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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Traditionalism in Indonesia

By Dinar Kania, Ph.D. student, Ibn Khaldun University, Indonesia (najmasyira@gmail.com)

Schuonian perennialism has been present in Islamic thought and education in Indonesia since the publication of a translation of Schuon’s Transcendent Unity of Religions in the 1990s, and has since grown through the impact of the works of  Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Perennialist perspectives have been adopted by some Islamic scholars as a philosophical foundation for the legitimization of religious pluralism and of multiculturalism-based education. They have also been criticized as incompatible with Islamic teachings, and as potentially disrupting the unity of Muslims in Indonesia, despite offering a cursory solution to the issue of violence in the name of religion.

"Inclusive Theology"
Schuon's "transcendent unity" is behind the emergence of the so-called "Inclusive Theology" that was proposed by "Cak Nur," Nurcholis Majid (1939-2005), and that has been encouraging the spread of religious pluralism in Indonesia. Cak Nur, who did his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago from 1978 to 1984, has had enormous influence on the development of liberal Islamic thought in Indonesia, and his name was even proposed as a presidential candidate in 2004. His Inclusive Theology asserts that Islam is but one way to approach God, because the way to God is very wide and diverse.(1) Religious discourse can thus be expressed through various forms, for example, in Hinduism as Sanatana Dharma, in Taoism as the Tao, and in Buddhism as Dharma, all of which represent the primordial tradition, or al-din al-hanif in Islam. Al-din al-hanif, in Allah’s sight, is actually the attitude of resignation (islam) which is common to all religious believers, particularly followers of the scriptures, both Jewish and Christian.(2) All religions teach monotheism (tawhid) and the attitude of surrender (islam), and differ in their exoteric aspects (sharia), and not their esoteric aspect or batin.(3)

Sukidi, in his Teologi Inklusif Cak Nur (The Inclusive Theology of Cak Nur, 2001) argued that the perspectives of the perennial philosophy are needed to apply Inclusive Theology universally to all religions and authentic religious traditions. The search for the roots of the epistemological construct of the Inclusive Theology will thus not stop at finding ultimate reality, but can go deeper through the mystical experience of unification with God. Only through this trans-historical perspective, Sukidi maintains, can the adherents of an Inclusive Theology achieve an authentic ecumenism, timeless and perenenial, although this can only be in the esoteric (batin): religious harmony can only be achieved in the "Sky divine," not in "Earth's atmosphere."(4)

The Study of Religion
Religious Studies in Indonesia were changed by the opening of the Comparative Religion Department at Institut Agama Islam Negeri (State Institute of Islamic Studies) in Yogyakarta in 1961 under Professor Abdul Mukti Ali, Minister of Religious Affairs 1973-1978. Mukti Ali approached the development of comparative religion from the perspective of the Western study of religions, particularly those developed by Snouck Hurgronje, his followers, and the Leiden tradition. Since then, the study of religion in Indonesia has used the secular-liberal approaches of the historical sciences, psychology and philosophy.

More recently, the perspective of the perennial philosophy has begun to be employed as an "original approach" to comparative religion that does not parse religions vertically into historical entities such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Schuon's approach is claimed as a spiritual trans-historical perspective which is grounded in historical fact, then raised to the level of mystical theological transcendence so that historical fact becomes relative to the spiritual truth which is seen as the core of religion. Such perspectives became increasingly widespread once Seyyed Hossein Nasr's work was introduced into Indonesia, and eventually became quite popular in religious studies.(5)

Multiculturalism-based Education
On the basis that many horizontal conflicts in Indonesia have had religious nuances, multiculturalism-based education has been massively promoted by liberals since the regional autonomy and decentralization of 1999/2000.(6) Schuon's thought has been used to assert, theologically and philosophically, the importance of developing religious studies based on multiculturalism, according to Syamsul Arifin in his inaugural address as professor of sociology of religion in one of the Islamic private universities. Syamsul Arifin argues that the concept of multiculturalism can be used as a framework or epistemology to understand and disseminate the notion of transcendent unity among the various religions. The study of religion based on multiculturalism can, he further argues, erode conflict and violence, and foster a non-violent culture with the values, knowledge, feelings, and willingness to cooperate on the basis of transcendent unity.(7)

