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Jakarta post

by Jennie S. Bev

When I was pursuing a law degree at the University of Indonesia, I became fascinated by Islam as the one and only religion of laws approved in Indonesia out of only a few “official” religions. At the time, I did not learn much about Islamic notions of compassion, as if it merely existed at the periphery, while fiqh or jurisprudence was the poster child.

On the contrary, which I later found out, compassion is actually the heart and core of Islam, and for some reasons is not popular nor popularized, especially in politicized "hijacked" versions of Islam that we have been encountering recently.

In this tumultuous time today, naturally, non-Muslim minorities in Indonesia are likely to be extra cautious and anxious. The logic of this "paranoia" is simple: If Ahmadiyya is officially and legally banned by the government, then other religions and mystical beliefs are likely to be banned as well in a not-so-distant future.

Or, at least, to be structurally persecuted, especially since the government seems to have a penchant for listening to those who speak the loudest and has been adopting the so-called "politics of avoidance" when it comes to dealing with violence and human rights abuses.

In Indonesia, compassion has become a rare commodity. It is sad, but we need to see this phenomenon realistically. We need to understand what could have happened next and what to do about it.

As a people and a nation-state, should we worry about the possibility of crumbling of Indonesia after 100 years of national awakening and 10 years of reformasi movement? As members of religious and ethnic minorities, should we prepare ourselves for the worst? If yes, what would it be?

Hypothetically speaking, what would happen to minorities if Indonesia adopted more sharia-based bylaws, many of which are taken out of context from ancient medieval Middle Eastern values that are likely to be obsolete and unrealistic in today's Indonesia? Above all, what can we do to ensure the safety and security of all Indonesians, minorities included?

First things first, we need to see Islam as a religion of peace separate from politicized Islam. And by "politicized" Islam, I am referring to the attributes of religion used strategically to gain vertical power. And by "vertical power," it has nothing to do with the so-called power of love such as charitable and other compassionate-based activities, but the typical power to rule and the power to have governmental control over a nation. This, at an extreme level, may include the use of forces and violence.

Second, Islam is a religion of laws; however, the highest law of all is God the Most Merciful. Here, the Most Merciful is being underscored. According to Asghar Ali Engineer, a notable Islamic scholar and a trained expert in Koranic tafsir, tawil, fiqh, and hadits who founded the Asian Muslim Action Network, "Compassion represents the true spirit of Islam and compassion is far more vital to Islamic teachings than anything else.”

"In fact, compassion in Islam, after the concepts of unity of God (tawhid) and risalah (messengership of Muhammad) is as central to Islam as it is to Buddhism," he says, adding that it is evident in the very first chapter of the Koran in the second verse as Al-Rehman al-Rahim (The Compassionate, the Merciful).

Third, sharia itself is a compass and fiqh is the laws used to regulate actions and punishments. Sharia itself being guidance is based on noble and compassionate ideals, but the socialization, implementation and enforcement of sharia-based bylaws require careful management to ensure the ideals and the realities do not contradict with each other. Wrongful arrests are expected, hence extreme careful execution is strongly urged and imperative.

As Prof. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im says in Toward an Islamic Reformation, "Islamic law has to adapt and adjust to the circumstances and needs of contemporary life within the context of Islam as a whole, even if this should involve discarding or modifying certain aspects of historical sharia.”

Fourth, with more than 1,000 sharia-based and sharia-inspired bylaws already in place in municipalities and regencies, it does not require a formal survey to comprehend the magnitude of this phenomenon. However, results of a Gallup world poll, as posited in Who Speaks for Islam? by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, revealed that only 14 percent of men and 14 percent of women respondents in Indonesia supported sharia as the only source of legislation.

Fifth, hypothetically speaking, if the moderate majority remains relatively silent and the government whose "politics of avoidance" and "politics of listening to the loudest" continue to occur, there is a slight possibility for Indonesia to become an Islamic state.

For non-Muslims, this would mean their second-class status might be enforced under three categories: dhimmis (permanent residents who pay a jizyah or poll tax in exchange for protection), hudna (those who sign a treaty after being defeated) and musta'min (those who are not obliged to pay the jizyah tax but are urged to convert to Islam).

The good thing is, concerned moderate majority and minorities have shown awareness of such threats against a plural and multicultural Indonesia, which was evident in the recent National Monument (Monas) incident and continuing activism against radicalism, extremism and anti-Ahmadiyya sentiment. Each and every one of us has the capacity to make a meaningful change in society by running toward the tipping point and making our mark with a loud bang. Just be courageous and use the correct mind-set.[]

The Jakarta Post, June 10, 2008

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