Finding common ground for religion, politics and culture

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a virtual seminar where Professor R. Michael Feener from Kyoto University in Japan gave an insightful and informative presentation on the role of religion, politics and culture that binds the societies of Southeast Asia.

The seminar with a thematic discussion on Islam and politics was organized by the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne where I teach.

Professor Feener’s insightful article explains the trajectory of Islamic jurisprudence and adat (customary practices and traditions) in Southeast Asia, particularly highlighting the long history of dynamic interactions between Islam and culture.

“The story of Islam in Southeast Asia is in many ways a story of connections and gradual integration with a constellation of diverse Muslim societies that has been playing out for over a thousand years,” the newspaper says. .

The newspaper encouraged me to write a response, although my knowledge of Islam is relatively low. I grew up in a predominantly Catholic community in Indonesia’s eastern province of Nusa Tenggara Timur. I studied Islamology for two semesters in 1987 at the Catholic Institute of Philosophy in Ledalero, Flores. I enjoyed the subject and came to admire Islam as a “system of culture” as Clifford Geertz describes it.

For me, Islam is like a religious cousin of Christianity and Judaism as the third Abrahamic religion. I continue to admire Islam through my personal encounters with many Muslim friends, mainly in Indonesia, who share the same values ​​of love, peace and justice, fundamental values ​​for our universal humanity.

This new theology of salvation resulting from Vatican II is an important recognition of the continuing role of adat in the local Christian community.

My academic field covers ethnography with a background in philosophy and theology. Due to my experience, Professor Feener’s article sparked in me a renewed interest in the discourse of Islamic jurisprudence and adat.

He mainly referred to Indonesia as a point of reference. The choice of Indonesia is understandable, in part because Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world. About 87 percent of Indonesians, or about 239 million people, adhere to the Islamic faith in a nation of about 275 million people. By 2045, Indonesia’s population is expected to reach 320 million.

Despite this, it should be noted that in parts of Indonesia, such as Bali, North Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara Timur and Papua, Islam is not a majority religion but a minority among other faiths. For example, Hinduism is dominant in Bali, while Christianity is dominant in Nusa Tenggara Timur, North Sulawesi and Papua.

It is essential to mention the concept of majority and minority in order to explore and understand whether this dimension can contribute to the willingness or refusal of people of certain faiths to embrace the strength of adat as a means of strengthening their religious entity and identity. As we know, Protestantism in Indonesia has always been associated with ethnicity, so there is, for example, Gereja Batak (Batak Church), Gereja Masehi Ambon (Massiah Ambon Church) and Gereja Manado (Manado Church), between others.

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In Catholicism, following the Second Vatican Council, in the spirit of aggiornamento (adaptation, inculturation, transformation), the Church has become more friendly, more welcoming and more accommodating towards adat, referring to local beliefs, customs and practices. For example, local animism is no longer seen as a form of paganism or dualism to be condemned and abandoned. Animism is seen as a complementary strength to Christianity.

The long-standing Latin axiom that denied the value of other religions and belief systems within the Church before Vatican II – extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the Church there is no salvation) – is then forsaken. The Church recognizes that salvation exists in all faith.

This new theology of salvation resulting from Vatican II is an important recognition of the continuing role of adat in the local Christian community. Sociologically, the revised theology makes the Church more favorable to the community, although in other respects the Catholic Church remains kolot (back) and did not catch up with the demands of the time, as on issues of gender and marriage rights.

Professor Feener’s article suggests that there were three forces or powers representing different eras – namely, pre-Western colonialism, colonialism and post-colonialism, particularly highlighting their influences in manifestation or authorization of Islamic jurisprudence and adat.

It seems, in general, that there was unity between Islamic law and adat in pre-colonial times. This unity was deconstructed during the Western colonial era. There was even a suggestion of attempts to eliminate, or at least weaken, adat as the source of law governing communities in the highlands of West Sumatra.

In this regard, Professor Feener quotes Jeffrey Hadler (2009), who writes: “[the adat leaders] applied the law of adat basandi syarak … and if there was a problem with adat it would be brought to adat leaders. And if there was a problem with Islamic law, it would be brought before the four Islamic authorities… ”This implies an opinion at the time that religion and adat were two opposing forces, that there was no need to be local cultural to be Islamic.

In the post-colonial era, I’m not quite sure that Indonesian Islam feels more or less comfortable mixing religion and adat, As gado-gado (Indonesian mixed vegetables) or just like nasi campur (mixed rice).

There seems to be an obsession with this idea of ​​purity in religion, treating religion as a thing given by God.

This metaphor of gado-gado Where nasi campur can be used to understand the notion of syncretism, as mentioned by Professor Feener in characterizing Islam in Java. He said: “Over the centuries that followed, Javanese Islamic legal traditions developed in complex ways, displaying at different times both assertions of exclusivity and openness to various sources of authority and institutional formations. .

I found this very interesting, as most religious studies scholars would agree that all organized religions in Indonesia are syncretic in nature due to the long history of interactions with local belief systems and practices. Accepting or denying the idea of ​​syncretic religions may be in part inspired by perceptions of culture as a pollution of the purity of religion.

There seems to be an obsession with this idea of ​​purity in religion, treating religion as a thing given by God; deny the fact that all religion is historically and sociologically a human creation for humanity’s need to communicate with the Divinity or the Invisible.

Taking note of Professor Feener’s article, I consider Sharia law in Aceh province to be too simplistic and even lazy. This is because he places a strong emphasis on external ritual purity, especially in his interpretation of halal and haram, and its use of public corporal punishment for moral misconduct. These are contrary to the spirit of Sharia law as it is enshrined in Islam.

It is time for Islamic scholars, philosophers and theologians, both Indonesian and foreign, to take a more proactive role in revising and reinterpreting Sharia in Aceh to make it a force for renewal, inclusion and liberation, and not a cause of fear and violence.

Justin Wejak studied philosophy in Indonesia, theology and anthropology in Australia and currently teaches at the University of Melbourne. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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