Monday, October 8, 2007

We'd better develop tolerance if the difference is still there'

We'd better develop tolerance if the difference is still there'

National News - October 08, 2007

Muslims here may celebrate Idul Fitri on different dates this year. Although the country's two largest Muslim organizations Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah have agreed to hold a series of meetings regarding the matter, there is a possibility that the difference will exist -- especially with regard to the methods that both organizations use in determining the start of a new month. NU uses rukyah (field observation on the appearance of a new moon) while Muhammadiyah uses hisab (astronomical calculation). The Jakarta Post's Sri Wahyuni talked to senior Muslim figure Ahmad Syafii Maarif about this recurrent issue that often sparks conflict among Indonesian Muslims. Following is an excerpt from the interview.

Question: What do you say about the issue?

Answer: It happens many times. So, we better develop a tolerance if the difference is there again this year. Mutual respect is the best way to respond to such differences. It is a hard fact we have to face until maybe someday, I do not know when, the hisab and rukyah approaches can be united.

In the upper level of communities, tolerance is often evident. Yet, at the grassroots level such difference can sometimes spark internal conflict between Muslim communities.

That is absolutely right. I myself often feel uneasy with the difference but what else can we do?

There has been a discourse among Muslims from different countries all over the world including Indonesia, Turkey and Egypt, toward an Islamic international calendar. Muhammadiyah, and also NU I think, has been very active in such efforts. This probably will help but it is still a new idea that needs to be further developed.

In the meantime, it is important to advise communities, especially at the grassroots, that differences are usual in interpreting religious teachings.

Those who are for hisab, as I see it, also have strong arguments around the Koran. I am not an expert in this but I can follow the arguments.

Do you really think the two approaches, rukyah and hisab can theoretically be united? A: Yes, I do. It is quite possible. With regard to the appearing hilal (new moon), for example, it is sometimes only a baby moon that it needs to be few degrees up from the horizon so it can bee seen. So, we can discuss and deliberate this thoroughly in an honest manner. Stop putting on airs, as it will only make the scientific character (of determining so) disappear. So, everything must be done for the sake of unity and brotherhood, for the sake of all. It must be free from any political interest. It must be purely religious considerations.

How do you think the government should act when a difference is really there?

The government has to be just ngemong (to protect). Or, as Din Syamsuddin (chairman of Muhammadiyah) proposed, civil servants are given holidays according to their choice of date for the celebration. It is a technical matter that can be arranged according to the need. I heard it was intended to give one day off prior and following the date set by the government. If that is the case then the difference hopefully will cause no problem anymore.

Is it better if the government does not set a date and leaves Muslim organizations to do so?

If that is the case then the Religions Affairs Ministry will lose one of its functions. I don't think it is necessary. So, let it remain a tradition here. Just be ngemong and give respects to all groups of Muslims regardless of their choice of date for the celebration. I think the government is being very accommodating if it really gives one day holiday before and after the set date.

With regard to grassroots communities, what should we do?

It is the responsibility of the Religions Affairs Ministry and the social organizations of Muslims. Provide these communities with an ability to understand differences are common things always in the interpretation of religious teachings.

So, let's show respect to one another and be relieved.

Sometimes we just need to be gentle and civilized in providing the communities with understanding, enlightenment and development of their intellectual life. Never make one feel superior to the other -- this will only to serve to create enemies of communities. So, let's develop a culture of tolerance across the board.

In fact, such differences are not really significant. There are much bigger problems that we have to pay attention to, including ignorance, poverty and underdevelopment. These are real problems.

Other problems that need our attention include the fact that about 80 percent of our state's strategic assets have been taken over by foreign parties. The figure is predicted to reach up to 90 percent by 2010.

For me, this is a betrayal. Muslim organizations in this case have to be aware and cautious as many of those who have "sold" the assets are Muslims. This is a new form of colonization that we have to fight. We do not want to become a coolie in our own republic, do we?

Noble laureate Stiglitz once criticized the Indonesian government and business people for not increasing the national development. I believe the government already realizes this is true because we lack strong leadership. We still have to deal with such problems.

We, Muslims, have to help open the entire map of the problems (for solutions). We have to make ourselves ready to enter what is often referred to as the second crisis, which is said to be much more critical than the previous one.

With regard to the fasting month, what do you expect from Muslims?

If we talk from the spiritual side, fasting is expected to lead us to the position of being a devout Muslim. Being devout indeed is the end of our spiritual journey. To reach this ultimate goal, however, it depends very much on the seriousness with which fasting is approached. It (the goal) is open for everyone, for every body, ranging from the illiterates to bald headed professors.

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