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Jennie S. Bev, Jakarta Post, March 3, 2008

The article by Jennie Bev follows my comments.

At the World Muslim Congress, I invite you to join and discuss the issues.. Your are welcome to send an email to: to become a member and participate. It is a moderated group and no more than three emails will be sent to you in a day. Currently, we are discussing Islam and Pluralism. Please keep your comments to 100 words.

As Muslims we may have never confronted this issue of Pluralism before, but we are going to be facing this every day from here forward. We don't live in exclusive enclaves; we do not live on Islands. Every street will have people of different faiths; every work place will have interaction between every faith, race, ethnicity and other uniqueness. For Muslims, Qur’aan has all the answers, like Bible for the Christians, Torah for the Jews and Vedas for the Hindus.

We need to have an open mind and willingness to search for the truth for creating peaceful societies (peace is another name for Islam). The followers of all faiths will be facing these challenges. I urge Muslims and our friends from other faiths to search for validity on both sides of the issue without denigrating another point of view.

Pluralism is an attitude, a civil attitude of respecting God’s creation in its various manifestations. Pluralism does not promote any particular faith or one single ideology as superior to the other, if it were, it would be a competing system. Pluralism does not attempt to merge, synchronize or dismiss the differences, it is the acceptance of you, the way you are, and when you accept the otherness of other, conflicts fade and solutions emerge.

The issue is simple but demands thinking – Is my faith good because of its merits to me, or is it good because there can be only one good, and everything else has to be bad? This is a serious question and we need to speak our heart, mind and the soul. Are we open to the idea that my faith is good to me as other’s faith is good to them? Is it a sin to be open to an idea like this? Are we arrogant enough to believe that we can claim ours is good and not give the other person the same right? Does one good negate the other?

Peace be upon you, we are not lost in the above paragraph. As a Muslim I believe Islam is the right faith for me and it works for me to give peace to my soul, pleasure to my heart and justness to my mind and I won’t deny same peace, pleasure and justness to Christians, Hindus, Jews and others whose faith does the same to them. God would have denied that, but he chose not to. He wanted to test our ability to create heaven on the earth and co-exist harmoniously with the diversity he has deliberately created.

Arrogance is the mother of all evil;

The moment one thinks that his/her belief is superior to the other, arrogance gets uploaded and feeds a condescending attitude towards the other person. When you believe that other's belief is less than yours, you fall in to the pit of missionizing the other, no matter what the other person has to say, you devalue his knowledge and bombard the person with your own ideas hoping, thinking and believing that the other one has to see the truth and has to come towards you.

This creates a conflict and perhaps resentment, if the other person feels bad that he or she cannot defend his/her own belief. Even if the person yields, it will be with resentment.

Those who feel oppressed at work or feel compelled to work, act differently when they have some control...they feel like the king or queen on the road, and will not let you in when you are switching the lanes. I have seen the native Indians grief, the grief from Hindus on forced conversion and the grief from others.

Free will brings about sustainable peace. Hence, arrogance is the biggest evil that breaks the lasting peace in the world. Our own arrogance (military power) breeds a lot of resentment in the oppressed ones. Some day, they say to themselves, when they have the power, they will get even.

Mike Ghouse

# # #


Jennie S. Bev, Jakarta Post, March 3, 2008

Indonesia is a country with three legal systems: civil (continental), Islamic and adat (customary). Above all, Indonesia is said to be a country based on the concept of rule of law, which is reflected in the 1945 Constitution. But there are also gray areas throughout, and this unique environment serves as a fertile breeding ground for multitudes of interpretations in legal, political and cultural domains.

Based on the rule of law, no one is above the law and the truth occupies the highest form of intent. The continental legal system in Indonesia, which originated from the Dutch imperialism era, is based on this principle.

However, according to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Islamic scholar who was educated at MIT and Harvard, in The Heart of Islam (pg. 288), "The rights of God stand above the rights of human beings."

It is clear that these two systems interpret justice based on different standards. In Islam, there is an absolute body outside the realm of human beings, which is called God, whose final verdicts can never be contested. In short, the Islamic judicial system acknowledges the concepts of absolutism and absolute power.

