The Muslim world, especially countries in the Gulf, are struggling to define the
relationship between the state, religion and civil society. Since the
Arab Spring movement swept across the Middle East, this has become the biggest
issue for rulers in the region.
The movements that changed the political
landscapes of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen have sent a warning signal to
authoritarian regimes in the region that they must reach some kind of compromise
and accept democratic practices if they wish to survive.
The Arab world
is confused about this. Governments, religious institutions and community
leaders have so far failed to come up with the right answer about whether the
authority of the state should be separated from that of religion, and how to
ensure the rights of civil society are fulfilled.
There are no reliable
precedents in Arab countries for the separation of state and religion. This is
why they were so confused during a US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar,
earlier this year, that was organized by the Washington-based Brookings
Institution in cooperation with the Qatari government.
In a closed-door
session at the forum which I attended, participants from the Arab world asked
why there should be any attempt to separate religion from the state. They
pointed to the Arab tradition of government that was handed down from the
Prophet Muhammad, that authority of religion and of the state were inseparable
One sheikh rejected such attempts as “aimlessly
disturbing.” He cautioned the West against disturbing religious traditions and
practices in the Arab world. But experts in the audience rejected his
Asian leaders at the forum – chairman of the Indonesian Senate
Irman Gusman, Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin, Paramadina University rector
Anies Baswedan and senior journalist Endy M. Bayuni – offered a different
They surprised Muslim world participants who assumed that
Islam was the official religion of Indonesia because the majority of its
population is Muslim.
Irman said that Indonesia was “not an Islamic
state, even though almost 90 percent of the population is Muslim, because
Indonesia is based on a state ideology that advocates a pluralist national
He stressed that in Indonesian history, the state had not
interfered in the formulation or enforcement of religious laws but facilitated
freedom of worship for all.
He said religious institutions did not
interfere in or influence government policy because they existed in their
Muslims, he said, do not force the adoption of Islam
as the state religion, just like ethnic Javanese do not fight to make Javanese
the official language of Indonesia.
That was a lesson for the Muslim
governments in the Gulf that do not know what to do with the Arab Spring.
Perhaps Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia have had the opportunity to enjoy few
fruits of freedom and democracy, but others are too reluctant to open their
The forum in Doha made me think that Indonesia is better off than
Arab countries because as the world’s third-largest democracy, the government
does not interfere in its citizens’ religious freedom.
I began to think
that in terms of religiosity, Indonesia is better because every citizen is
required to have a religion on his or her identification card.
proud of my homeland being a religious nation, with its millions of mosques,
churches, temples and other places of worship, though I am not a
That was, until I read a report that turned my perception of
Indonesia’s religiosity upside down.
EVEN THOUGH Indonesia is home to the
world’s largest Muslim population, in reality Israel, which Indonesia seems to
hate so much for being Jewish, is “far more Islamic” than Indonesia, Saudi
Arabia and many Arab countries.
In the context of a globalized world
where democracy is flourishing and rising interdependence among nations is a
common feature, Indonesia’s biggest mistake has been its primordial reluctance
to establish official diplomatic relations with Israel; a mistake which has cost
it all the benefits that other nations are reaping in maintaining close ties
with America’s closest ally in the Middle East.
But despite being home to
the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia is not an Islamic nation. Even
Muslim political parties are losing ground and charm in Indonesia
According to a survey by Scheherazade S. Rehman and Hossein
Askari of George Washington University in the United States, Islamic values have
been implemented more successfully in the economies of non-Muslim countries than
in countries where the majority of the population is Muslim.
rated 208 countries on an Economic Islamicity Index, and the top 37 spots were
occupied by non-Muslim countries.
The shameful reality for Muslim nations
is that Israel, hated and cursed so much by these nations, ranked 61st, above
Bahrain (64th), Brunei (65th), Jordan (77th), Oman (99th), Qatar (112th), Saudi
Arabia (131st), Indonesia (140th), Egypt (153rd) and Iran (163rd).
assumed the George Washington University scholars were wrong, but Irman
“All those involved in crimes are people who understand
religious teachings and are seemingly devoted,” he said. “Those who break the
law are people who know the law. Some people are very diligent in donating to
places of worship but they are also diligent in embezzling state funds. Some are
good at giving alms but are as good at extorting others.”
Now, how to fix
the damage? Nobody knows.
As long as education neglects the urgency of
holistic character-building, Indonesia will be inhabited by law breakers who do
not believe they have made mistakes, and hypocrites who act like role models to
deceive the public.
Therefore, Irman said, the next Indonesian president
must be a man of integrity, a role model with a flawless track record, approved
by people from all walks of life, and not a transactional politician whose main
goal is to satisfy his selfish interests.
The writer is a senior
political correspondent at BeritaSatu Media Holdings in Jakarta. He can be
reached at: email@example.com. This analysis was previously published by
The Jakarta Globe newspaper.