An interview with Mun'im Sirry, assistant professor at the Univerity of Notre Dame, on his book "Controversies over Early Islam".
An interview with Prof. Imtiyaz Yusuf from Thailand's Mahidol University, currently a visiting professor teaching during intersession, at CRCS, on Muslims-Buddhists relations.
An interview with Prof. Imtiyaz Yusuf from Thailand's Mahidol University, currently a visiting professor teaching during intersession at CRCS, on Muslims-Buddhists relations.
A.S. Sudjatna | CRCS | Interview
Sejak tahun 2015, Dr. Kimura Toshiaki, associate professor Program Studi Agama, Universitas Tohoku, Sendai, Jepang menjadi salah satu pengajar mata kuliah ‘Sains, Agama dan Bencana’ di Program Studi Agama dan Lintas Budaya (CRCS), UGM. Membincang bencana di Jepang sangat menarik karena Jepang adalah negara dengan kesiapan bencana yang sangat tinggi. Menjadi lebih menarik ketika memasukkan agama dalam perbincangan bencana di negeri Sakura itu. Bencana adalah sesuatu yang sangat akrab bagi masyarakat Jepang, tapi agama? Sesuatu yang dihindari pada awalnya tapi perlahan diterima karena bencana. Berikut wawancara tim CRCS dengan dosen yang akrab dipanggil Kimura Sensei ini mengenai bencana, agama, dan studi agama di Jepang.
Kimura Sensei, bagaimana masyarakat Jepang memahami relasi antara agama, bencana, dan sains?
Mayoritas orang Jepang menganggap persoalan bencana ini hanya seputar sains, material, medis atau teknologi belaka. Namun menurut saya, bencana juga memiliki nilai-nilai agama, dan agama dapat membantu orang-orang yang menjadi korban bencana. Para korban bencana itu tidak hanya memiliki masalah-masalah pada wilayah material ataupun psikologis, tetapi juga masalah pada wilayah spiritual. Dan, persoalan spiritual inilah yang seolah dilupakan di Jepang. Faktanya, di Jepang walaupun bantuan material sangat banyak diberikan oleh pemerintah, misalnya bantuan tempat tinggal dan biaya hidup yang cepat dan mudah dari pemerintah setelah bencana terjadi, namun tetap saja banyak korban bencana yang hidupnya merasa susah, apalagi pasca gempa dan tsunami lima tahun lalu (gempa dan tsunami tahun 2011). Hampir delapan ribu orang yang bunuh diri di wilayah-wilayah terdampak bencana tersebut. Artinya, menangani persoalan yang bersifat material dan medis saja tidaklah cukup. Saya berpikir ini mesti ada persoalan spiritual yang juga harus dibantu penyelesaiannya, dan ini pasti membutuhkan peranan agama. Nah, di dalam konteks inilah kelas religion, science and disaster diadakan. Mengenai persoalan hubungan bencana, sains dan agama, saya sedang melakukan penelitian untuk membandingkan persoalan ini di Jepang dengan wilayah lain, yakni di Indonesia, Turki dan Cina. Sehingga nanti dapat ditemukan formula yang tepat dalam menggunakan agama sebagai mitigasi bencana.
Apakah ada perbedaan antara respon Bencana di Jepang dan Indonesia?
Menurut saya sangat berbeda. Karena di Jepang, pemisahan antara agama dan pemerintahan sangat kuat. Sehingga kadang-kadang bantuan yang bersifat sekular lebih gampang sedangkan yang bersifat agama sangat sulit. Sedangkan di Indonesia peranan agama lebih kuat dalam membantu korban-korban bencana. Di Jepang kesan-kesan terhadap agama sangat negatif sedangkan di sini sangat positif.
Sebenarnya, kondisi agama di Jepang itu sendiri seperti apa, Kimura Sensei?
