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Home Worldwide Indonesia January, 2006 Radicalism and …
Radicalism and authoritarianism

Opinion January 30, 2006 

Radicalism and authoritarianism

M Hilaly Basya, Jakarta

In Islam, the authoritative texts are the Koran and Hadith of Prophet Muhammad. Both are the main reference in the life of Muslims. Basically, an authoritative text is meant to help Muslims to be true to their beliefs and to act and pray as Muslims. The reference to the two as authoritative texts does not mean that they should be taken literally.

The text itself is open to interpretation. The difference in the method of interpretation will result in a different meaning extracted from it. This is not a problem as long as those who adhere to different interpretations are open to dialog. Actually, differences in interpretation itself is based on the progress of Islamic civilization.

The problem lies in an authoritarian attitude, where a group claims that only its interpretation is right, as if they have taken the position of God. They reject the full spectrum of views and interpretations. They reject diversity because they look at it as a weakness and abnormality. Diversity is even viewed as a conspiracy to divide the power of ummat (Muslim society).

This kind of interpretation is puritanical by nature, because they say that true Islam can only be found in the literal interpretation of the text, Prophet Mohammad’s traditions and the First Generation of Muslims (Salaf generation).

In fact, the sacred text itself was produced by local (secular) tradition. It responded to and sought solutions for the problems of society at that time. Prophet Muhammad and the Salaf generation lived in a particular context. So, they thought and acted according to the prevailing conditions.

Khaled Abou El Fadl in his book Speaking in God’s Name; Islamic Law, Authority, and Women (2003) said: “Authoritarianism is the act of locking or captivating the will of Divine or the will of the text into the specific determination, and then presenting this determination as inevitable, final, and conclusive”.

According to Abou El Fadl the problem of interpretation is authoritarianism. It will become stronger if it is supported by power such as a regime and the elite of an institutionalized religion. This kind of authoritarianism often serves the political interests of a regime that wishes to protect the status quo and extend its own hegemony over the people.

Such an attitude will destroy Islamic civilization. We have to criticize an authority that is dogmatic. Throughout history, dogmatic interpretations have produced violence and oppression.

The fatwa of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) that prohibits liberal, pluralistic, and secular views has resulted in violence. Certain groups are oppressed and stigmatized. We still recall the violence perpetrated upon the Ahmadiyah group. People destroyed Ahmadiyah’s facilities and rejected its existence in Indonesia.

Dogmatic interpretations should not be part of the development of Islam in Indonesia. This does not mean that anyone can interpret the sacred text in whatever way they want, but diverse interpretations promote the establishment of a tauhid (faith-based) and peaceful humanity.

The writer is the executive director of the Center for Moderate Muslims (CMM) and is a lecturer at Uhamka Muhammadiyah University.

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