Friday, August 24, 2007

Intellectual Argument versus Mass Rally

Opinion and Editorial, The Jakarta Post (August 24, 2007)

Al Makin

What a coincidence that in the last week we encountered two opposing incidents: the fruitful discussion of Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im's newest work, which was published in Indonesian -- Islam dan Negara Sekular: Menegosiasikan Masa Depan Syari'ah (Islam and Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Sharia) -- and the international caliphate conference held by Hizbut Tahrir in Senayan over the weekend.

In strengthening the thesis of his previous works, Ahmed An-Na'im reminds us again about political and ideological efforts by the state to formalize sharia at the public level.
Sharia, according to him, should be practiced piously and voluntarily at the individual level, and its formalization, such as in the form of public law or policy, will result in a single interpretation, which could bring about repression.

A leading Indonesian intellectual, Prof. Azyumardi Azra, says this book deserves our attention for its relevance, particularly to the current Indonesian situation.
On the other side, in front of 90,000 people at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, Muhammad Ismail Yusanto clearly rejected democracy (The Jakarta Post, Aug. 12). It is not hard to guess the simple and naive rhetorical reason behind the statement that "the highest sovereignty is in the hand of God".

It is irrelevant to compare, to any extent, the arguments contained in the academic work of an-Na'im -- and the like -- and those of Ismail Yusanto and his supporters. The theory, methodology and the approach of the former have undoubtedly been based on at least a passionate three years of research.

On the contrary, the expressions of the latter are likely motivated by the sake of popularity and public support for plain ideological and political agendas and gains.
In short, we cannot compare between deep reason and emotion, scholarly work and ideological expression, or careful investigation and shallow rhetorical public speech. However, it is interesting to observe how the public responded to both. By doing so, we can perhaps see in a glimpse the public use of reasoning.

Once again, the audiences of an-Na'im and that of the caliphate conference are entirely different. Although reviews of the work of the former can easily be found in newspapers, on websites or circulated in certain mailing lists, the number of readers is still very limited, unfortunately.

However, we should not worry too much. Yusanto himself acknowledged his conference was neither aimed directly at establishing immediately an Islamic caliphate, nor was it related to the declaration of any Islamic party. The Jakarta gathering itself was more like a rock concert.
Many participants went there to show solidarity, not for curiosity, let alone for understanding. It is tempting to guess that as soon as they went home, they forgot the speeches. However, the spirit of the meeting remained intact, albeit without any change to their thinking from before and after the conference.

The analogy of a rock concert seems reasonable here in that if one likes the rock star, there is no need to find any reason and it is not important to listen to the songs sung at the concert. Just enjoy and be satisfied.

Turning to the work of an-Na'im, it is still consumed in limited circles. Yet it is still uncertain whether the stance of an-Na'im or that of Hizbut Tahrir will win the hearts of the Indonesian people in the long run.

The writer is a lecturer at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Yogyakarta and a PhD candidate at the Seminar fur Sprachen und Kulturen des Vorderen Orients, Heidelberg University, Germany. He can be reached at


Post a Comment

<< Home