Kondisi agama di Jepang sangat berbeda dengan di Indonesia. Bisa juga disebut terbalik kondisinya. Di Jepang, kata-kata agama seperti sesuatu yang tabu. Masyarakat Jepang sangat takut dengan kata-kata agama. Saat saya mengatakan kepada orang tua saya bahwa saya akan belajar di religious studies (Studi Agama), mereka melarang. Mungkin mereka takut jika anaknya punya hubungan dengan agama. Bahkan kalau melihat hasil survei, lebih dari tujuh puluh persen masyarakat Jepang mengatakan bahwa dirinya tidak memiliki agama. Hanya dua puluh persen yang mengatakan bahwa dirinya beragama. Namun uniknya, jika melihat hasil survei lainnya, bisa dilihat bahwa kira-kira delapan puluh persen masyarakat Jepang pergi ke kuburan untuk bersembahyang. Kuburan-kuburan tersebut biasanya berada di kuil-kuil Budha dan orang-orang biasanya meminta para biksu untuk mendoakan orang-orang yang telah meninggal. Dan di dalam rumah mereka, hampir lima puluh persen masyarakat Jepang bersembahyang kepada dewa-dewa agama Sinto atau agama Budha. Delapan puluh persen dari mereka pergi berdoa ke kuburan dan lima puluh persen dari mereka setiap hari bersembahyang di rumah namun mereka tidak pernah menganggap hal itu sebagai agama. Orang Jepang berbeda dengan orang atheis. Orang Jepang melakukan beragam praktik keagamaan namun tidak mau mengakui hal itu sebagai praktik agama, alasannya macam-macam, salah satunya yaitu orang Jepang menganggap bahwa kata-kata agama itu adalah impor dari Eropa, dan mereka menganggap bahwa agama itu seperti agama Kristen, ada gereja dan ada organisasi yang kuat dan harus memilih satu agama saja. Hal itu tidak sesuai dengan praktek dan kepercayaan orang Jepang. Sehingga, walaupun mereka pergi ke kuburan dan melakukan sembahyang di rumah namun mereka berpikir hal itu bukanlah agama seperti agama Kristen. Konsep agama dalam pandangan orang Jepang sangatlah sempit.
Lantas, bagaimana respons generasi muda Jepang saat ini terhadap perkembangan agama?
Soal agama-agama baru sebenarnya pasca Perang Dunia Kedua sudah mulai ada, saat masyarakat Jepang berada dalam kondisi yang susah. Waktu itu agama-agama baru mulai tumbuh, dan sekitar tahun 80-an agama-agama baru ini tumbuh di dalam kampus dan menjaring banyak pengikut. Namun sejak tahun 1995, saat terjadi aksi terorisme oleh anggota agama Aum Sinrykyo yang menyebarkan gas sarin di subway, masyarakat Jepang menjadi takut dengan agama baru. Menurut survey, pengikut agama-agama baru itu kini tinggallah orang yang sudah tua-tua dan jumlahnya sudah menurun. Namun, jika melihat hasil survei terbaru, kita bisa lihat bahwa sejak tahun 70-an, jumlah anak-anak muda yang percaya agama terus menurun, namun pasca gempa 2011 agak berubah, mulai agak sedikit naik. Mungkin di generasi muda saat ini sudah mulai tumbuh pandangan positif terhadap agama dibandingkan dengan generasi terdahulu.
Apakah ada perbedaan pandangan orang Jepang terhadap agama sebelum dan setelah tsunami, terutama tsunami besar yang terjadi belakangan ini?
Pasca bencana gempa dan tsunami pada tahun 2011 silam memang ada perubahan cukup berarti dalam cara pandang masyarakat Jepang terhadap agama. Bencana tersebut menelan korban lebih dari lima belas ribu orang meninggal dunia. Di dalam sejarah Jepang, bencana dengan korban sebesar itu sepertinya tidak pernah terjadi sebelumnya. Nah, ini rupanya mengguncang sisi spiritual masyarakat Jepang. Saya mendengar langsung sebuah cerita dari kawan yang seorang dokter dan bertugas mengurus para korban tsunami besar tersebut. Ia ditanya oleh korban selamat dari tsunami tersebut, “Suami saya telah meninggal oleh tsunami, sekarang suami saya kira-kira berada di mana?” Sebagai petugas medis, teman saya waktu itu tidak mampu menjawab. Ia bercerita pada saya dan merasa bahwa untuk menjawab pertanyaan itu bukanlah peranan seorang di bidang medis melainkan agama. Dan selama ini di Jepang, wilayah itu kosong. Nah, saking banyaknya persoalan semacam itu, kini masyarakat Jepang sudah mulai berpikir untuk mencari solusi, salah satunya lewat agama.
