Thursday, October 11, 2007

More Prophets are Needed in Today's Indonesia

Opinion and Editorial, The Jakarta Post (October 11, 2007)

Al Makin

In a similar outcome to the Ahmadiyah and Lia Aminuddin cases, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) last week issued fatwa (edict) No. 4/2007 against the newly born Islamic sect Qiyadah Islamiyah, led by Haji Salam (alias Ahmad Moshaddeq), in Bogor.

In the past we have seen numerous intellectuals and scholars voicing passionate criticism of MUI's fatwas, including Azyumardi Azra, Dawam Rahardjo, Komaruddin Hidayat, Djohan Effendi, Ulil Abshar Abdalla, Abdul Moqsith Ghazali, Weinata Sairin, Syafi'i Ma'arif, Anan Krishna and Abdurrahman Wahid, to name a few.

For the sake of brevity, we shall not repeat each argument here. Suffice it to say that these intellectuals are -- in the name of pluralism, freedom of faith and religious tolerance -- concerned that these edicts trigger religious violence against the Ahmadiyah and Eden or Salamullah sects. Indeed, both Ahmadiyah and Salamullah were physically attacked by radical groups. Peculiarly, Lia Aminuddin was even jailed. Thus, Abdul Moqsith Ghazali writes that the MUI edicts have a "criminalization" effect on their subjects.

Interestingly, the basis of these criticisms does not accord with MUI's point of view, since MUI itself condemns liberalism, secularism and pluralism. Unsurprisingly, rather than listening to these voices, MUI has repeated the same edicts.

The main question here is whether with the pronouncement of these edicts MUI will reach its goal; to eradicate "deviant" sects from Islamic orthodoxy. Realistically speaking, there are no guarantees whatsoever that condemning, discrediting, banning, attacking and jailing cult leaders will diminish their faith, or end their religious activity. To illustrate, if a cult is banned, its leader jailed and followers persecuted, will another cult not emerge in its place? Nobody dares say no.
Apart from controversy and concerns surrounding possible persecution against the Qiyadah Islamiyah by certain radical groups, one may wonder why claimants of prophethood still emerge in modern Indonesia, at least in the cases of Lia Aminuddin and Haji Salam who have made particular use of the idioms of Islamic doctrine.

It is worth recalling that in the history of Semitic prophethood, in ancient times prophets played an essential role in advocating reform for the betterment of society. However, it seems hard if not impossible to apply such a theory to Indonesian claimants, while we remain a majority and are satisfied with the establishment.

Worse still, they are often seen as deviants and heretics, as Muslims hold there is no prophet after "the Seal of the Prophets/khatam anbiya," -- the Prophet Muhammad.
Accusations that Salamullah and Qiyadah are guilty of murtad (apostasy) in borrowing Islamic terms to express their teachings may gain justification. Moreover, radical groups could easily use this to justify their actions.

However, if we use the emergence of these claimants as a point of departure for further contemplation, we are reminded to practice self-criticism as a religious society.
Thus, we can perhaps ask ourselves: Are there any weaknesses in our official religions, where new cults may emerge? Have our religious leaders behaved appropriately? Do official religions still serve to function for the betterment of our society? Do they still function to guard our nation's morality?

With these questions in mind, may we humbly avoid judging these people as claiming prophethood for the sake of popularity and fame.

It may well be that these new claimants offer only ancient or medieval concepts of prophethood -- apparently sharing the same views on revelation, salvation and messianism as their ancient predecessors did. But we should avoid the old prejudices and hostile attitudes in judging them. Many ancient prophets first faced persecution from their own societies, so we should learn from history, not repeat this mistake with new claimants.

Following Abdurrahman Wahid's principle, let the people think and determine for themselves what new cults may offer. Azyumardi Azra also reminds us that the interpretations of religion held by a majority are not the sole truth, or that we can force the rest to follow.
It may be true that we no longer need prophets in an ancient sense with regard to their charisma and leadership, as the latter role has partly been taken over by modern but secular institutions -- such as governments, political parties, intellectuals and even religious leaders (as heirs of past prophets and guardians of official religions).

Thus, the declaration in ancient times of prophethood and new religion has been replaced, in terms of leadership, by modern presidential candidates or the formation of political parties.
Claims of revelation and the establishment of new religious teachings has been replaced by new ideologies or schools of thought.

Regardless, with the current situation the way it is, in Indonesia we do need more prophets -- in the modern sense. Needless to say, Indonesians still fail to carry out their most important duties as a nation and society. That is, to cooperate in the fight against corruption inherent in our culture and mentality, to guard the nation against disintegration, to uphold the rule of law and, finally, to escape from a multi-dimensional crisis. In this respect, we expect and hope more prophets come and stand boldly, leading the people (ummah) to voice the truth.

The writer is the author of Nabi Palsu (False Prophet, 2003) and Bunuh Sang Nabi (Kill the Prophet, 2006), a lecturer at the Sunan Kalijaga Islamic State University, Yogyakarta, and a PhD candidate at Heidelberg University. He can be reached at