Religious, Cultural and Civic Values for Peace-Building (1)

In recent years, religious identity is a very important social capital. As an identity, religion is often captured and used by political elites to capture the masses for their purposes. It seems there has been a significant shift in the ways people, political parties and the state relate and communicate to each other; what Indonesia has witnessed in the pre-independence era and the situation today there have been enormous changes and shifts in how religion plays its role in the society.

In the past, the plurality of ethnicities and religions that had grown in the archipelago became a powerful force of social movement; it was, for instance, a powerful tool against the invaders which eventually gave birth to a new nation called the Republic of Indonesia. The desire to have a sovereign and dignified nation state is able to reduce horizontal differences and communal conflicts. The warriors and pioneers of our nation with observant, intelligent and brave use of the critical moment of the fall of Japan into the hands of the Western Allies by declaring Indonesian independence on August 17, 1945. That way Indonesia does not fall into the arms of the Western Allies who see Indonesia as a territory of war recoupment.

Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me in this opportunity to speak to you in this noble place, in the midst of this distinguised guests and honored audience, and convey my thoughts on the importance of rethinking religion, culture and civil values for strengthening peace-building in our beloved country, Indonesia.

Religion and Culture

First, I would like to talk about religion, and how it correlates with culture. Eventhough religion is believed that it is revealed from God, its manifestation necesseraly needs a culture, more particularly a language to contain and exprees its values. Conversely, a lot of cultures got an enrichment and spiritual amunition to flourish. Thus, religion and culture are intermingled or interplay, one enrich the other.

We have witnessed that culture always differ in our everyday lives, so the construction, articulation and understanding of religion are also different. It is stated in the Qur'an, that God has created human being in the different forms of ethnicity and tribes, so that they can and should respect each other, exchange their best pratices and local wisdom

We have learned from history that whenever the struggle to power, an endorsment and intervention of religious leader, or religious institution, the dignity and sacrality of religion decline and, as we have seen, some people may see religion in different ways; some have strongly endorsed it, while others feel that religion is no longer worthy of consideration — these people may disdain it.

Nevertheless, history always tells us that it is religious values that have tremendously changed human civilization, from the uncivilized world into the civilized one. There is a hirarchy of expression of religion, from the low level, limited by local culture, and moving up to the wider zone and horison. The higher stage, the more substantive one; the more inclusive, the more universal.

Let us now go back and see the experience of religion and how it functions in Indonesia. Especially Islam and local culture. Each of us has tradition. We know and embrace religion also through tradition, culture that lives surround us.

If, during Indonesia’s pre-independence, the main focus of our society is to fight for the birth of a sovereign state, now the relationship between the state and society is fragmented. Under the realm of democracy, people are trapped into certain groupings — various mass organizations, political parties, professional organizations, and many other institutions with different roles.

There are those who are productive and constructive in thinking about and advancing the country, in partnership with the existing government. There are political parties and mass organizations whose lives often expect the mercy of the state. Some others, deliberately have created social organizations so that they can get acess and make use of state funds.

The power of the people who used to be the motor and pillars of the state, now part of it becomes a burden and the parasite of the state. Religious identity and militancy that used to be a revolutionary force for the birth of a nation and state, now it is the opposite. There are those who take a hostile attitude towards the state. Some even forbid national symbols, such as the red-white flag and national anthem.

If, once again, the pre-independence era's socio-political condition was more of “a fight against,” now it should shift to a bit of “fight for.” The first one emphasizes physical and military resistance; the second one is a struggle to build, which requires scientific concepts, insights into modern statehood, mastery of high technology and technocratic skills. In the era of fight for this, natural selection occurs and fewer and fewer are qualified; while the majority of the people then become a burden on the state because they have not received the right education which is supposed to be able to turn them into productive assets.

However, when liberal democracy was adopted, the number of votes and ethnic-religious identity of the people suddenly turned into a very expensive political commodity. This adoption of democracy could determine the election of national and regional leaders based solely on winning the number of votes, rather than winning ideas and integrity.

There is a difference between religiosity and spirituality. The second is usually positioned to be more inclusive, open, and universal; often it is beyond religious boundaries. While religiosity, the essence of religion or religion, has a communal identity like religion so that one's religiosity remains tied to the teachings, doctrines and traditions of the religion that it adopts. Nationality and religiosity both have a meeting point that reinforces each other, both of which assume an open attitude, accept and respect for diversity.

Considering the so-called "religion" is always plural, that on earth there are a variety of religions, while in Indonesian homes there is also diversity, so Indonesian religious citizens are also those who have the awareness and commitment to maintain diversity. This attitude is owned by our pioneers of independence and freedom fighters who have bequeathed and mandated this nation and state to all of us so we can maintain and protect.

The word religiosity also refers to the quality of diversity, while religion is more prominent as a group identity. Therefore those who are eager to voice the identity of their religious group do not necessarily have religious personality. During the recent presidential election or local elections in Indonesia, religion as a group identity is so strong — and this happens also in various parts of the world — but this identity does not necessarily be accompanied by religious attitudes and religious piety.

One effective way in recent times is to make use of religious populism jargon because, in the era of digital culture and the presence of a global society that has broken down ethnic, state and bureaucratic barriers, the easiest and most sensitive aspects to touch are the question of religious identities. Religious houses are imagined to provide a warm and comfortable place, even though there is an escape from the hustle and bustle and challenges of globalism that is full of disruption.

In Indonesia, because the majority of its citizens have Islamic background, developing political populism will be easier if it synergizes with Islamic emotions and identity, whether they live religiously or spiritually. Religiosity and spirituality lead to the vision, quality and meaning of transcendent life, passing the target position, wealth and popularity.

In the context of religious life, Indonesia does not recognize the separation between state and public space. Religion is not just a private matter like in the West, but the activities and expressions of religion are also actively influencing public spaces. In other words, public space is an area sometimes contested by state and religious symbols. There are references to customary law, religious law and positive law, all of which can grow in unity and harmony, but also have the potential to cause conflicts and problems of loyalty from members of the community.

Lately, there have been symptoms of social segregation that want to clash with the paradigm of the Ummah and citizenship. The first wants to place religious law above state law (positive law), the second places subordinate religious law on positive law when entering public space. For a group of people, some even look at the existing government as thaghut or idols because of placing positive laws above the Holy Scripture.

Prof. Dr. Komaruddin Hidayat

Rector of the Indonesian International Islamic University