Selain itu, media juga sudah mulai berubah. Jika dulu media tidak mau memberitakan perihal agama karena tidak mau campur tangan di dalam persoalan agama, kini setelah gempa dan tsunami besar tersebut, media Jepang mulai banyak memberitakan perihal agama, misalnya memberitakan LSM-LSM agama yang membantu para korban bencana. Mungkin sekarang pikiran masyarakat Jepang sudah mulai berubah. Dahulu masyarakat Jepang berpikir, jika ada bantuan datang dari lembaga-lembaga keagamaan maka itu adalah usaha untuk menyebarkan agama baru pada korban bencana. Namun sekarang mereka mulai memahami bahwa hal itu adalah memang murni untuk bantuan kemanusiaan.
Apakah perubahan pandangan terhadap agama pasca bencana ini juga berpengaruh terhadap minat mahasiswa Jepang terhadap studi agama?
Jika di masa saya, studi agama menargetkan menerima sepuluh orang mahasiswa pada setiap tahun ajaran, tapi paling hanya dua atau tiga orang yang mendaftar. Namun, kini hampir setiap tahun ajaran ada sekitar dua puluh orang yang mendaftar dan sepuluh orang saja yang diterima. Jadi sejak tahun 2000, sudah mulai banyak calon mahasiswa yang mau belajar di jurusan studi agama. Ini tidak hanya terjadi di Universitas Tohoku tetapi juga di universitas-universitas lainnya di Jepang. Jadi, mungkin generasi muda saat ini sudah mulai tertarik mempelajari masalah-masalah agama.
Apa yang diajarkan di jurusan religious studies di Jepang?
Religious studies di Jepang juga mengajarkan hal yang sama seperti di Indonesia, seperti di CRCS. Religious studies mengajarkan teori-teori dari Eropa, semisal sosiologi dan antropologi. Namun memang sejak sebelum terjadi bencana gempa dan tsunami besar pada tahun 2011, studi agama ini lebih banyak berkutat di wilayah teoritis, hanya berputar pada sisi teori-teori saja. Namun pasca 2011, kajian ini mulai menemukan wilayah praktisnya. Sekarang jurusan studi agama mulai banyak menjalin kerja sama dengan LSM-LSM agama atau lembaga agama, tidak seperti dulu yang terkesan menjauhkan diri dari agama. Sekarang studi agama mulai berpikir ke arah kerjasama dengan lembaga agama di dalam menangani persoalan korban bencana.
Apakah kerjasama antara program studi agama di Jepang dengan program studi agama di universitas lain juga termasuk bagian dari itu? Seperti kerja sama antara Tohoku University dan CRCS UGM?
Iya, MoU kerjasama antara Tohoku dan CRCS UGM ini berfungsi seperti payung hukum saja, sedangkan jenis dan bentuk program-program penelitian ataupun pertukaran mahasiswa bisa didesain sedemikian rupa nanti. Pertukaran mahasiswa bisa dilakukan antara mahasiswa CRCS UGM dan Tohoku dan bisa transfer mata kuliah, sedangkan biaya kuliah cukup dengan membayar di home university saja. Secara umum, kerjasama antara Tohoku University dan CRCS UGM ada dua macam, yaitu tentang kerja sama penelitian dan pertukaran mahasiswa. Di bidang penelitian nanti bisa ada kerja sama dalam proyek penelitian, penelitian tentang agama dan bencana salah satunya, dan jika ada penelitian di Jepang nanti ada bantuan fasilitas dari Tohoku University.
Sebagai penutup, bisa sedikit bercerita mengenai pengalaman mengajar di CRCS?
