"New Wave of Islamic Intellectuals"

by Islah Gusmian

"Jakarta Post," June 6, 1999

JAKARTA (JP): In Indonesia, the political relationship between Islam and the state since the end of Dutch colonialism has been problematic. The problem rests on how to develop synergy between the practices and political thoughts of Islam and the state. Tension has frequently arisen in connection with the dominant position of Islam as the majority religion.

Tension repeatedly arose during founding president Sukarno's administration and continued through the rule of Soeharto. Islamic- oriented political parties were viewed as potential rivals and considered capable of destroying the nationalist-based state.

The regime's anxiety over Islam led to efforts to tame Islamic- oriented political parties. As a result, Islamic political activists not only failed to establish Islam as the state ideology and religion, but also were relegated to the role of a minority group accused of challenging the state ideology of Pancasila. Physically, bureaucratically and even symbolically, political Islam has been conquered by the authorities.

Tension escalated because Islamic political activists also viewed the state with suspicion. How could such an environment occur? This question is examined by Bahtiar Effendy by identifying all the relevant factors and seeking all possible solutions in an effort to change a suspicious situation into a harmonious and mutually beneficial one. He focuses his analysis on the development of a new wave of Islamic intellectuals in the 1980s.

Bahtiar believes the tension between Islam and the state occurred as a result of the formal and legalistic practices of political Islam during the revolution period of the mid-1940s, the liberal period of the mid-1950s and the New Order period of the late-1960s. During the above periods, the idealism of political Islam reached its peak with the demand to establish Islam as the state ideology and religion, complete with all the sociopolitical consequences.

Historically, the demand did not appear in a vacuum. The "meeting" between political Islamic activists and Western colonialism, which was considered negative because it nullified the opportunity for Indonesian Muslims to receive proper educations and channel their political aspirations, was an opportunity for Islamic activists to raise political Islam as an ideology against Westernism.

Several political thinkers and activists, who were concerned with keeping Indonesia united, rejected the idea. Also, a sector of the Indonesian Muslim community did not support the idea.

What occurred next, during the first 25 years of the New Order era, was that the idea of political Islam became the target of ideological and political suspicion. This situation has attracted the interests of Islamic intellectuals and activists since the 1970s.

Bahtiar divides this generation into three different intellectual groupings. The first is the theological and religious reform group, the second is the political and bureaucracy reform group and the third is the social transformation group.

The first group does not see politics with formalistic, legalistic or scriptural orientation (p. 131). This is in accordance with what Sukarno did in the 1930s to find the essence of Islam, not literally or textually. The group is represented in figures like Djohan Effendi, Ahmad Wahid and Nurcholish Madjid.

The second group puts Islam not in the frontal position against the state. It does not place Pancasila as opposing Islam; on the other hand, they complement each other (p. 153). Dahlan Ranuwihardjo, Sulastomo and Ma'ri Muhammad are among the earlier generations of this group.

The third, the social transformation group, is a practical and populist movement. It is people-oriented and aims to build a strong society. This group prefers to overcome concrete and serious matters facing Indonesians (p. 166). Those in this group include Adi Sasono and Dawam Rahardjo.

What the three groups tried to achieve was a transformation of the political Islam's point of view from formalism and legalism to substantialism. Through this effort, Bahtiar concludes that the current political Islam has found a new format, which covers all theological grounds, purposes and approaches, and is considered comparable to the construction of a united Indonesia.

The new format does not need a legalistic or formalistic relationship between Islam and the state, as long as the state's value system is not against Islamic teaching.

Bahtiar's analysis clearly shows Indonesian Muslims undergoing a significant shift from formalism and legalism to substantialism. As Kuntowijoyo once said: "it's high time for rational and functional politics and to work for mutual interests -- welfare, justice and democracy".

One important note is that the shift in orientation does not mean that formalism in Islam has disappeared. There still are indications of the development of a formal political Islam.