The common thread of religion, politics and culture

The common thread of religion, politics and culture

I recently had the opportunity to attend a virtual seminar on Islam and politics in South East Asia. The seminar was organized by the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne, where I have been teaching since 1999.

Professor R Michael Feener from Kyoto University, Japan, was present as the keynote speaker. Professor Vedi Hadiz (director of the Asia Institute) and I were invited to be speakers. Professor Feener’s article is insightful and informative on the role of religion, politics and culture that bind Southeast Asian societies.

Professor Feener’s in-depth article describes the trajectory of Islamic and indigenous jurisprudence in Southeast Asia, particularly highlighting the long history of dynamic interactions between Islam and culture. “The history of Islam in Southeast Asia is in many ways a story of progressive connection and integration with the various constellations of Muslim societies that have unfolded for over a thousand years,” Feener said. .

The paper prompted me to provide an answer, even though I realized that I knew relatively little about Islam. I grew up in a predominantly Catholic community in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). I studied Islamology for two semesters in 1987 at STFK Ledalero, Flores. I really enjoyed the course and began to admire Islam as a “cultural system”, as in Clifford Geertz’s definition of religion.

For me, Islam as the third Abrahamic religion can be considered a cousin of Christianity and Judaism. I continue to admire Islam through personal encounters with many Muslim friends who share the same values ​​as love, peace and social justice, fundamental values ​​of universal humanity.

My academic fields include anthropology, philosophy and theology. Because of this background, Professor Feener’s article sparked in me a renewed interest in the discourse of Islamic jurisprudence and adat.

Professor Feener mainly refers to Indonesia as a point of reference. The choice of Indonesia is understandable. Indonesia is a country with the largest predominantly Muslim population in the world. About 87 percent of Indonesians, or about 239 million, adhere to Islam out of a total population of around 275 million today. By 2045, Indonesia’s population is expected to reach around 320 million.

However, it should be noted that in some parts of Indonesia, such as Bali, North Sulawesi, NTT and Papua, Islam is not a majority religion, but a minority. Take for example, Hinduism is dominant in Bali, while Christianity is dominant in NTT, North Sulawesi and Papua.

It is important to mention the concepts of majority and minority here in order to explore and understand whether these dimensions can contribute to people’s willingness or reluctance to accept adat power as a means of strengthening their religious entity and identity. As is known, Protestantism in Indonesia is always associated with ethnicity, so there is Batak Church, Ambonese Christian Church, Manado Church, etc.

In Catholicism, after Vatican Council II, in the spirit of aggiornamento (adaptation, inculturation, transformation), the church seems more friendly, more tolerant and accommodating to customs, referring to local beliefs, customs and practices. For example, local animism is no longer seen as a form of paganism or dualism that must be condemned and abandoned. Animism is seen as a complementary strength to Christianity.

An old Latin axiom that denies the value of other religions and belief systems in the pre-Vatican II church— extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation) – then abandoned. The Church recognizes that salvation is also in every faith and belief.

The more inclusive theology of salvation as a product of Vatican II is an important recognition of the continued role of adat in local Christian communities. Sociologically, the revised theology made the Church more pro-society, although in other aspects the Catholic Church may still seem a bit old-fashioned and not yet sufficiently up to date with the demands of the time, like the question of certain genres. rights.

Professor Feener’s article implies that there are three forces which represent different eras, namely pre-Western colonialism, colonialism and post-colonialism, particularly highlighting their influence in the manifestation or authorization of jurisprudence. Islamic and customary.

It seems, in general, that there was a unity between Islamic law and adat during the pre-colonial period. This unity was deconstructed during the Western colonial era. There are even proposals for efforts to eliminate, or at least weaken, adat as the source of law governing the inhabitants of the highlands of West Sumatra.

In this regard, Professor Feener quotes Jeffrey Hadler (2009), who wrote: “[para pemimpin adat] apply the adat law of basandi syarak… and if there is a problem with the adat, it will be brought to the attention of adat leaders. And if there is a problem with Islamic law, it will be brought before the four Islamic authorities… ”This quote implies the opinion at the time that religion and adat were two opposing forces, that it was not. there was no need for the local culture to be Islamic.

In the post-colonial era, I’m not quite sure that Indonesian Islam feels comfortable mixing religion and customs, like “gado-gado” or maybe just “mixed rice”. This metaphor of gado-gado or nasi campur can be used to understand the meaning of syncretism, as stated by Professor Feener when characterizing Islam in Java.

He states: “Over the following centuries the Javanese Islamic legal tradition developed in complex ways and, at different times, demonstrated both exclusivity and openness to multiple sources of authority and authority. institutional training.

This quote is very interesting, because most religious studies scholars would agree that all religions in Indonesia are syncretic. This is because of a long history of interacting with local belief systems and practices. Accepting or rejecting the idea of ​​a syncretic religion may be inspired in part by the perception of culture as a taint of religious purity. Here, religion and culture are seen as two different entities.

There seems to be an obsession with the idea of ​​purity in this religion, where religion is seen as something that is given directly by God. Of course, this refutes the perception that historically and sociologically religion is a human creation for the needs of humanity to communicate with God.

Referring to Professor Feener’s article, there is an implicit assumption that implementing Sharia law in Aceh seems straightforward. The impression arises because the implementation of the law tends to stress the importance of maintaining the purity of external rituals, especially in the interpretation of halal and haram, and the use of public corporal punishment for a moral error. This may be contrary to the spirit of Sharia itself which is sustainable in Islam.

Perhaps it is time for Islamic scientists, including philosophers and theologians, to take a more proactive role in reviewing the implementation of Sharia law in Aceh. This is important to ensure that Sharia law truly becomes a force for inclusive reform and liberation, and not a source of fear and violence in the community.


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