Ini adalah tahun kedua saya mengajar di CRCS. Saya sangat senang mengajar di sini karena setiap tahun mahasiswanya terlihat selalu semangat. Responsnya banyak. Tidak seperti di Jepang. Kalau di Jepang, selesai kelas saya harus menunjuk satu-satu mahasiswa agar mau bertanya. Kalau di sini mahasiswanya aktif bertanya. Jadi diskusinya bisa lebih dalam. Awalnya, sebelum saya mulai mengajar kuliah disaster ini, saya sempat khawatir apakah materi yang akan disampaikan cocok atau tidak, namun ternyata banyak mahasiswa yang tertarik dengan materi yang disampaikan dan kelasnya menjadi hidup. Saya jadi senang sekali.
Arigato Gozaimasu, Kimura Sensei!
When it comes to sacred scriptures, among the things that challenge the believers is how to interpret them in ways that are faithful, on one hand, and are aware of today’s context and problems on the other hand. Addressing this issue, on March 29, 2016, CRCS student Azis Anwar Fachrudin interviewed Emanuel Gerrit Singgih, professor of theology at Duta Wacana University. Prof. Singgih taught at CRCS and advised a number of CRCS students’ thesis and is now teaching philosophical hermeneutics and interpretation of sacred scripture at the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS). Since finishing his Ph.D. at the University of Glasgow, United Kingdom, in 1985, Prof. Singgih has written numerous articles and books which mostly concern Christian theology and interpretation of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. Among his important books are Berteologi dalam Konteks (2000), Hidup di Bawah Bayang-bayang Maut: Sebuah Tafsir Kitab Pengkhotbah (2001), Doing Theology in Indonesia (2003), Dua Konteks (2009), and Menguak Isolasi Menjalin Relasi (2009).
There are several approaches to interpreting the Bible as you elaborate in your book Dua Konteks: dogmatic, historical criticism, literary criticism, and reader’s response. Do you think there is a problem with the dogmatic (or traditional, if you will) approach so that other methods are needed?
Not exactly a problem that will remain unsolved. It depends on how we see the four models in the framework of philosophical thinking. Even the first model (the dogmatic or the traditional model) can be used fruitfully if it is not used in isolation from other factors; for instance, the context of the text and the reader(s). If these factors are seen together, I think the traditional interpretation will not be something considered as bad in the ethical sense, or old-fashioned, or outdated.
Any example? I mean, of the traditional approach isolated from those factor?
If we read Paul’s admonitions in the New Testament, for instance, in the letter to Corinthians, there he said that women should not talk in the congregation. Of course it means that only men can talk. Before I became aware of other models or other hermeneutical understandings, I always said to my students that, well, you can put this text inside a cupboard or inside a fridge, because nowadays there are women who talk in congegrations or are ordained as pastors. So in the Protestant church, how can you reconcile this fact with that text? After I became aware of, for instance, Paul Ricoeur’s explanation of the hermeneutical arcs, I then began to think that maybe it was something done in the time of Paul and maybe he thought that it was necessary at that time to admonish the ladies in the congregation not to talk,because maybe something negative has happened because of that kind of situation.
What was that kind of situation?
There are commentators who think that maybe at that time there were movements which tried to counter the authority of the leaders (who are usually men) inside the congregation, and usually the proponents of these movements were women. Now we have feminist movements; we now do not think of them as negative; instead we understand that women have been oppressed and they should have the right to revolt, and that these movements see the text of Paul as being oppressive to women. On one hand, I agree, but still, on the other hand, I think we have to get a fair picture, following Ricoeur, to try to look at Paul’s reasoning and not immediately regard him negatively. The situation may be negative to Paul, and his reactions could be seen as negative, but still, we have to understand why Paul comes to that kind of admonition.
Doesn’t that imply that modern facts, so to speak, can change the interpretation or the religion itself?
What modernity has achieved cannot be seen as something independent in itself. What people now have achieved has its roots in the past. So, why are we against, for instance, slavery? Because there are people in the past who were already against that. Why are we criticizing Paul? Because at that time there were women who were against marginalization of women. Modernity is a continuation of the past.