In a country with three legal systems, whose historical origins and notions of justice differ significantly from one another, it would take a group of people with mantic capacities to push the country forward in light of being accepted as a part of international society with universal humanitarian standards. Because unless this occurs brazenly in continuum, Indonesia might need to accept the fact that it may degrade itself into the darkness.

A few Islamic scholars and activists have taken their stance in showing the world how Islam is a tolerant religion and that Islamic laws and jurisprudence are adaptable in modern society. Other than our own Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, Azyumardi Azra and a few pluralistic ulema and scholars, professor of law at Emory University, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, and a research fellow at the Lokahi Foundation in Switzerland, Tariq Ramadan, who is nicknamed the "Martin Luther of Islam", are two other examples of outspoken moderates whose voices are heard by the world, including leaders in Western countries.

The world needs more people like them to break the silence of the moderate Muslim majority and to embrace the notions of diversity and tolerance, which the Koran has been preaching to the world but are rarely heard.

It would not be fair for Islam as an institution to be "represented" in the world by noisy fundamentalists and extremists. Because, after all, most Muslims long to live in peaceful coexistence with others.

Tariq Ramadan is one exemplary moderate scholar and preacher. In his book Western Muslims and the Future of Islam (pg. 202), he encourages interfaith and interreligious dialogue, as he believes that it is how God wants the totality of humankind to behave.

Ramadan explains, "If there were no differences between people, if power were in the hands of one group alone (one nation, one race, one religion), the earth would be corrupt because human beings need others to limit their impulsive desire for expansion and domination. So, just as diversity is the source of our test, the balance of power is a requirement for our destiny."

This statement is so beautiful that I would contemplate its profound meanings every night before going to bed. Islam is, indeed, a great religion for acknowledging the rainbow of humankind in a balanced mind-and-heart perspective.

Realistically speaking, back to Indonesia, the gray areas in the intertwining legal systems have proven to be very costly. This was evident when Home Minister Mardiyanto did not have a second thought in declaring that the government did not see any need to revise the 600 sharia-based and sharia-inspired bylaws, regardless of the catastrophic consequences that might follow, including opening a Pandora's box to an unjust society and to the end of a democratic republic.

This is quite bothersome because both the people and the religion of peace itself are greatly affected.

A good analysis was put forth by Prof. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im in Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law (pg. 8-9): "If historical Shari'a is applied today, the population of Muslim countries would lose the most significant benefits of secularization. Even Muslim men, who are the only full citizens of an Islamic state under Sharia, stand to lose some of their fundamental constitutional rights if Shari'a is restored as the public law of the land."

Under sharia public law, freedom of belief, expression and association of Muslim men would be greatly affected by the law of apostasy and the ruler's powers.

This is a valid argument, as Indonesian analysts point out that substance-wise the sharia-inspired bylaws go against the democratic principles contained in the 1945 Constitution. Articles 28D and 28I state everyone should be free from discrimination and entitled to equal treatment before the law.

An-Na'im also offered a solution that we all need to ponder upon: "The only way to reconcile these competing imperatives for change in the public law of Muslim countries is to develop a version of Islamic public law which is compatible with modern standards of constitutionalism, criminal justice, international law, and human rights."

While An-Na'im gave examples of Islamic countries, which Indonesia is clearly not, Indonesia should be able to grasp the insightful statements as a way to resolve the gray areas between national civil law and Islamic public law.

The 1945 Constitution, in fact, was the brainchild of our founding fathers, most of whom were well-educated and broad-minded moderate Muslims. Thus, in the case of Indonesia as a modern nation, there is no need to reformulate another version of Islamic public law.  

For Indonesia to stand tall and be accepted as a member of the international community, which is dignified and democratic with high humanitarian standards, we need to remember that God intended to create communities so we all can compete in doing good for one another and to be each other's check-and-balance. After all, the world does not revolve around Indonesia; Indonesia revolves around the world.

The writer is a columnist, a former law lecturer and an adjunct professor based in Northern California. She graduated from University of Indonesia Law School. She can be found at

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