Islam and Modernity Walk Hand in Hand


Islam and modernity walk hand in hand - The beginning relationship between Islam and modernity is a classic discourse. Warm controversy between these two entities reached its peak on 1970’s. Indonesia was one of the implicated countries in the middle of economic, social and culture modernization process. But, when development spin continued rapidly, discussion and debates about them receded and even almost vanished from academic and public sphere. 

On that context, I was taken by surprise when around 15 professors majoring economic and business from Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, USA, in an exclusive discussion on last March in Jakarta, questioned about the relationship between Islam and modernity. Still related to that matter, they also asked a question whether Islam and Indonesian Muslims were adaptive and supportive to economic and business growth in the globalization era.

I don’t know exactly why did questions about Islam, modernity, work ethics and economic and business growth rise back. Because, in my mind, during their trip in Indonesia, they must have seen many actualization of modernity in the largest Muslim country in the world, from democracy, freedom of press, human rights, gender equality, capitalist economic system, sky scrapers, massive malls, et cetera.

Those questions could rise from their lack of knowledge about dogma, history, and sociology of Muslims. But it could also rise from their understanding and perception of many Muslim countries around the world that still live in scarcity, poverty, and unemployment. 

Of course, there are some Muslim countries and societies rich in natural resources such as oil and gas, but that wealth still untapped for the improvement of human resources and funding for economic and social benefit of other Muslim societies in other parts of the world.

Furthermore, such perception indicated that the old paradigm about Islam and modernity around western scholars, especially the non-Islamic studies specialists, still proceeding. The old paradigm came from the arguments about doctrinal, politics and socio-cultural barriers within Muslim society which made modernity and modernization inoperative. Furthermore, according to this argument, Muslim societies were lack or even dispossessed socio-cultural factors as the requirements for the growth of modernity and economic growth eventually.

This point of views had a deep root, since the beginning of Islam and Muslim society studies in 18th century, when colonialism force was pushing through Muslim World. Empowered by the interest of political glory, economic prosperity and religious converting mission, Islamic studies then well known as Orientalism, has placed Islam and Muslim societies as theological-doctrinal, historic and socio-cultural static framework and reality.

Inability of Muslim societies on fighting European expansion has made the image and (mis)perception about Islam even stronger. Coming from such Orientalism studies then emerge paradigm about Islam and modernity through theories formulated by social classic historians and theoreticians from Ernest Renan (1862), Max Weber (1922) to the contemporary ones such as Bertrand Badie (1987), Marcel Gauchet (1997), Remi Brague (2002) and Bernard Lewis (2002).

To such Western paradigm, also contained theory about the incapability of Islam and Muslim societies to be modern. Vice versa, this paradigm also assume that modernity only comes from European’s (or Western generally) religious, politics, social and culture experiences. Therefore, if non-West societies – especially Muslim – eager to reach modernity for advancement, they have to adopt from 

European experiences and transform many life aspects simultaneously. There are loads of objection stated by Muslim and Western scholars about the misperception of such paradigm. In fact, since end of 1970’s the accusations to Orientalism fundamental existence which formed diverse bias and misperception about Islam have risen.

Around 15 economy and business professors from Stanford University, USA still questioned the connection between Islam and modernity. Yet, a different perspective was stated by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her visit to Indonesia on February 2009. According to Hillary, if people asked her about this, she suggested them to visit Indonesia to see how “Islam and modernity walk hand in hand”.

Indonesia’s experience related to Islam and modernity clearly very complex. Although Islam in Indonesia since early 20’s century accepted the ideas brought by modernity and modernization thinkers from all parts of the world, such as Egypt, Turkey, and Indian subcontinent, Muslim thinkers in this country, since KH Ahmad dahlan, Haji Abdul Malik Amrullah, Haji Agus Salim, Soekarno, Muhammad Hatta, Mohamad Natsir, et cetera, developed of school Islamic thoughts and praxis and Indonesian style modernity. Therefore, the final product of Islamic modernity in Indonesia produced dynamic thoughts and distinctive Islamic institutions vis a vis to other parts of Muslim World.

One of the distinctions was related to interaction and accommodation between modernity and tradition. Scholarly arguments among Western experts about Islam and modernity, laid an argument which then raised distortion that one of the main obstacles in Islam and Muslim to accept modernity was the sustained tradition within Muslims.

They were perceived as “traditional” people who were chained in theology tradition, stiff fiqh, ascetic tassawuf and tarrekat, and blind taklid to ulama. All of these considered unmatched to modernity structure.

Therefore, both of these main streams, in all of Muslim world, including Indonesia, modernist and traditionalist were placed in dual position – against to each other and involved in intense struggle and contest to win Muslims’ heart. At the same time, commonalities between them were often neglected and what rose in public mostly were differences and conflicts.

In Indonesia, both of these main streams are often perceived and represented by Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). In their early decades of development, both of Indonesia’s biggest organizations often involved in conflicts, this generally more concerned to furu’iyah problems -branches rather than trunk.

Since the beginning of its birth, Muhammadiyah seemed to show Islam that compatible with modernity, but NU slowly but sure also adopted modernity. Because of it, as far as related to modernity, both streams have accepted modernity. Not much or even almost none of the arguments between them about does modernity suitable to Islam or not.

Both Muhammadiyah and NU accepted modernity although their modernity adoption processes have been through different path. Therefore, Muhammadiyah and NU found commonalities in their views and acts on responding the raising and development of Indonesia’s nation-state concept.

Both of these organization leaders at the beginning commonly supported “Jakarta Charter” on 1945 Constitutional Preamble and commonly agreed to accept some revision for the interest of the unity of Indonesia’s plural nation-state. From now on to future, both are holding their commitments to Indonesia nation-state with its four main pillars: 1945 Constitution, Pancasila (Five Basic Principles), Unitary State of Indonesia Republic, and Bhineka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity).

Many socio-religious changes happened due to improvement of education, especially post-independence, coincide to socio-economic development, and generate convergence stream dan religious understanding between both sides. In this convergence, furi’iyah problems have been left behind. If some of differences still occurred, they are no longer become source of conflicts.

With all of these progressions, dual oppositions between “modernist’’ and “traditionalist” are no longer valid. And at the same time, arguments about Islam and modernity are also irrelevant. Vice versa, both sides as well as Indonesia’s Muslims keep involving in actualizing Islamic modernity to bring forward life of Indonesia’s nation-state onto various fields of life. ( ROL )

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