I reflect that to what happens in Islam, and I see some ‘reformers’ who do that kind of thinking to the scripture are sometimes regarded as betraying the scripture.
I am not qualified to evaluate my Muslim friends, but, within Christian interpretation of scripture, that has to change, especially when we are now aware of at least four models or alternatives of interperation. We cannot say that any longer. We can say “that is not according to my view of scripture,” but we cannot say “that is not according to scripture.” Because we interpret scripture.
So, interpretation is always relative….
Not necessarily so. What I understand about the scripture is my own view, but it doesn’t mean we cannot find consensus of what is the right interpretation. For me, it is one of the traits of modernity that it is always afraid of losing absoluteness and saying, “If we lose this, we will become relative.” In postmodern thought, people are not going to the relative side, but they are saying that we cannot be absolute; what we can reach is probability, and by looking at probability we can discuss together and hopefully at one time we will find some consensus.
Sometimes I come across some ex-Christian atheists, particularly in the Western discourse, who say that Paul was a misogynist. How would you respond to that sort of accusation?
It depends on what we see as the meaning of the text. If we understand it literally and we cannot do other ways, then of course Paul is misogynist. But who can tell that that is the understanding of the text? I know that sometimes when you wrote your article, you said that this is the understanding and you either agreed or not with that, am I right?
Sometimes, because my audience is mostly conservatives who don’t like obscurity…
I should question the equation between the meaning and the text. By doing that, I try to become postmodernist in the sense that I am not against conservatives as such. In postmodernity we try to go together, and if we can come to some common understanding on the sacred text, I think that is good. And that is what we are trying to look for in lectures such as understanding of scripture. We are not trying to say that you are wrong and I am right. Let us look for truth.
It is like we should emphasize on the process rather than the result…
Yes, that is right.
You mostly do interpretation of the Old Testament. I come across some who say that figures like Moses, David, Solomon, the prophets are not historical; they did not actually exist. Your response?
First I would like to say that in the beginning historical criticism was very harsh; it started from skepticism. But then after around fifty years, people became aware that the Bible was not written directly by this and that figure. Mostly, those who are responsible for the edition of the Bible as we have it now were editors who lived long after the patriarchs and the kings. They were talking about people in their own past. How shall we then respond to this new finding that it is the editors not the authors who are responsible? We can now say that what is important historically for us is the way the editors edited the Bible and the stories in it. It was historical according to them, but of course it is different from what we now understand as history.
Meaning, we are now looking at history in a very academic way, but they had their own understanding of history, which was maybe not academic at all. But can we say that what they are saying is nonsense?
Well, why isn’t it nonsense? I mean, those who don’t believe in those stories would ask why we should look at ancient stories that are sometimes terrible to address today’s problems? Take the example when God punished people of a tribe, He committed something like genocide; or there is the example of Abraham sacrificing his own son.
But God intervened, so the killing did not happen after all.
In Christianity Abraham is not understood as a prophet, right?
No. We call him father of all believers. First, Abraham is very obedient, but his obedience has a limit. In the end, he does not follow the command to kill his only son, because he believes that there is another commandment of God which is in contrary to the first commandment. The first said kill him, the next said do not kill him. That is a kind of what people now call as faith struggle; in the life of the faithful there is a struggle to know what is the will of God. And it is not easy, sometimes we have to choose from contradictory statements . The lesson we can get from this story of Abraham and Isaac is that we can choose not to kill; we can choose to prevent our beloved ones from being killed.
I don’t know the details of the story in Christianity. But in Islam, God commands Abraham through a dream to kill his son.
That is the same. Then the point is that when Abraham is gong to execute the command, there is an angel that comes down…
So, God was testing Abraham?
What we mostly understand from the story is that it is a test. Actually in the text, in the Indonesian Bible, it is said “Allah mencoba …” [God tested…]. But a test can become problematic if the price is very high. In the book of Job, Job is also tested by God, but that too can be regarded as a problem; that is why in the middle of the book, Job revolts against God. But in the text itself there is a dynamic, which in the end gives something to us why Abraham then decides “no”; what God demands from me should not be something evil. The very high price in itself signifies that, in the end, it does not need to be executed.
