Talking to Amien Rais, Indonesian opposition figure
[Dr Amien Rais has been credited with initiating the downfall of president Suharto in Indonesia. Leading the largest Islamic organisation - Muhammadiyah - he is considered a potential successor to B J Habibie in the next elections under the ‘reformasi’. A diminutive man with a sharp mind, he might well be the next president of the most populous Muslim country. He appears to be playing the Islamic card well, carefully blended with nationalist slogans while wearing the Pancasila ‘helmet’ as protection against being shot by the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI).Koya Kutty spoke to him when Rais attended the International Seminar on Kashmir and Palestine organised by the Islamic Party of Malaysia in Kota Bharu, Malaysia on July 25.]
Amien Rais: I think the common factor is the fact that as a nation, we want to be united, we want to have one republic, and we want to have a nation-State. As you know, there are many nations in the world which consist of different races, different ethnics, like USA but you can also see many people who have the same religion, same ethnic background but they all make one nation-State. Just like in the Middle East, the Arabs have the same religion, have the same ancestors, have the same ethnic background but there are many Arab States in the region.
So it is true when Sukarno, our first president, said that the reason why the Indonesian nation became a single nation is because the Indonesian nation believes that the way to build their future is by having one united nation-State like what a French philosopher said, the bottomline is motivation for a nation, the desire to be together and the desire to live together. In Indonesia, we have different religions, more than 200 ethnic groups, different languages but fortunately we have one united nation-State.
But of course, besides the burning desire to be together, to live together, I think Islam is the national glue, so to speak, because Islam is the religion of the majority. Islam is followed by different people in different parts of Indonesia, so I cannot imagine our nation can be united easily without Islam. So Islam is our very decisive and most significant factor.
AR: Before we proclaimed independence, the founding fathers had not been able to come to a common consensus regarding our national philosophy, our State ideology. Of course, most of our founding fathers were Muslims, they believed in Islam as the basis of the State but there were also some Christian leaders in the independence struggle who have been there centuries ago. So they were also legitimate citizens of our republic, our future republic. So when our founding fathers discussed the basis of the State, some of them believed that Islam must become the basis of the State but the Christian leaders did not agree so I think a general agreement was made that Pancasila would be the common State ideology or philosophy.
But from the viewpoint of Islam I think the five principles of Pancasila are completely in line with Islamic teachings. Not a single principle is against Islam, especially the first principle - belief in One God - is interpreted by Muslims as Tawhid which is the essence of Islam. So this I think is the historical and verifiable national consensus at that time. We can live with Pancasila.
AR: It could be interpreted by Christianity as Trinity for example; of course this is against Islamic Tawhid. We cannot judge the national consensus at that time with the present perspective. At that time, we were still colonised by the Dutch and then we were pressed by time to have something commonly agreed.
AR: Not exactly. There were nine founding fathers who formulated Pancasila. I think the Japanese military was in the background at most but it was a historical document and it was proven by the Jakarta Charter, a liveable document. Of course, I don’t want to belong to these people that we have to put Pancasila as a sacred suit to religion. It is only an ideology - it is our man-made creativity - a wise compromise among us.
AR: I have not seen it. In any case, I think it is the manifestation of our pluralism. If you ask me, of course I don’t agree that the picture or symbol of Lord Ganesh be put on the currency but then the minister of finance might have some consideration, I don’t know. But then if we argue that way in Islam we cannot accept the Borobudur temple - remnants of Hinduism. We tolerate the existence of Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics in our country and we give them room to enjoy the freedom of religion.
AR: I am not really troubled by that because I don’t think the angels will question me in the hereafter why I tolerate the currency. In the hereafter, what will be raised by Allah and His angels is about our iman and our amal-e salih - our faith and good deeds. I think the angels are not interested in the stupid picture on our currency. It is the fundamentals of religion as I see it. I have no objection to that.
AR: Muhammadiyah was established as harakatu-dakwah. The main job of Muhammadiyah is to propagate Islam in our archipelago. We want to cultivate Islamic values, we want to establish the Islamic environment - social environment, basically Islamic.
Muhammadiyah followed the wisdom of Muhammad Abduh who reminded us when he became the great mufti of Egypt, that it is useless to talk of the Islamic State while the people are still pagans, while they still do not understand Islam and then you will be kept into formalism while what counts is substance not formalism. I think Muhammad Abduh did not believe in formalism, he believed in substance, I think for years to come, we want to go to the substance. We want to establish moral values - al-akhlaq al-karima - we have to distinguish between good and evil based on Islamic perspective; we want to establish monotheism - Tawhid.
