In a regular discussion with some colleagues, the issue of Islam and politics was once again raised. I contend that Islam and politics must remain separated. There are dangers in combining Islam and politics. Although this is an old issue, it remains interesting to talk about as there seems to be various and intensive efforts from the Islamists -- notably Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) -- to promote a khilafah (Islamic state) as the final form of and option for governance.
Within the system of khilafah, every thing must be ruled by the divine law of sharia, ordained by God to his Messenger.
While there is nothing wrong with the divine law of sharia, the problem lies in the fact that forcing this law on people of different religious and cultural backgrounds is dangerous.
The debate over khilafah is of a great relevance today as the HTI is currently preparing an International Khilafah Conference to be held on Aug. 12 in Jakarta. Will this conference provide an opportunity for the HTI to declare an Islamic state in Indonesia? Whatever the hidden motive behind this conference, one has to be both careful and suspicious of it. In the final analysis, one has to reject the results of the conference if they endanger the nation.
While the conference will certainly talk about an Islamic state, the question is whether an Islamic state is relevant to Indonesia or to any Islamic country. Due to the sensitivity of the issue and its influence on our national politics, we must be careful in dealing with it and refrain from being pulled into the same hellish debate about it.
We should rather make use of the conference to evaluate the essence of HTI's political discourse, not to haul this intellectual and political current to the gallows, but to pursue an objective perspective of what national life is all about.
First of all, we can state that the notion of an Islamic state has many shortcomings. The history of Islam across centuries has shown that this experiment usually ends in failure. This is perhaps due to its ineffectiveness in offering a model of governance that is beneficial for all civilians. A sharia-based state is always discriminative -- so to speak -- against non-Muslims.
In modern history, this has been the case in Sudan, Afghanistan and Algeria (late 1980s and early 1990s). In other words, the political discourse of the Islamists is dismissive of the options provided by groups of different political, let alone religious backgrounds. I assume that should the HTI be given the power to rule the country, it would introduce the same political system as those in Arab countries where violence has been the major characteristic. Already, in their campaign for khilafah, followers of Muslim hard-line groups often use derisive language with a taint of vengefulness against their critics, sometimes aiming to intimidate them.
The failure of political Islam anywhere in the Muslim world is also due to its inability to differentiate resistance from authority, and to leave the first for the second in normal circumstances. Government under the Islamists is therefore always characterized by its obsession with fighting against the "infidels" everywhere, in and out of the country.
Hence, by all standards, the Islamists by their nature are not destined to succeed in advancing people's interests and handling their economic and social concerns. Political tension -- to say the least -- will always be present in a government run by Islamists.
It is here that the discourse and ambition of the Islamists to establish a khilafah in this country must be challenged. Not only is that discourse and ambition irrelevant for a country respecting diversity and tolerance, it will also drag our country into a ceaseless conflict and tragic political drama.
This is not to say that the Islamists should be prevented from political participation, for this is their right and the right of all citizens. This is rather to say that their discourse should be evaluated and challenged intellectually within the context of our national interests. And due to the gigantic influence of this discourse upon our national life, evaluating is should be the task of not only the government but also of all citizens.
This, in other words, should become our national agenda. One thing for sure, if the discourse is not handled with care, Islam will turn into an ideology that if left unabated will spark a conflict not only between Muslims and non-Muslims, but also among Muslims themselves.
Political Islam is not the answer. It has no place in this country. What we are looking for is a discourse that combines religion with intelligent rule, as well as civil power with cultural and religious particularities.
The writer is a lecturer in Islamic and Western philosophy at State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN) Surabaya. He earned his PhD from the University of Cape Town, South Africa.