Last topic: Jesus said that he came to earth not to bring peace but rather the sword. And in another occassion, Jesus said to turn the other cheek. How to deal with this sort of contradiction?
First, the Bible has many contradictions, and many of these contradictions are constructed by the people themselves. Some say the Old Testament is violent while the New Testament is not, and they make an opposition between these two books. But I think the real case is not like that. In the Old Testament, you will find images of followers of God who are compassionate, and in the New Testament you will find texts which are violent. If we now go to the New Testament, to the sayings of Jesus, you will see two contradictory sayings. Now what shall we do? Shall we harmonize them? I think we should not. Following Foucault, let them be like that. In our search for truth, sometimes we come to positions which seem to contradict each other, but both have their own positive and negative sides. You don’t have to harmonize them.
How would you personally interpret the violent one, that Jesus came by sword?
He is somebody who is very concerned with the injustice of this world, and he intends to overcome this injustice. That is why he is in opposition to the religious leaders.
That would imply that violence can sometimes be justifiable to fight against oppression…
When there is no other way out. Well, I belong to a group of people in Christianity called Calvinists. There are other people called Mennonites; they are against violence; in every situation they do not advocate violence. Calvin said in some extreme cases, for instance, in his context where the king was stifling religious freedom, you can raise arms to defend your freedom. I belong to this tradition. But I of course never recommend violence.
There is an idea that says that the scripture is malleable, meaning it is the readers who bring their values or ideology into the scripture, not the other way around. If you’re a violent person or living in oppressed areas, like in Latin America in the 1980s, for example, your interpretation would tend to justify violence against the oppressors. If you’re the oppressor, you’d tend to pick the peaceful side of scripture to calm down the subsersives. Any response?
That is too extreme. The Latin American people fought against oppression, and the result is democratic societies; the dictatorships came crumbling down, and what appeared are democratic societies. The only successful revolution is of course Cuba. But the others come to normal situation by the process of non-violent opposition to dictatorships. I do not agree one hundred percent with the above theory. Liberation theology’s emphasis is not on violence, but on the preferential option for the poor and the weak. That is the main tenet of liberation theology. It places priority for the poor and the weak.
What about the Catholics at the time of Nazi Germany? I heard that they were supporting or at least silent in front of the Nazi persecution of the Jews.
They did not speak strongly enough against the Nazis, nor did the Protestants. But there were some Catholic priests who courageously defied the Nazi regime, and so did some pastors from Protestant churches. Martin Niemöller, for instance, was put in prison. Also, Dietrich Bonhoeffer who joined the plot to kill Hitler was imprisoned and later hanged by the Nazis.
Okay, that’s all. Thank you, Pak Gerrit.
Does Indonesia have a strong basis for religious pluralism that is deeply rooted in its history? This question can help shape the way Indonesian people today imagine their national identity when dealing with religious diversity. To get a historian’s perspective, CRCS student Azis Anwar Fachrudin interviewed Professor Anthony Reid, distinguished historian of Southeast Asia and Professor Emeritus at the Australian National University, when he visited CRCS on February 24, 2016, and spoke at the CRCS-ICRS Wednesday Forum. Following his doctoral work at Cambridge University on the contest for power in northern Sumatra, Indonesia, in the late 19th century, he has written many books on the political and cultural history of the region, including The Contest for North Sumatra: Aceh, the Netherlands and Britain, 1858-98 (1969); The Indonesian National Revolution (1974); The Blood of the People: Revolution and the End of Traditional Rule in Northern Sumatra (1979); An Indonesian Frontier: Acehnese and other histories of Sumatra (2004); Imperial Alchemy: Nationalism and political identity in Southeast Asia (2010); and To Nation by Revolution: Indonesia in the 20th Century (2011); as well as works of historical synthesis, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, c.1450-1680 (2 vols. 1988-93) and A History of Southeast Asia: Critical Crossroads (2015). He was the founding director of the Asia Research Institute (ARI) at the National University of Singapore (NUS). .