I know the term Islamic State is very sensitive in my country and you can imagine if I have to... It is like this. I have two choices - whether I have to take a bottle labelled ‘good wine’ - number one in the world - while in fact the content of the bottle is rotten liquid; or I take just a normal bottle without any label but it contains good drink and the substance is very healthy, refreshing and good.
I think I will take the second one. So Pancasila is like a brandless bottle to me. Then we have to compete with other groups in our country to fill up the Pancasila bottle with our struggle, to cultivate our children with Islamic values and to inject our State administration with Islamic discipline. We have to fight corruption, collusion.
AR: Yes, also in Saudi Arabia, Islam is a great failure. Pakistan is another example.
AR: I think our Pakistani brothers have even humiliated Islam by putting the term ‘Islamic State.’ Then Pancasila is very corrupt and social injustice is everywhere and I don’t like to give people [the reason] to blame Islam should we fail to respect it. This is my argument.
AR: Of course.
AR: Abdul Malik was out-voted ... and there were many other leaders as knowledgeable as him in Islam.
AR: We are free; we can give, as many as we wish, religious subjects in school. Our late chairman gave a very good analogy: Pancasila is only like a helmet. If you want to go to ride a motorcycle, there is a rule that you have to wear it, because it is the rule of the State. You consider the rule of wearing the helmet as a worldly affair; besides that you can do anything you like.
AR: A side protection.
AR: I can use the helmet thing.
AR: No, in an Islamic State, even the Christian minority is treated as a first class citizen, they have complete freedom of achieving their religious aspirations. Of course in an Islamic State, the tolerance of the others is much better than in a Pancasila State because it is not only based on history but on Qur’anic perspective and injunctions. It is more solid. But the problem is, if I used the term Islamic State, there will be many groups in my country which will try to undermine my position.
AR: Well, you are entitled to read between the lines in your own way. What matters is the substance.
AR: I can understand this argument.
AR: No, not the truth at all, this is false information.
AR: It was a controversial issue in the early 1980s when Daud Yusof became minister of education and culture. Then he prohibited all the high school female students to wear hijab. But when he was replaced by the new minister, I can’t recall the name, he died after a few years of holding the portfolio. But it is true that hijab was prohibited in government schools only in the 1980s but now it is completely free. Even now if there are some teachers who prohibit hijab they will face tremendous pressure from parents.
AR: Yes, but it takes time. The unique strange nature of ABRI is that it has a dual function; it is only in Indonesia and other developing countries. So for now I can accept the dual function of our armed forces but the security, defence and administrative function must be in good balance with the social political function. But now ABRI has involved itself too deeply and too far into politics and this is very dangerous because there is an essence of conflicting interest. Once ABRI has involved itself too deep into politics, there must be politics of interest among the military elites and this is exactly what is happening now.
AR: We don’t have to mobilise people to defeat ABRI but I think the natural process of our national lives directs to that goal. The image of ABRI was tarnished by discovering that some generals were involved in the kidnapping of students. So the image of the armed forces is really battered and the people believe that it is time to have civilian supremacy over the military.
AR: They do not follow most of the Qur’an.
AR: Yes, but to manage a modern State, modern country, you have to have a complete book of law. I think Qur’an is not the book of law, it is a code of law - it is a source of law - so you cannot make a source of law as a book of law. In a book of law, you have hundreds of articles regulating this or that.
AR: You cannot blame Sukarno...
AR: Muhammad Natsir was not in the committee but it was Mr Abikoesno and professor Kahar Muzakir and other top Muslim leaders...
AR: No, no. Kahar was in the committee, but he was outvoted because he was not elected... Pancasila was coined by this committee and then the Muslim leaders demanded that there must be nine words and then it is called Piagam Djakarta (the Djakarta Charter) - dengan kewajipan menjalankan syariat Islam bagi para pemeluknya - with the obligation of the Muslim followers to implement their religion, and that is it.
AR: But it is a leading historical document; it was 1959. It was recognised, formalised and officialised; we still have Piagam Djakarta as a valid document because Muslim people can get married, follow the inheritance law and almost everything according to Islamic law, especially the undang-undang agama - the religious guides - passed some years ago reflect 100 percent the Shari’ah.
AR: Insha’Allah. You are welcome.
Muslimedia: September 1-15, 1998