Is it Necessary to Read Islam Politically?

Wedforum | Hary Widyantoro 

Dr. Andreas RadtkeIslam and politics has been difficult to separte. This is reflected in the situation in some Muslim countries, such as Mali and Somalia where violent struggles have shifted to periphery. In other regions, revolutionary movements like the Arab Spring were hampered by the politics of religion. On February 19, 2014, Dr. Andreas Radtke, the political counsellor in German Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, discussed these issues of political Islam in global terms at the regular Wednesday Forum lecture series hosted by CRCS and ICRS.

Dr. Radtke began the session with a number of questions central to the issue of Islam and politics. First, he asked, what does the call for an Islamic state really entail?  Can the Salafi paradigm be seen as more than a nostalgic illusion?  What has become of the traditional schools of law? What are the available alternatives that make better use of established modes of “living Islam” compatible with the modern form of the nation state?   The idea of an Islamic state is contested among Muslims. Radtke pointed out that what might be seen as an indication of Islamist resurgence like that of the Arab Spring was not at all originally motivated by the will to create an Islamic State.

Discussing the situation in Indonesia, he addressed the case of Aceh, a region that upholds Syariah law, “What does it mean if you regulate what people can do and cannot do during Ramadan?” he questioned. In his view, the idea of fasting come from the al-Qur’an and Sunnah, and refers to an act of the individual in relation to God. Therefore, he asked whether, it would be better or worse for the state to enforce the observation of this individual practice of worship.

Furthermore, Radtke explained that it is difficult to take an example from history if we want to establish a so-called Islamic state. Examining the development of Islamic rule throughout history either under the Abbasid, Umayyad, or Fatimid Caliphate, we will see that there was always a distinction between the realm of teaching and passing on the body of syariah knowledge on the one hand, and what the state actually did on the other hand.

Referring to groups that represent as a kind of ‘new’ Islam in Indonesia, he stated that, “It is not a conservative track in the sense that it does not conserve anything what is already there. If you are a conservative Muslim in Indonesia, you will be rooted to some traditional practices, such as are often associated with NUwhich are quite different from that which I call the Salafi paradigm.”

Radtke argued that the attempt to establish Islamic state or rule is making reference to the past that is not rooted in a political reality, but rather a nostalgic image which in Christian terms is analogous to an image of salvation history. “The moment when you come in to a political position to attempt to build an Islamic state it turns out to be quite difficult, because the larger part of the Syaria as reflected in classical fiqh literature was never meant to be implemented by a state” he said. In his view, the issue with using established modes of Islam compatible with the modern nation state is that Muslims practice differently.

In response to a question raised by ICRS student Wakhid Hasyim about the the definition of Salafism in the Indonesian context and its relation to Wahabism, Dr.  Radtke argued that the term of Salafi used to be understood by Indonesians as referring to salaf as-Shalih, which has positive connotations, whereas salafi is now often with a negative touch, i.e. like radical / fundamentalist Wahabism, he added, is a part of established school of Islamic law, a rigorous form of Hanbalism Those practicing Salafism have left Saudi Arabia behind because in their view, the people running the wahhabi religious establishment there are not on the right path anymore. There are other groups who hold similar radical views in terms of literalist interpretation of Qur’an who oppose to them.

Dr. Suhadi of CRCS asked whether is it possible for the Salafi movement to be friendly towards democracy. Radtke explained some have argued that the religious tradition of Islam has to “be accepted or rejected as a whole”. “I have taken issue with that sentence in the past, because it seemed essentialist to me. But there is a truth in it” he said. Then he explained furthermore that if we read Qur’an, hadith, or any other Islamic sources, we find that Islam can be read as a closed system that works very well. “In my view, it includes legitimacy for violence and Muslim communities have to deal with that,” he argued. Therefore, in his opinion, the positions of some radical groups are hard to reconcile with  democracy, because the democratic system is based in non-violence, and unless you reject the idea of takfir (with all its consequences) you cannot participate in a debate that needs to acknowledge the legitimacy of all views. (Ed: Kelli)

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