Indrawasi, a senior lecturer in gender studies at the University of Malaya laments the fate of Lubna Ahmed Al Hussein who was found “guilty” of wearing trousers in the Sudan along with ten other women. (The Jakarta Post (13.11.09). But she never dreamed that a policy banning trousers for women would ever exist in Indonesia.
She is right that central government must intervene so that regional bylaws should not contravene national laws. “ We do not want what happens in Sudan, to occur in West Aceh and in other parts of Indonesia”.
Yet sharia banking law is increasingly well regulated, sharia food laws are enforced without controversy, voluntary adoption of sharia law to resolve family and property disputes is starting to work quite well internationally, including in the UK and other Western countries.
Sharia law does not have to be brutal, misogynistic, stupid or reactionary but it is increasingly so perceived by Westerners, made worse by the ill-advised public statements by those who seem unaware of the practices in the diversity of the Umma (the global Muslim community).
To emulate a small minority of Arabs does not mean you are copying prevailing Arab beliefs and practice. This only results in simplistic Arab-bashing headlines.
To copy the practices of backward tribal groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan does not make sense in modern Indonesia nor does it make good Muslims.
Proper modern religious conservatives are clearly different from this and their views should be respected, but the genuinely devout are likely to want to avoid sensationalism.
But such political opportunists seeking fame and fortune in Indonesia have to be got under control before they do more serious damage.
They will undermine development, economic prosperity and investment. They will provoke a civil rights movement against them.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs and the largest Muslim mass organizations in Indonesia, the Nahdatul Ulama and the Muhammadiah seem to have lost control of this wave of anarchy. Yet this usurps their leadership and authority.
Aslam Sa,ad and Nihayatul Wafiroh, identify in the Jakarta Post (13.11.09) an underlying problem since the political leaders involved seem unaware of global Muslim trends and practices.
Most educational institutions seek to link-and-match national education and curriculum to the job market, but there is a fundamental failure to do this in religious higher education.
The result of this mismatch in Indonesian higher religious education is a shortage of students registering for Islamic studies. The classic five fields of Syari´ah (Islamic law) ; Tarbiyah (education) ; Ushuluddin (fundamentals of religion) ; Dakwah (religious propagation) and Adab (literature) no longer attract enough students.
Experts recommend that the reformation of Islamic studies to fit the modern age requires teaching in English, the inclusion of comparative religious studies, and the improved contextualization of Islamic studies in the modern world.
This could include a better overview of the diverse practices in modern Muslim societies.
A modern understanding of sharia banking, and case-studies of Muslim modernization, including national development strategies could provide a stronger foundation for Islamic studies.
Some exposure to the history of the Christian reformation and of Christian anti-clericalism would also help avoid repeating the mistakes of history.
Islamic studies also need some reference to civic education, and the basics of the national constitution and what we call in Indonesia “pancasila” or the shared values of a united multi-cultural nation.
All this would foster the evolution of a better educated local religious leadership which would be more politically street-wise and help to avoid Islam being taken for a ride at local level by politically-motivated sensation-seekers.
Dr. Terry Lacey
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