Fri, 18 Aug 2000

'Syariah' bid based on false assumption

The People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) has decided to postpone for a year deliberations on the possible inclusion of syariah (Islamic law) in the Constitution. The rector of the Syarif Hidayatullah State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN), Azyumardi Azra, discusses the possible political and sociological impacts of including syariah in the Constitution.

Question: After 55 years of Indonesian independence, why is there a demand among some Muslim groups to reintroduce into the Constitution a clause which will require Indonesian Muslims to adhere to syariah, while the clause was dropped in 1945 for the sake of national unity?

Answer: Certain Muslim groups apparently see that political liberalization after the fall of former president Soeharto has given them an opportunity to reintroduce the seven words into the 1945 Constitution demanding Indonesian Muslims adhere to Islamic syariah.

Are their motivations political or religious?

Some have a genuine motivation to see the reinforcement of Islamic law with political support from the state, but some others want to use the issue to look for public support for their own political interests.

Such a proposal can emerge if Muslim parties are politically marginalized and they think they have no power to overcome their problems. So such a proposal is a short-cut decision in solving problems. But the proposal is not supported by political and social reality.

Participants of the recent congress of the Mujahidin in Yogyakarta said the main objective of the inclusion of syariah in the Constitution was the establishment of a khilafah, or one leadership for all Muslims in the world, like the leadership of the pope in the Vatican for Catholics. Is that realistic?

They seem to have misunderstood the term khilafah. The pope's leadership is limited to religious affairs only, while Khalifah, the one holding the position of leadership, has political authority. Perhaps the pope's leadership is, in some way, similar to the imamah, or the leadership among the Shi'ite Muslims (as in Iran). Anyway, khilafah is not workable and viable for nation- states.

How much support does the proposal have in Indonesia's Muslim society?

That's difficult to measure. As far as we know, the proposal was supported in the MPR's Annual Session by small factions, such as the United Development Party (PPP) and the Crescent Star Party (PBB), while the big factions, including Golkar Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), which are supported by substantial numbers of Muslim constituents, were against the proposal. Furthermore, mainstream Muslim organizations like Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah are also opposing the proposal.

What could happen if these factions continue to insist on amending the Constitution's preamble and Article 29 on religion to include the proposed clause?

That would cause social disintegration, not only between Muslims and non-Muslims but also among Muslims themselves.

Non-Muslims, particularly Christians and Catholics, will fear being discriminated against by the state and will doubt whether their rights will be respected. Unlike Muslims, some of whom think the state must play a role in the enforcement of Islamic law, Christians and Catholics believe the government should not interfere in religious affairs.

Meanwhile, because Indonesian Muslims have different levels of understanding of and attachment to Islam, the reintroduction of the proposed clause will cause friction among Muslims. The abangan Muslims (those who do not adhere strictly to Islam) will surely resist it on the grounds that they are not mentally prepared to implement Islamic teachings.

Would the reintroduction of the clause in the Constitution turn Indonesia into an Islamic state?

Some Islamic groups want to establish an Islamic country by imitating other countries, like Saudi Arabia and Iran. But based on Islamic norms, it is questionable whether such countries can be said to be Islamic. Saudi Arabia, for example, is said to use the Koran as its constitution but laws are not enforced fairly there because there is legal discrimination between citizens and foreigners. Moreover, whether a kingdom has an administrative system acceptable to Islam is still debatable.

Thus we can say that their proposal is based on the false assumption that it would, if implemented, solve problems. But, in fact, there is no such guarantee. Legal problems are so complex.

Now that the MPR has decided to continue deliberating the proposal at next year's Annual Session, what measures should we take to reduce social friction?

Muslim organizations, like the Indonesian Ulemas Council, should take the initiative to sponsor in-depth discussions about the consequences of the implementation of syariah based on normative, historical, sociological and political perspectives.

Dialogs should also be held between Muslim and non-Muslim groups, so non-Muslim parties will not be haunted by exaggerated fears about the implementation of syariah, which could encourage them to make threats to take up a separatist movement. (Rikza Abdullah)