I have met a few Islamic scholars who are ready to introspect about the ‘always in a war mode religion’ vs ‘a religion of peace’. They are trying to break the image of Islam as a closed system, where no one can question any belief or try to re-interpret its ideology in light of fast changing modern world where we have no other way but to co-exist. The choice is whether we can co-exist peacefully or be in perpetual war mode.
This is when I read about Abdul Wahab Chasbullah with Hasyim Asyari, while doing some research on Islamic tenets. These Islamic scholars in Indonesia began their struggle against orthodox conservative Islam way back in 1926 with an organisation founded by him, called ‘Nahdatul Ulama’, which means ‘Reawakening Islamic Scholars’. Probably, they had an inkling that in coming times when hard core conservatives might overpower the Indonesia’s syncretic ethos.
Earlier examples of such efforts to turn an Islamic country into a secular country were Egypt and Turkey. Kamal Ataturk Pasha was the strictest of the Muslim rulers who tried his best to turn Turkey into a modern secular country, closer to Europe than to Asia. He wished to emulate ‘modern’ successful Europe. We may recall that orthodox Maulanas ably supported by Gandhi ji and Congress had opposed him by supporting Caliphate.
This experiment worked for nearly 9 decades before Islamic Brotherhood took over, using the very same secular democratic constitution of Turkey. We now see a slow reversion to classic orthodox Islam and Erdogan’s efforts to become the new Khalipha (Caliph) of the Islamic world while Saudi Arabia, the original promoter of Salafist Islam is slowly jettisoning its legacy and trying to become a little more open society.
I read about Abdul Wahab Chasbullah with Hasyim Asyari, while doing some research on Islamic tenets. These Islamic scholars in Indonesia began their struggle against orthodox conservative Islam way back in 1926 with an organisation founded by him, called ‘Nahdatul Ulama’, which means ‘Reawakening Islamic Scholars’
We have the example of Gamal Abdel Nasser who tried to modernise and secularise Egypt that had a glorious ancient history and culture before the advent of Islam. But it is facing a sustained struggle to keep radical Islamic Brotherhood at bay though it has penetrated deep into the Egyptian society. Iran, after short romance with modernity under Shah Raza Pahlavi after Islam had crushed the original Persian/ Zoroastrian civilisation to ring in Islamic rule. The ill-fated modernisation hardly lasted 54 years before being overthrown by orthodox Shia clerics.
However, all these countries were in extended Arabia with very strong influence of warrior Islamic invaders and their empires. Indonesia is a far off land, more influenced by Bharatiya civilisation than by the Arabian civilisation. Like the Bharat of around 30 years back, it didn’t have overt public display of Muslim identity in terms of dress and code of conduct. Like Bharat, only the way of worship was different but traditions and culture remained Indonesian. Despite all the efforts of radical Islamists, Indonesia remains the most tolerant and syncretic country so far, that differentiates between its faith and culture very clearly. There is no confusion about this duality. Remember, Indonesia is the largest, most populous Islamic nation in the world.
We can’t deny that there is the strong influence of Bharatiya culture, but there were also conscious efforts by the rulers, many political parties and an organisation called Nahdatul Ulama. It was founded nearly a century back, much before the Wahhabi and Salafist versions gained currency under the influence of petro-dollars. Wahhabism is, unfortunately, a gift to the Islamic world from India and the guiding force of ultra-radical violent organisations like ISIS.
Surprisingly, it was organised to counter another successful ‘reformist’ organisation. According to Wikipedia – The organization was founded in 1912 by Ahmad Dahlan in the city of Yogyakarta as a reformist socioreligious movement, advocating ijtihad – individual interpretation of Qur’an and Sunnah, as opposed to Taqlid – conformity to the traditional interpretations propounded by the ulama. It played an important role in the expansion of Salafism in Indonesia. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammadiyah#:~:text=Muhammadiyah%20(Arabic%3A%20%D9%85%D8%AD%D9%85%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A9%2C%20followers,non%2Dgovernmental%20organization%20in%20Indonesia.)
