Some 68 years ago, a group of nationalists and religious leaders from various ethnicities and regions across the East Indies archipelago gathered in Jakarta to discuss a philosophical foundation for the future Indonesian state. Organized by the Japan-sponsored Committee for Preparatory Work for Indonesian Independence (BPUPKI), members of the group included founding fathers of the nation such as Sukarno, Supomo, Mohammad Hatta, Muhammad Yamin, Abdul Wahid Hasyim, Radjiman Wedyodiningrat, Alexander Andries Maramis and Johannes Latuharhary.
After days of discussion and debate, Sukarno on June 1, 1945, proposed Pancasila as the state’s ideological basis — thereby making June 1 Pancasila Day.
Literally, Pancasila means “five principles.” The term was first used in the book of Sutasoma by Mpu Tantular, a great scholar during the time of the Java-based Majapahit Kingdom in the 14th century. Indonesia’s national motto bhinneka tunggal ika (“unity amid diversity”) was also rooted in this book. Inspired by the ideas of Mpu Tantular, whose work and life were dedicated to the unity of the religiously diverse population of Majapahit, Sukarno and the other founding fathers of the nation proposed Pancasila as the ideal foundational stone of modern Indonesia, which like the Majapahit Kingdom, also consisted of various ethno-religious groups.
Although the founding fathers agreed on Pancasila as a state ideology, opinions varied regarding the content. Which five principles would form Pancasila?
Tensions between nationalists and religious leaders rose as some Muslim leaders wanted to insert the phrase “with the obligation of its Muslim adherents to carry out Islamic Shariah” right after the first principle, “Belief in the one and only God.” On Aug. 18, 1945, however, the Preparatory Committee for Indonesian Independence (PPKI) changed the formulation of the first principle of Pancasila by removing the Shariah reference.
Historian and former Muhammadiyah leader Ahmad Syafii Maarif has said that this removal was meant to accommodate other faiths and to show respect for non-Muslim religious groups that also greatly contributed to the struggle for independence. It is true that the creation of the Indonesian nation-state was the fruit of massive collaboration of diverse groups from all over the archipelago, including Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucianists, secularists and adherents of many indigenous beliefs.
[quote author=”Sumanto Al Qurtuby, Nahdlatul Ulama chairman in North America”]There is no religious law or God’s law, partly because all laws are the product of human efforts and intellectual interpretations.[/quote]
And as for ethnic groups, the Javanese were not the only ones who took part in the struggle for sovereignty. The Sundanese, Betawi, Sumatrans, Madurese, Ambonese, Manadonese, Chinese, Batak and many others worked hand-in-hand to fight the colonial Dutch and Japanese.
To achieve “unity amid diversity,” the founding fathers rightly drafted an open and inclusive state ideology of Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution, which both reach beyond ethno-religious boundaries.
Unfortunately, however, despite majority support for Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution, a small group of conservative Muslims continue to challenge this pluralist nation-state by promoting the establishment of an exclusive Islamic state based on principles of Shariah. In so doing they have made various political efforts to replace Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution with Islam and the Koran. These conservative-radical Muslim groups, moreover, claim that the founding of an Islamic state is “God’s mandate” for all Muslims.
Let me restate my opinion and argument regarding this claim. As I have explained elsewhere, including in “The Black Hole of Religion: Countering Islamist Radicalism” and “Post-Liberal Islam: Religion, Freedom, and Humanity,” as a Muslim I believe that to coercively enforce the implementation of Shariah as a public law and public policy is to contradict the prophetic missions of Islam to establish religious liberty and global peace, oppose the very foundation of the Koran as a “blessing for all humanity,” and resist the universal ethical values of this religion.
Instead of erecting “God’s words,” as radicals routinely claim, their attempts, in fact, repudiate the foundational role of Islam and the Koran.
Shariah principles, it should be noted, cannot be enacted and enforced by the state. If such enactment and enforcement is attempted — and this did happen in some areas of the country and other parts of the Muslim world — the outcome will necessarily be the political will of the state or government and not the religious law of Islam, much less “God’s laws.”
As a matter of fact, there is no religious law or God’s law, partly because all laws are the product of human efforts and intellectual interpretations.
In other words, echoing leading scholar of Islamic law Abdullahi Ahmed an-Na’im in his “Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’a,” “whatever the state enforces in the name of Shari’a will necessarily be secular and the product of coercive political power and not superior Islamic authority.”
Moreover, those who passionately campaign for an Islamic state with the belief that the establishment of such a state is a “sacred order” of God contradict the fact that this notion is in fact a postcolonial innovation based on a European model of the state.
The idea of an Islamic state is a critical response proposed by Islamist groupings against Euro-American types of secular states. Since the idea of an Islamic state is a human invention, accordingly, the concept of an Islamic state is not a “religious” but rather a secular one. Indeed all forms of states, kingdoms, sultanates, caliphates or whatever, are all political institutions and secular inventions of human beings, and not a sacred product of God.
In essence, the idea of an Islamic state represents an oppressive view of order, law and public policy as instruments of social engineering by the ruling elites. Once the propagandists of an Islamic state succeed in establishing their rule by manipulating the masses, they will soon govern the state based on the economic and political interests of the ruling regime, away from the spirit of tolerant, just and peaceful Islam.
Instead of serving the poor and defending the oppressed, these rulers in fact protect the corrupt elites and become the oppressors. Examples of such despotic “Islamist regimes” abound from Pakistan and Iran to Saudi Arabia and Sudan. This is an important part of the reason why notable scholars of Islam such as Ali Abd al-Raziq, Abdurrahman Wahid, Abdelwahab el-Affendi, Fazlur Rahman, Khaled Abou El Fadl — among many others — refuse the idea of the founding of an Islamic state.
Indonesia and Muslims don’t need an Islamic state. Those who are in need of this kind of “Islamic state” are only a small group of Islamists and Muslim hard-liners, aiming to cover their greed with creed.
What Indonesia and Muslims need, instead, is a secular state: a political institution typified by neutrality of faith, assurance of civil liberty and religious freedom, the guarantee of all human rights, and the protection of minority groups. All elements of Indonesian society should stand up against intolerant groups to defend Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution from false propaganda of people who sell Islam for worldly ends.
Sumanto Al Qurtuby is deputy chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama in North America and a research fellow at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.