Critiques
As well as influencing Islamic thought and education in Indonesia, perennialism has also been heavily criticised by some Islamic scholars. Adian Husaini, former Chairman of the Islamic Da'wah Council of Indonesia (DDII), has argued that perennialism is against Islamic teaching, as the sharia is not just "exoteric" but rather one of the most fundamental aspects of Islam. One of the primary missions of the prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH) was to give guidance on how to worship Allah. To achieve true esotericism, one must perform proper religious procedures in accordance with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It is Allah that is worshipped and nothing else, neither gods nor otherwise.

Anis Malik Thoha of the Institute for Study of Islamic Thought and Civilization (INSISTS) in Jakarta, who currently teaches at International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), has argued that the perennialist conception of esoteric truth is  over-simplistic. Perennialism is an interpretation, not a revelation, and is contrary to religious principles in general, and to Islam in particular. Religious concepts such as Sanatana Dharma and al-din al-hanif have been terribly distorted to fit the ideas of the Traditionalists. Perennialism is therefore more of a problem than a solution to the issue of religious diversity.(8)


References
  1. Nurcholis Majid in George B. Grose and Benjamin J. Hubbard, Tiga Agama Satu Tuhan (Jakarta: Mizan, 1998), p. xix.
  2. Sukidi, Teologi Inklusif Cak Nur (Jakarta: Kompas, 2001), p. 22-23.
  3. Azhari Akmal Tarigan, Islam Mazhab HMI; Tafsir Tema Besar Nilai Dasar Perjuangan (NDP) (Jakarta: Kultura, 2007), p. 48.
  4. Sukidi, Teologi Inklusif, p. 19-20.
  5. Ahmad Norma Permata, Metodologi Studi Agama (Yogyakarta: Pustaka Pelajar, 2000), p. 32-33.
  6. Choirul Mahfud, Pendidikan Multikultural (Yogyakarta: Pustaka Pelajar, 2008), p. 7.
  7.  Syamsul Arifin, Silang Sengkarut Agama di Ranah Sosial (Malang: UMM Press, ND), p. 47.
  8. Journal of Islamic Thought Islamia-Republika, 23 April 2011.

9 comments:

Dinar said...

Harvey, thanks so much for all you do and the time you take in doing so!

Ferry Hidayat said...

Hartono Ahmad Jaiz,Adian Husaini, Anis Malik Thoha, Adnin Armas are only experts of heresiology. They consider many new perspectives of Islam as heresies (including the perennialist one) and don't build another perspective out of their criticism. They are deconstructionists without constructing any Islamic perspective. They are good at criticizing many without being good at constructing one

Anonymous said...

When one is not constructionist, it doesn't mean he has to be deconstructionist. When we learn the whole of Islamic Teachings, we'll find out that they, in general, consist of two main parts. The first one what is called as 'Masail Qath'iah', which represent the fundamental part of Islam, the essence of Islam, that we are not allowed to 'play' in it by its Owner. And the second part is called 'Masail Ijtihadiah' where we are a freedom to think, based on the first part, to construct new perspectives, build new methodologies, etc, etc. And what Adian husaini and his friends do is to defend the first part of the islamic Teachings, which is the Essence of Islam itself, defending it from the attempts of filthy hands that try to destruct Islam from its very core. Adian and Co. are defenders of Islam. And I think it's natural that every system has its own defenders. And the accusation of Mr. Ferry is not accurate at all and not based on true hypothesis, and I don't think he has a good understanding of Islam.

Ghazi Al said...

When one is not constructionist, it doesn't mean he has to be deconstructionist. When we learn the whole of Islamic Teachings, we'll find out that they, in general, consist of two main parts. The first one what is called as 'Masail Qath'iah', which represent the fundamental part of Islam, the essence of Islam, that we are not allowed to 'play' in it by its Owner. And the second part is called 'Masail Ijtihadiah' where we are a freedom to think, based on the first part, to construct new perspectives, build new methodologies, etc, etc. And what Adian husaini and his friends do is to defend the first part of the islamic Teachings, which is the Essence of Islam itself, defending it from the attempts of filthy hands that try to destruct Islam from its very core. Adian and Co. are defenders of Islam. And I think it's natural that every system has its own defenders. And the accusation of Mr. Ferry is not accurate at all and not based on true hypothesis, and I don't think he has a good understanding of Islam.