I quote below from encyclopedia.com to keep the information authentic, without any modification, about Nahdatul Ulama –
The organization of the Nahdlatul Ulama (Revival of the Religious Scholars), or NU, was founded on 31 January 1926 as a countermovement to the increasingly successful reformist Muhammadiyah organization. NU is a mass-based socioreligious Islamic organization under the leadership of ulema, and it is the largest in Indonesia with around thirty-five million members. (Current membership is estimated to be around 90 million) NU activities include the religious, social, educational, economic, and political. Its founders were ulema (called kiyai in Indonesia) who led rural Islamic boarding schools, pesantren. They represented traditionalist Muslims, those who practice Islamic mysticism (tasawuf; Ar. tasawwuf), and are not against indigenous rituals and beliefs as long as they do not contradict the normative teachings of Islam. The two most prominent founding ulema were Hasyim Asy˓ari, and Abdul Wahab Chasbullah.
NU’s history can be divided into four phases:
- The initial years NU served as a socioreligious organization.
- From the late 1930s until 1984 it became involved in political activities. From 1952–1971 it had its own political party and participated in the national cabinet.
- When the Suharto government rendered all political parties ineffective with its suppressive regulations NU decided to leave politics. This was expressed in the 1984 watershed event called kembali ke khittah, a return to the original charter of 1926.
- In 1998, after the fall of Suharto, NU again became involved in national politics. It initiated the National Awakening Party (PKB) while its national chair, Abdurrahman Wahid, was elected Indonesia’s fourth president for a brief period (1999–2001).
(Abdurrahman Wahid wrote many books including The Wisdom of Tolerance: A Philosophy of Generosity and Peace and more)
…. Through its new role, NU became active in guiding large numbers of Indonesian Muslims in adapting to social change and modernity. Various institutions related to NU started multilevel dialogue about issues of social justice, human rights, democracy, and the rights of women and children. This made NU an active codeveloper of a model for civil society, suitable for the Indonesian context.
Indonesia is a far off land, more influenced by Bharatiya civilisation than by the Arabian civilisation. Like the Bharat of around 30 years back, it didn’t have overt public display of Muslim identity in terms of dress and code of conduct. Like Bharat, only the way of worship was different but traditions and culture remained Indonesian. Despite all the efforts of radical Islamists, Indonesia remains the most tolerant and syncretic country so far
Over the years, several divisions were founded within the NU structure. Among others, there are divisions for youth (Ansor), women (Muslimat NU), young women (Fatayat NU), and male and female students (IPNU and IPPNU). Apart from these divisions, NU comprises institutions for education, family affairs, agriculture, economic development, and Islamic banking.
The reader will note that it is a traditional Sunni politico-religious body but has embraced syncretic culture and modernity. It is different from the religious institutions of Deoband and Barelvis who preach radical Islam that is Wahhabism and spread the idea of global Ummah, following Arabian version of Islam, including their way of dressing and strict following of Hadis and Arabian version of Shariah. While world over most of the Islamic countries have modified Shariah as per their traditions, our Muslim seminaries wish to take Muslims back to 7th Century in every sense.
The closest a Muslim scholar that comes to mind was Maulana Wahiduddin, whom many consider a hard conservative. But, from whatever I read about him, he tried to bring Indian Muslims to the mainstream. Many organisations have built educational institutions, but most of them have ended up in orthodoxy, preaching radical Islam. None of them have adopted modernity the way this organisation has.
I have seen a distinct change in tone of many Islamic scholars and researchers during the TV debates after massive ‘Sar tan se juda’ rallies and actual beheading of two Hindus whose only crime was that they supported Nupur Sharma. However, I also saw a 3-4 year old video wherein one of such a Maulana is gently reprimanding a young Muslim girl on live TV for dressing like Bhagwan Krishna and reciting shlokas from Geeta. Both claim that they are ok with reciting of Geeta but not with her dress. Therefore, I suspect that this change is not from the heart but public posturing. Only one Islamic scholar openly declared on TV that Nupur had done no blasphemy by quoting Hadis about the Prophet. This shows that there is a churn in the society but it needs to be taken to its logical conclusion.
Can Muslim leadership – traditional Maulanas, scholars and common Muslims rise to the occasion and create a bold new structure to help Indian Muslims remain religious but become modern too and integrate with the Indian mainstream? This could be a positive outcome out of the horrible conflict ridden explosive situation we are currently in. Will Bharat find its own Abdul Wahhab Chasbullah?