Selasa, 31 Juli 2007

Advancing sharia for symbols or welfare?

Mohammad Yazid, Jakarta

In the name of sharia, and after saying a greeting, several youths claiming to be students of an Islamic boarding school in North Aceh tried to spray paint on the tight pants of several women. They accused the visitors at Cafe SC in front of Cut Meutia Buket Rata General Hospital, Blang Mangat district, of violating Islamic law by not wearing Muslim women's clothes.

The raid, which occurred earlier this month, met with the cafe owner's resistance, and one of the youths was injured. Local police captured some of the other youths later in the day.
In retaliation, the next day hundreds of Islamic students traveling in three trucks attacked the cafe, destroying some equipment and a sedan parked outside. The cafe owner was injured in the incident, Serambi Indonesia reported.

Taking the law into one's hands in the name of Islam is nothing new among some members of the Muslim community. Such incidents have taken place not only in Aceh, where sharia law prevails, but also in other areas.

From legal point of view, such actions can never be accepted, even with the excuse of the lack of stern measures on the part of law enforcers. Any action bent on anarchy considerably damages Islam's image as a peaceful religion.

Many of those who act in the name of Islam think of the following the teaching of Prophet Muhammad in one of his hadiths (words and deeds): "Anyone of you who sees something unbecoming, should change it with your hands, if you fail do it with your words, and if you fail again do it with your heart, which is the most temperate faith." They interpret the phrase "should change it with your hands" as a justification to commit violence.

In the same way, those who manage entertainment places to make a living are not to blame either because seeking a fortune also constitutes an obligation in Islam. The problem is that both teachings in Islam can be in conflict with each other. While the security apparatus cannot fully perform its duties and rules are not properly observed by the society, there are at least some indications contributing to the fact.

First, against the background of group interests, certain Muslims are trapped in an overly simplistic comprehension of hadiths, thus creating the impression of Islam permitting violence. In fact, the teaching "(you) should change it with your hands" signifies a suggestion to guide people with wrongful behavior to the right path, instead of doing a violent act. The phrase "with your words" means the use of a wise reminder at the right time, rather than harsh remarks uttered emotionally, despite the yells Allah Akbar (God is great) to give an Islamic impression.
Second, the issue of entertainment centers providing gambling and prostitution arenas is more affected by difficulties arising from socio-economic origins. It is an urban phenomenon found not only in both poor and rich countries but also in countries with Muslim and non-Muslim populations.

Therefore, the approach to be adopted should be socio-economic in nature, such as the need to localize entertainment places as once proposed by Ali Sadikin, then governor of Jakarta, in spite of the criticism launched by the Muslim community, branding him a maksiat (immorally oriented) governor. Malaysia can serve as a model of a Muslim-majority country with successful localization of gambling dens.

The religious approach that relies on the emphasis that some deeds are wrong or right proves to be less effective, much less so the assumption that people with wrongful deeds must be scrapped as junk by force. It is because they also have a simple argument corroborated by daily realities, as Jakartans say, Mencari yang haram saja susah apalagi yang halal (It's hard to make even an indecent living, let alone doing a decent job). Though the entertainment world in Aceh and other major cities involves a lot of Muslims, a religious approach finds it difficult to change them.

The tension prevailing between those opposed to entertainment spots and the people involved in this world has reflected the confusion experienced by the Muslim community in practicing Islamic teachings and dealing with realities of life. On the one hand, part of the Muslim community has to struggle for Islamic values strictly followed. On the other, amid the difficulties resulting from the economic crisis and poverty now plaguing the country, some people, including Muslims, have no choice but to be involved in prostitution and gambling.

Ironically still, some Muslims are considerably worried that they are not regarded as an Islamic group, as long as their community remains involved in practices assumed to spoil Islamic symbols, like prostitution and gambling. Conversely, they are less concerned about corruption, which has a greater impact on living conditions through problems such as widespread poverty and poor quality of education and health. Likewise, minimum attention is given to legal observance, solidarity and mutual respect among citizens, which are stressed in Islamic teachings.

Consequently, it is only proper to conclude that the Islamic community today gives priority to symbols over the essence of religion. This is noticed in the application of sharia law with greater emphasis on Islamic symbols like the ability to recite Koran becoming a requirement for the selection of civil servants and gubernatorial candidates, and the obligation to wear head scarves, which is actually more affected by faith rather than coercive regulations.

Meanwhile, the most fundamental problems in Aceh and other cities are poverty and uneven education. Furthermore, the most important essence of the application of Islamic values is to create justice, prosperity and appreciation for pluralism, which should unnecessarily utilize symbols or names in an Islamic tone. It is an inadequate understanding of this essence of Islamic values that frequently gives rise to the controversial application of sharia in society, let alone in areas outside Aceh.

The writer is a staff member of The Jakarta Post's opinion desk. He can be reached at

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