Pancasila Contextualized Islam

Once, I was invited to present a paper on an interfaith dialogue organized by a Hong Kong-based university. Later I learned from the committee that I was purposely solicited to represent Indonesians as moderate Muslims as opposed to hard-line Muslims. The moderate-hard-liner dichotomy is commonly used by the West to describe Muslim politics across the world. Putting practical politics aside, this essay highlights an overlap between Islam as a faith and Pancasila as the state ideology.

As the youngest revealed Abrahamic religion, Islam is belief in tauhid, namely the unity of God, revealed by God through wahyu or tele-angel communication by Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. To be a Muslim, one has to be committed to the syahadat or self-declaration of belief in God and Muhammad as His Messenger. This commitment constitutes the first and most fundamental pillar of Islam. As a monotheistic religion, Islam teaches its followers to develop a solid faith and a monotheistic attitude toward life.

By virtue of the syahadat, all Muslims believe that Islam is one, while Muslims are many. The haj or the obligatory pilgrimage is a showcase of this unity. The great holy mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is the center of the haj, where more than 2 million Muslims from all over the world flock together. The haj is indeed the world’s greatest human congregation held every year.

Moreover, all Muslims across the world recite the daily five prayers in Arabic and all direct their faces toward the Ka’bah, an ancient cubic building at the very center of the mosque in Mecca. The fact that Arabic is the only language allowed for the reciting of prayers is in part to help maintain the monotheistic attitude in faith. Arabic, however, will never be the only language of communication beyond the prayers even among Muslims themselves. You would find that more educated Indonesian Muslims speak English than Arabic.

How Islam is interpreted and implemented in daily life varies from person to person and community to community across the globe. This is where the monotheistic faith blends with local culture. There are more than 1 billion Muslims with distinctive traditions across the planet. The notion of aurat (not exposing certain parts of the body to the public), for example, is recognized by all Muslims all over the world. However, the way Muslim women dress in Iran, Turkey, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia varies significantly. Again, it shows how Islam blends with local culture.

Islam was not the first religion to enter Indonesia. Hinduism was the first to arrive here, then Buddhism, Islam and, later, Christianity. All these religions have profoundly shaped and continue to shape the outlook of their adherents. The struggle for political independence from 1945 to 1949 against the Dutch was also strongly motivated by religious teachings, especially among Muslims, Christians and Hindus. Many ulama (Muslim clerics) and santri (Muslim students) lost their lives during the colonial era.

With those religions as the background plus hundreds of ethnic groups, Indonesia is indeed one of the world’s greatest multicultural countries. Fortunately, Pancasila has been a unifying ideology for the whole population. The empirical or actually existing Islam across the globe, due to its divergence in social, economic and political contexts, suggests that Islam means different things. Islam cannot be perceived as monolithic, as its teachings can be interpreted in a number of different ways.

Given the poly-interpretability of Islamic teachings, no individual can claim that his or her understanding of Islam is truer or more authoritative than others. By way of comparison, Islam does not recognize religious priesthood. Therefore, it is imperative that all Muslims develop religious tolerance. At the national level, the founding fathers of the country realized the sociocultural context of Indonesia and anticipated the potential danger of imposing one particular official religion.

Despite being the majority of the population, the majority of Indonesian Muslims are not unhappy with Pancasila as the state’s philosophy. You can be a virtuous Muslim living in a secular state as much as you can be a corrupt Muslim living in an Islamic state. This is the moderate attitude of the majority. Muslims here are happy, especially with the first principle of Pancasila, namely belief in one supreme God. For Muslims, it restates the first half of the syahadat, namely belief in the oneness of God.

The other principles of Pancasila – just and civilized humanity; the unity of Indonesia; democracy that is guided by the inner wisdom of its leaders, and social justice for all the people in Indonesia – are principles for managing the country and they are all palatable with the first principle. Above all, belief in God sets moral values to observe in all walks of life. It tells Muslims how to conduct themselves according to God’s teachings. When it comes to politics and management of the state in general, religion does not give any prescription, as it does for prayer and haj rituals.

The moderate Muslims are happy with Pancasila as the guiding principles for managing the country. Any effort to make Islam the state ideology would encounter strong resistance not only from non-Muslims but also from moderate Muslims. The Religious Affairs Ministry has performed its main task in the field of administration and the development of religions. The most challenging of all these tasks has been related to recurring SARA (ethnicity, tradition, race and religion) disputes.

Globalization has impacted the SARA discourse in the country for better or worse. Religious conflicts taking place in Iraq, Turkey, India and, most recently, in Egypt will affect the politics, socioeconomics and security in the country. The one essential for coping with all this is religious harmony. We are destined to be born in a multicultural Indonesia. There is no way to change our course. Let us safeguard Pancasila to guide us in managing the country.

Chaedar Alwasilah, Bandung

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