Saturday, December 22, 2007

Multiculturalism and Religious Schools

By Abdullah Ubaid Matraji

Jakarta - In past years, a quiet place with the feel of a holy shrine has been accused of being a terrorists’ nest promoting violence in the name of religion. Those that attend have been labeled exclusive, conservative, rigid, and intolerant. Pesantrens, Islamic boarding schools in Indonesia, have been facing severe criticism since Ali Amrozi bin Haji Nurhasyim, the perpetrator of the Bali Bombing and a former pesantren student was captured four years ago. To investigate whether this criticism is well-founded, the Jakarta-based International Center for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP) recently conducted a study to see whether pesantren teaches violence toward those who are different.

They interviewed a random selection of pesantren communities consists of pesantren leaders (ulama or kyai), teaching staff (ustadz), and senior students (santri senior) attending 20 different schools in West Java on issues of multiculturalism, such as tolerance, democracy, gender, and Islamic doctrine. The results suggest that pesantren communities in West Java have an incomplete understanding of multiculturalism. For example, the issue of non-Muslims becoming second class citizen seems something that should be normally accepted. M. Mufti from Pesantren Baiturrahman, Bandung, said, “If this is viewed from the theory of state, non-Muslims becoming second-class citizens is possible. This is because when one country uses certain religious law as its constitution, the rights of the faithful whose religious law is officially used would be better protected. Even, I think, such constitution should also be applied to other faithful of different religion.”

However, one should not instantly conclude from this finding that those who attend pesantrens are in general intolerant. When asked about the ethics of social interaction with non-Muslims, for example how to respond to differences and how to interpret religious doctrines that seem to incite violence against non-Muslims. For example, there are some questions, Will they be forced to eventually observe shari‘a? How far will their existence be guaranteed?

Ustadz Syamsuddin from Pesantren Darul Muttaqin, Cirebon, said, in Indonesia’s context in which there are various ethnic groups and religions, the enforcement of shari‘a to non-Muslims cannot be justified. “In Islam we cannot force people who have not been granted hidayah (guidance) to follow us. This means if we want perform dakwah by forcing them we would instead create problems. For those who have already understood Islam, let’s move together. For those who haven’t, let’s walk in different paths,” said Syamsuddin.

The same view has also been shared by Siti Asadiyah, a senior teacher at Pesantren Darussalam, Ciamis. She said, “Non-Muslims should not worry if shari‘a is to be officially endorsed as state constitution because their existence will surely be protected. History tells of how they were protected during the era of Prophet Muhammad. At that time when Muslims became rulers, the non-Muslims surrendered and paid tax to the Muslim rulers.”

From this study, it appears that pesantren students are open to and accepting of differences and disagree with the use of violence toward non-Mulims. It shows that their opinion do not oppossed to the concept of multiculturalism.

The term multiculturalism developed out of post-modernist thought in the West. It is usually defined as a system of values whereby diverse groups co-exist in a unified society; whatever cultural, gender, religion, or other differences they may have. This concept not only acknowledges differences, but also emphasizes that all differences deserve equal respect in the public sphere.

In pesantrens, multiculturalism is the status quo. This matter can be proved with tradition in some pesantrens which do not look into that difference become problem, for example: different idea, religion, or race. In the habit, a santri cooperates with abangan Islamic circle and Moslem community which jell with tradition of Javanese syncretism. Traditionally, pesantren were founded on five guiding principles: moderation, balance, tolerance, justice, and deliberation.

The word itself has interesting roots; pesantren is derived from the Sanskrit sastri, which means people who learn the holy book. Pesantren, in the context of ancient Indonesian culture, is a place where Hindus and Buddhists learn their holy books. Then, this term was adopted by the Muslims in the area. The etymology of pesantren is a reflection on the inhabitants who don’t hesitate to mingle with other religions.

Fuad Al-Anshori, the principle of Pesantren Al-Ashriyyah Nurul Iman (Nurul Iman modern Islamic boarding school), recently said in a television interview that many non-Muslims visit his pesantren and are kindly welcomed. Why? Fuad explained by quoting the words of the Prophet Muhammad: “Respect all guests even if they are non-Muslims.” A delegation of eight priests from United Kingdom led by Yeni Zannuba Wahid, daughter of former Indonesian president, Gus Dur, visited Nurul Iman to learn the true Islamic doctrine. They spent three days socializing with a pesantren of 9000 students, and concluded that Islam is peaceful and full of tolerance.

So, pesantren communities have different respon on multiculturalism issue in Indonesia. Most of them residing in West Java cannot accept full. But part of them, for example Nurul Iman in Bogor, exactly indicates that multiculturalism by substantial have grown over there. []
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