In some of your papers you argue that religious pluralism has long been rooted in Asian tradition or, more precisely, South, East, and Southeast Asian traditions. Does that mean that religious intolerance is a modern development? In other words, is it quite recent?
That is what I was attempting to say, to help in a sense legitimize diversity as an Asian tradition. There were examples of intolerance in Asia, in earlier times, but they were very minor in comparison with what happened in Europe and probably what happened in the Middle East.
If you can point out something essential to Asian tradition that has made it more tolerant toward religious diversity than Western tradition was, what would that be?
Perhaps, two things. One is a simple necessity that the Indian ocean was a place of great interactions between many kinds of people. Many of the traders were Muslims; most of the other people were not. Of course they interacted all the time. Nobody could imagine a homogenous situation. The trade was made to bring people together with different religions. This is just a basic fact of geographical condition. The other point is that Indic religion in general was very different from the Abrahamic in that it did not create boundaries around the faith and it did not generate a creed.
No concept of heresy?
Yes, no concept of heresy, because there was no concept of a single revelation that has to be defined and defended by the faithful. Indian religion was more about sacred places, different kinds of deities and forms of worship. It is inherently a more diverse system. In many of the Indic mystic traditions, including one that was very strongly practiced in Java, there was the idea that there is diversity but essentially truth must be one. This diversity that is obvious, as apparent in different practices, must fundamentaly be one. We don’t have to force the appearance or the lahir to conform to the batin. We must realize the oneness in some deeper level.
So, you agree with the thesis that Islam came to Nusantara in a more peaceful way than how it came to, for example, Africa or Europe?
Yes. I mean, there were religious warfares, but it came [to Nusantara] initially by trade, which must accomodate diversity.
The way Islam and Christianity formed an orthodoxy is different. The schism in Christianity happened mostly after the Council of Nicaea. In Islam it happened not long after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Does this have an impact in the way Muslims and Christians reconcile their respective religion with modern values?
There were many schisms in Christianity. And like the Islamic schism, they all have something to do with political power. In Christianity it certainly was the Roman Empire that, when once it embraced Christianity, was calling Christian theologians to come up with some consensus and those who did not accept it would be considered heretical. Most of the people who did not accept were outside or removed from the Roman Empire. So, the empire enforced orthodoxy. Of course this idea of enforcing orthodoxy is not something inherent in the religion, but it definitily happened in both Christianity and Islam as they became the ally of the state.
But if we look at the last century there have been more movements within Islam that strive to establish an Islamic state or a caliphate than that in Christianity. Is there something in Islam distinct from Christianity with regard to this issue?
Well, the issue of religious tolerance and the separation of church and state was settled some time ago. At least since the French revolution, it became established that there has to be a difference between the state and religion. Religion could not be forced by the state. Of course there were still few states that try to enforce things like this. But basically, that was by then pretty settled. And that was much earlier established in America as a necessary way of dealing with diversity. But, while that was settled in Christianity, I think that has not been settled in the same way in Islam; I mean, the debate on how the relationship between religion and the state should work. And I suppose that the absence of any religious authority in Islam makes the relation with the state more salient. I mean, this issue of what state should do or whether the state is supposed to impose a single power of religious authority is still there.
Or, it has to do with some sort of doctrine in Christianity that says “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, render to God the things that are God’s”?
I’m not theologically sure enough that that is the case. I know that there are words of Jesus that say don’t draw swords, don’t fight, don’t do violence—these sorts of things help modern people resolve the issue. But I don’t know for sure if Muslims were really anxious to settle the issue to the extent that they couldn’t find something like that in Christianity. This is not my job to decide.
Your dissertation was about the history of Sumatra, particularly Aceh. There was Sultan Iskandar Thani, backed by Sheikh Nuruddin ar-Raniri, imposing its state-sanctioned doctrine on people. Was it an exception in the general picture of religious pluralism or common to other places in Nusantara?
