledging oneness of God) and in accordance with the Koran.

It is mentioned in the Koran that the correct way of life must be takwa minnallah waridwan (to follow God and seek His favor). If this phrase is considered uncommon, there are other similar phrases such as robbaniah and robbiyah, both of which mean ketuhanan yang maha esa, or belief in one God.

Thus, from the linguistic perspective, we arrive at a conclusion that "belief in one God" is more in line with the Koran than "belief in God" only, although it is supported with a long phrase, "with the obligation for Muslims to comply with Islamic law".

From another perspective, the phrase: "Belief in God, with the obligation ..." is redundant and too much. There is no saying like that in the Koran. What is mentioned in the Koran is amantubillah (I believe in God). The phrase "with an obligation for Muslims to comply with Islamic law" is implicitly contained in the amantubillah.

If a man says that he believes in God, automatically he has to comply with God's rules. Therefore, the phrase "with the obligation..." is redundant and not necessary.

The next problem with the sentence in the Jakarta Charter is the term syariah. What does it mean?

Syariah is now translated and understood in a narrow way, that is law. And the law of syariah is narrowed further to fiqh law (law pertaining to ritual obligations). Thus, the phrase "complying with syariah" in the Jakarta Charter means complying with fiqh law.

In the Koran, however, syariah means religions, all religions. The word syariah itself means paths to oases, or paths to heaven. Thus, syariah is the paths. The words syirat, sabil, tariqah, syariah, all mean paths, as do suluk, mansak and manasik. They are the same with dharma in Sanskrit or tao in Chinese.

The Koran mentions syariah, syir'ah and also syaro'a in a number of surahs (chapters).

The word syaro'a is a verb, meaning establishing syariah. It is found in surah 42 verse 13 which says: "He (God) has ordained for you the faith which He enjoined on Noah, and which We (God) have revealed to you (Muhammad); which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus ..."

The word syariah is found in surah 45 verse 18 that says: "And now, We have set you on the right path. Follow it, and do not yield to the desires of ignorant men."

And the word syir'ah is found in surah 5 verse 48 that says: "We have assigned a path for each of you. Had God pleased, He could have made of you one nation: but it is His wish to prove you by that which He has bestowed upon. Vie with each other in good work ..."

This particular verse means that we are encouraged not to question other people's syariah, but to compete with each other to do good work.

With such an explanation, a syariah or a religion must be dynamic. It cannot stop at one point. Therefore, Islam gives the rights of ijtihad (individual interpretation and judgment of the Koran) to make Islam continuously dynamic.

However, what people understand about syariah now is different from what it should be. People now understand syariah as fiqh law. This understanding took root from the time after Prophet Muhammad passed away in the seventh century. At that time, Islam had spread to all "civilized" lands. And problems arose, namely in how to manage the Islamic world. Then law emerged to manage society. And the first subject to study was law. And fiqh law became the first science emerging in the Islamic world.

Actually, with fiqh law, Islam became the first entity in the world that introduced and upheld the rules of law. The influence of fiqh law was so pervasive; thus, those with better knowledge of law could easily get political positions at that time. Because of the dominance of fiqh law in the people's perception of religion, people called fiqh law syariah. Unfortunately, this understanding prevails until now.

The situation in the early period of Islam is very similar with the situation in the United States now, where its citizens uphold the rules of law, and those with a better knowledge of law get better positions in society.

The difference is that the law in the United States is alive, while syariah is a dead entity. What remains is a fossil of syariah. A long time ago, syariah was alive and became the strength of Islam; but now, it is dead and is no more than a decoration, just like petrified wood.

Therefore, it is very important for us to understand syariah as religion, as pathways to oases, to heaven, to God. To make our religion relevant, it is necessary to understand it in such a way, to make it adaptable with space and time and produce new law.

It is difficult to arrive at that point now, but sooner or later, I believe, it will happen because Muslims around the world are moving in that direction. (rid)