Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Shedding Blood In The Holy Seasons

For millions of Indonesian and Australian Hindus and Muslims, this is a holy season. Ramadan is commencing, a time for fasting, charity and meditation for Muslims.

For Hindus, this is the sacred season leading upto Deepavali, a celebration of the victory of good over evil.

But in Bali, Indonesian Muslims and Hindus will be mourning the loss of loved ones during this sacred season. It seems the terrorists have won again.

Or have they? The New York Times website carried a series of photographs showing Muslims and Hindus marching side-by-side against terrorists. Terrorists want Muslim and Hindu to fight and kill each other. In Bali, the attacks have had the opposite effect.

Islam in Indonesia is largely a peaceful affair. And no, I am not engaging in empty apologetics. This is real.

In 2002, the conservative Centre for Independent Studies invited a senior official from the largest Islamic organisation in the world, the Nahdatul Ulama (meaning literally “Council of Religious Scholars”).

Muhammad Fajrul Falaakh studied in London, the United States and in a traditional Indonesian religious school. He spoke in the Great Hall of the New Zealand Parliament on 11 December 2002 on the topic of “Islam In Pluralist Indonesia”.

It is timely at this time to remind ourselves of Falaakh’s message on that occasion. He outlined 5 basic principles of Sharia law as understood by mainstream Indonesian Muslims. Some readers will be surprised by the list.

The 5 principles all seek to protect basic individual and social rights including: religious freedom, the sanctity of life, freedom of conscience and thought, property, and protection of the family unit.

I challenge any reader to find anything in these 5 basic principles which in any way conflicts with liberal democratic values or the so-called “Judeo-Christian” ethics. Nowhere does Falaakh make mention of stoning adulterers or chopping the hands of thieves.

Nor is there mention of killing innocent civilians or encouraging young people to translate frustration and depression into suicide attacks. The ideology which underpins terrorism is alien to Indonesian Islam.

No soldiers or swords were involved in the spread of Islam in this part of the world. Some 7 centuries ago, Yemeni traders settled in Malaya, Aceh and Sumatra and found each area dominated by tribes fighting each other over trade disputes.

The Yemenis introduced a common system of numeracy and accounting which resolved many commercial disputes in this mercantile ethnically-Malay society. Yemenis also introduced Sharia, an Arabic word which literally means “the way to the watering place”.

Yet for the Yemenis, Sharia was about resolving commercial disputes through mediation and arbitration. And all understanding of Sharia was in the context of the orthodox sufi traditions which the Yemenis espoused.

The most influential tribe of Yemenis to settle in the region were the “Bani Alawi” who were direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad through his great grandson Ali bin Husayn (known as “Zainal Abidin” or “Prince of the Worshippers”). Today, the Bani Alawi dominate Malaysian and Indonesian politics, judiciary and legal profession. A former Indonesian President, Abdurrahman Wahid, was from the Bani Alawi.

Bani Alawi Islam is the most orthodox form of Islam practised in the region. It is grounded in the traditions of sufi spirituality. Sufis emphasise spiritual purification through service to the community. They encourage Muslims to work with people of all faiths and no faith in particular to achieve justice and a better life for all people.

The sufi message spread across the region. Today, Muslim Indonesians continue to practice many of their old Hindu customs. These include celebration of Deepavali, involving a shadow puppet re-enactment of the famous Hindu Ramayana epic.

Pseudo-conservative hate-filled commentators such as Mark Steyn claim that this very Islam is the cause of the terror. He sees the world as being divided into 2 camps:

Muslims v Jews in Palestine, Muslims v Hindus in Kashmir, Muslims v Christians in Nigeria, Muslims v Buddhists in southern Thailand, Muslims v (your team here). Whatever one's views of the merits on a case by case basis, the ubiquitousness of one team is a fact.

Steyn clearly hasn’t a clue about the various interpretations of a faith that claims over 1.2 billion souls across the planet. As such, each terrorist incident gives hate-mongers like Steyn an opportunity to beat the drums of civilisational war.

Thankfully, Steyn, Pipes and others are in a minority (even if they frequently pollute the op-ed pages of major Australian newspapers). Serious scholars of Indonesian culture and politics know that terrorists are hated and loathed across the country.

SBY was not elected President purely on the basis of his singing voice. Rather, it was his commitment to getting tough on terrorism that got him over the line. Indonesian voters understand that terrorism means long term economic and political instability, not to mention short term death and destruction.

And by striking on Bali during sacred Hindu and Muslim seasons, the terrorists have shown complete disdain for Indonesian culture and religion. Yet they claim to carry out their attacks in the name of Islam. It’s enough to make the Bani Alawi tribesmen turn in their graves.

The author is a Sydney industrial lawyer and occasional lecturer at the School of Politics & International Relations at Macquarie University. He is also a columnist for the Adelaide-based Australian Islamic Review.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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