That’s one of my favorite stories, but the case was not that simple. There were reactions against Iskandar Thani and ar-Raniri. And I think it’s not unique; it was quite common to that period. I mean, the similar thing happened in Aceh, Banten, and Makassar. The Sultanate states were actually relatively new, and became suddenly rather powerful, while there was nothing like that before. They rose very quickly on the strength of trades; guns were then introduced; and new religion Islam gave them sort of legitimation to make war against their neighbours. These three things combined made them aggressive. This in part shows that this kind of fundamentalism is not new. It was tried before though it then failed; it was tried again and failed again, because it found a backlash. Earlier I talked to a Batak student about Batak history. They were stateless, highland people; I mean, Batak, Toraja, and perhaps Sundanese to some extent. They were forced into the highlands at the time of these expansionary aggressive Muslim Sultanates. There were Batak people on the coasts before Islamic aggression came from Aceh. After the aggression, they were given a choice to accept Aceh rule, accept Islam, etc., or move to the higlands. They said no; they wanted to be free, and they moved to the hills. I think that is a turning point in their history. The same thing happened in Makassar. In Makassar, Sultan Hasanuddin was rather intolerant and made his enemies that way; I mean toward Bugis and others. It was Arung Palaka from Bone who was the one who defeated Hasanuddin. But Arung Palaka then tried to conquer the whole South Sulawesi and campaigned against Toraja. The Toraja people, however, then celebrated their mythology and rituals to resist Bone.
Is that a kind of battle between Islam and adat (customs) or indigenous cultures? Like the case of Imam Bonjol in West Sumatra, for example.
It is a battle between themselves; I mean, between Bugis, Bone, and Toraja. As for West Sumatra, I guess that’s true. But there was a sort of happy ending to that story. In his memoir, Imam Bonjol explains that there were some people who went to Mecca; they then came back, telling what the Wahhabis did; you know, conquering Mecca, destroying holy places and sacred tombs, causing havoc, and everything. Paderi then did the same things. But later other people went to Mecca, and found Turkey had fought back, and Wahhabis were out. And those people coming back said, “Oh, we made a mistake. We misunderstood the truth. We should give back some of the properties we took from these people.”
Still in Sumatra. Some say, the rising sectarianism is a modern phenomenon. They say in the past Sunnis and Shiites were tolerant to each other. There have been traditions like Tabot in Bengkulu and Tabuik in Pariaman. In Aceh there was Perlak, said to be a Shi’i Sultanate, though replaced then by a Sunni Sultanate Samudera Pasai.
I don’t know much about Perlak. What I know more is Haru, which was more clearly adopting a kind of Islam that was not acceptable to Pasai in Aceh. It seems probable that Haru then became Karo, when Aceh conquered and suppressed them. They retreated and Haru became Karo-Batak. On Sunni-Shia relationship, I think there was sort of self-conscious harmony between the two groups. In the earlier time people was not making that disctintion clear. It seems, it is after the Islamic revivalism around the last 19th century that people began drawing the lines. But my knowledge of this is limited.
Last question. The closing statement in your paper says, “In fact, pluralism in Indonesia rests upon a very secure base of history as well as ideology.” It was written in 2007. And now we have Shiites expelled from Sampang; Ahmadis persecuted; and, more recently, the Gafatar members whose homes and property were burned. Also, over the last decade the 1965 defamation law has been increasingly used by those who want to eliminate the ‘deviants’. How would you explain this?
Well, as you heard in the seminar just know, I backed off a bit from that confidence, knowing these recent disturbing events. I was interested in listening to what people said because you guys know more what is going on. But on the whole I was still reassured, seeing many people around the room were still optimitic. And that’s very encouraging. It’s easy to sit at a distance, and now you see how nasty all the news you hear; you need a reassurance of optimism. But I guess, those who are struggling for tolerant, inclusive Indonesia should feel confident that they have history on their side more on the other side, even though that doesn’t necessarily mean they can win easily. The challenge now is the globalizing trend that tends to decontextualize ideas. So, yes, I am not as confident as I was.