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Islamic Civilisation: Four Challenges

Islam Four Challenges
Date Published: 
Tuesday, 28 November, 2017

The way I see it, what ISIS did was that they want to force the reality of today’s living to be following what is in the source of Islamic teaching. Everything they [ISIS] did, they have the justification from the authoritative references of Islamic teachings.


Now, when we are thinking about whether Islam is compatible to democracy or not, we then have to observe the mindset of Muslims about Islam. The question would be: is the mindset of Muslims about Islam compatible to democracy? When we look into the references in classical discourse of Islam, we will find several problematic elements there. I can point out among many problematic elements - four centers of concerns - related to not just democracy but to the nature of our current civilisation.

The first is the teaching about relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. In the classical discourse of Islamic teaching, the dominant view of this matter is that Muslims and non-Muslims are enemies. The basic norm of the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims are enmity. That is what’s dominant in the classical discourse of Islamic teaching. For example, in the tafsir Quran by At-Tobari, or At-Tabarani or Ibnu Kathir, it was stated that non-Muslims, meaning infidel, is permissible to be killed merely because of their infidelity. That is there in the discourse. We also, for example, have in the very famous book in Shafi’ tradition, I’anatuth Thalibin, whereby it is stated there that Muslims have the collective obligation to do expansive jihad towards non-Muslims at least once a year. It is there in the discourse. So, we still have this problematic element in the reference that is still considered to be very authoritative among Muslims all over the world. Therefore, the first problematic element is the teaching about the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims.

The second problematic element is the teaching about the conflict of religion itself. What kind of conflict? The category of conflict that is eligible to be considered as conflict of religion. For example, when the Buddhist in Myanmar attacked Muslims there, it is already a legitimate reason for Muslims everywhere in the world to declare war against the Buddhists. I believe you are all aware that these kinds of arguments have also been the arguments that the terrorists groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda used to attract Muslims to join them. Because the infidels from America attack Muslims in Iraq and in the Middle East, then it is a legitimate reason for Muslims to attack any Western infidels all over the world. That is their argument. And it is justified in the classical course of Islamic teaching.

The third problematic element would be the existence of nation states. You see, nation state is now the base of our current world order. The world order we have now is based on the existence of nation states but this is something new and there is no normative base about nation state in the classical discourse of Islamic teaching. What is dominant there in the discourse of Islamic teaching is the obligation for Muslims to struggle for one grand imamate meaning one universal political system under one Muslim ruler. It is in there in the classical discourse of Islamic teaching.

Then, the fourth problematic thing would be the status of state laws as the alternative of Shariah. How would Shariah see the state laws? State laws that are produced by modern political processes, by democracy. Is it an obligation for Muslims to follow the state laws or should they reject the state laws and follow the Shariah instead? Is following state laws such as the traffic regulation an obligation for Muslim, a “Shariah obligation” for Muslim, or is it just a worldly affair not related to religion? All these are centers of our concern regarding Islamic teachings because it is still recorded in the most authoritative references of Islamic teaching.

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Among Muslims and non-Muslims, there is an urgent need to address those obsolete and problematic elements of Islamic orthodoxy that underlie the Islamist worldview, fuelling violence on both sides. The world’s largest Muslim organisation, Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, of which I am General Secretary, has begun to do exactly that.

The truth, we recognise, is that jihadist doctrine, goals and strategy can be traced to specific tenets of orthodox, authoritative Islam and its historic practice. This includes those portions of Shariah that promote Islamic supremacy, encourage enmity towards non-Muslims and require the establishment of a caliphate. It is these elements – still taught by most Sunni and Shiite institutions – that constitute a summons to perpetual conflict.