RS Abdussalam said...

If you, Ferry Hidayat, believe that these individuals are doing what you are accusing them of doing, then how do you explain the fact that all, save Hartono Ahmad Jaiz, are proteges of Prof Tan Sri HMS Naquib Alatas, the late Prof Ismail Raji Faruqi's partner in the Islamization of knowledge? Are you saying that now in your eyes these renowned figures in Islamic Philosophy are no longer hold the same weigh in your eyes, in contrast with your very own view of them in 2007 reflected in your blog?
Or perhaps you simply cannot grasp what these "experts of heresiology" are trying to convey in their every speech and piece of writings and books, and as a result you decided to slam them and lump them together as you are doing?
Perhaps it is you who are good at criticizing and cannot produce any sound and solid criticism nor even simple comments.

Ferry Hidayat said...

What I really want to emphasize here is that after the death of Mohammad, everybody in Islam is at the same level; the level of interpreters. Adian & Co., Naquib Al-Attas, Ismail Raji Al-Faruqi, Abdussalam, and I are all interpreters of Islam. Since nobody of us cannot guarantee what we believe in Islam is truth, like Muhammad had reached in the past), we cannot say that anyone of us represents Islam. What Adian and co. interpret is Islam they interpret, or let's call it 'so-interpreted Islam'. The Islam that Abdussalam defends is 'so-interpreted Islam'. It's plausible for anyone to criticize so-and-so interpretation of Islam as plausible as I do :)

Saujana said...

Now Mr. Ferry you've exposed too much of your ignorance in saying that after the death of (the blessed Prophet) Muhammad, all men are alike! Even your president is hopefully a far more superior "interpreter" of the strengths, weaknesses and exigencies of the nation than yourself - I hope you will admit you are not at his level yet!

Can you not understand that when Muhammad s.a.w. was still alive he had emphatically "interpreted" that the faith of his beloved companion Sayyidina Abu Bakar exceeds the faith of the rest of humanity put together?

Now, I accept that what the Prophet s.a.w. stated was wholly true, and therefore after his demise, all men (Muslims)were required to follow the commands of Kalifah Abu Bakar as-Siddiq (even if he himself in all humility and veracity proposed the conditions for obedience binding upon him in acting on behalf of their own welfare)

Criticizing the bully for his brutal character is simply not the same as criticizing a school principal about the way he plans and implements the educational curriculum -- and whatever other issues Mr.Ferry feels he is most qualified to criticize . . .

Mang Elan said...

:well...well...
to my opinion, firstly first, islam is quite different from the other ideas or teaching, because islam is a dien, a revelation from Allah azza wa jalla, brought by muhammad bin abdu-lLah shalla-lLahu 'alaihi wa-s-salam.
secondly, we ought to have known better that not all religion are the same, islam is still pure, islam is still original as it was and it will be, no one will be able to pollute, deface it, there will be among us stand up and even with his own blood to cleanse it.
thirdly, we have to understand islam as a whole not only memorizing and understand two qullah fiqh, not only memorizing and understand twenty properities of Allah just like a story of a blind with an elephant.
further more as an islamic scolar we have to study the other sciences as well, at least to understand it when, what the people talking about.

Anonymous said...

~Schuon's thought has been used to assert, theologically and philosophically, the importance of developing religious studies based on multiculturalism.`

absolutely no evidence whatsoever that schuon has had any real influnece in Indonesia,he is hardly known at all.The transcendent unity of religions does not make alot of sense in the bahasa indonesia transalation.Even the sharper spiritua/intellectuals i have met in Indonesia really struggle to understand the message.
IN any case the idea of the transcendent unity of religions/plurality has been a permanent feature of Indonesian society in general and mysticism since time immemorial.Schuon does does not add anything that Javanese culture doesnt have already in its own traditioanl universe.
I am aghast at the overstating and exaggeration that woodward repeatedly engages in.