Then-president of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono addressing a mass rally of PKS cadres (Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated extremists) in Jakarta’s Bung Karno Stadium
by Kyai Haji A. Mustofa Bisri and C. Holland Taylor
As Dr Hassan Wirajuda, the editor-in-chief of Strategic Review [and former foreign minister of Indonesia], recently observed in the pages of this journal, for Indonesia to earn its place as a leading figure in the community of nations, it must do so not as a producer of raw materials, but of ideas – and more specifically, “big ideas” that will help shape the world of tomorrow in a manner beneficial to humanity at large.
Men and women who embody the exemplary values of our ancient culture, including its profoundly spiritual view of religion, constitute what may be Indonesia’s most geopolitically significant – and certainly its most unique – strategic asset. This is especially true in light of what the late Indonesian president and Islamic cleric Abdurrahman Wahid called the “crisis of misunderstanding” about Islam that afflicts so many Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the world. “Dry grass burns fast and hot,” warns an old Javanese proverb, whose truth is on display whenever and wherever a harsh, narrow and rigid (ie, spiritually arid) interpretation of religion gives birth to hatred, supremacism and violence.
Dr. Achmad Syafii Maarif
One of Indonesia’s leading intellectual and spiritual figures, former Muhammadiyah chairman Dr Syafii Maarif, referred to this vexing issue when he said, “The Shariah we know today is the result of ijtihad, or centuries-old human reasoning, and thus time-bound. As a result, a huge project such as creating an Islamic system of governance [as desired by many contemporary Muslims] is extremely difficult, if not impossible, without rethinking the very basis of our ideas about Shariah. Small, narrow minds cannot provide a solution to the problems facing Muslim societies today. We need big, broad minds to understand the fundamental message of the Quran as rahmatan lil ‘alamin – a source of love and compassion for all humanity – and how to bring this message down to earth.”
Because of its particular cultural and historic circumstances, Indonesia is uniquely positioned to help lay the foundation for a cultural, theological, legal, political, intellectual and spiritual renaissance of the Islamic world that will enable Muslims to build a bridge between their traditions and the modern world of freedom, democracy and human rights. In the words of Wahid, Indonesia can help “restore honor and respect to Islam, which the extremists have desecrated,” and “restore the majesty of Islamic teachings as rahmatan lil ‘alamin, which represents a vital key to building a peaceful world.”
Indonesian spiritual leaders can also help resolve the increasingly polarized and strident debate on Islam that has paralyzed most Western societies since 9/11. This institutional deadlock, which prevents North American and European governments from effectively addressing the complex array of threats posed by extremist ideology, terrorism and a rising tide of Islamophobia in the West, jeopardizes the prospects of a peaceful and harmonious future for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
“Semar in His Manifest Form (above) symbolizes the divinely-illumined guides and egoless servants of humanity who appear with every new generation to guard, nurture and sustain spiritual and material balance and the glory of Nusantara civilization” ~ From the film The Divine Grace of Islam Nusantara. To many Indonesians, H.E. Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid was an “incarnation” of Semar.
Indonesia is capable of leveraging its remarkable depth of human capital in the fields of culture and religion to attain a high degree of geopolitical influence, and the respect this will naturally inspire among other nations and peoples. However, such influence can never be acquired through mere talk, pretense or manipulation that presents our nation as a model of pluralism and tolerance while ignoring the very real threats to these values in Indonesia itself. Rather, for such an endeavor to succeed, it must be guided by spiritual leaders who live the values they expound, and whose sincerity and lack of self-aggrandizement is evident to all who meet them. It is only such men and women who can achieve the desired transformative effect by visibly demonstrating how religion may function as a source of universal love and compassion for all sentient beings.
The proper role of government in this endeavor may be glimpsed through the wisdom of lakon wayang kulit (shadow puppet stories) and their recurrent theme of the king who welcomes a visiting resi (enlightened sage) to his palace. Humbly vacating his throne in the presence of one who knows Reality, the king implores the resi to sit upon it, while instructing the ruler and his ministers in the principles of good governance and how to achieve a state of self-transcendent awareness of, and surrender to, Divine will (in Old Javanese, mokso or nirvana; in Arabic terminology, the state of islam).
Translation of text on a t-shirt featuring the three resis (sages) who presented The Illusion of an Islamic State to the Indonesian public in May of 2009: “Although a ruler has the form of a human, he or she should embody the characteristics of a divine being armed with the sacred trident—honest, grounded in Truth, and free of egotistical self-interest; be obedient to holy sages (resis), whose unshakable grip upon the sacred trident is embedded in their very souls; and live to serve the people.” ~ Motto of the Bhinneka Tunggal Ika Movement, inspired by the 12th century Javanese text, Serat Jongko Joyoboyo