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The Irony of Failing to Understand the Islam of Nusantara


The Islam of Nusantara has become an academic study phenomenon and couldn’t be finished being researched in one or two years, much less only studied in one-day-event of National Seminar and Mosque Bahtsul. At the end, all that efforts could only resulted in failure in understanding this phenomenon and give birth to what could be called “Straight Lines Islam of Nusantara” (SLIN).

All day long I had heed various groups’ discussions about the development of Seminar of the Islam of Nusantara in the State University of Malang (13/2/2016), and although I still had no idea about the result of this seminar, at least I could draw two interesting things.

One, responding to Gus Najih Maimun’s speech which was written by Gus Hamid Pati, that Gus Najih had “accepted” the Islam of Nusantara, as long as it is not infiltrated by liberal ideology, Shia or other “lost” groups.

Second, the over-reacted respond of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia with their provocation of one God, one Prophet, one sharia and one khilafah state; which, in another word, emphasized their version that the Islam of Nusantara is NOT Islam.

To the academicians, both in university campuses or in pesantren (traditional Islamic schools), differences in comprehending knowledge is an everyday, normal thing. It is even perceived as “vitamins” in the knowledge dialectic. It is unpreparedness in facing differences that is addressed as failure, for knowledge is a process in finding the truth.

I think the Islam of Nusantara has lost its appeal to be discussed once NU’s Muktamar (Congress) is over. But I couldn’t be more mistaken. Because the fact is, the Islam ofNusantara is still being discussed and debated in numerous campuses, pesantren, mosques, schools and te cyber world as well.

And of course, those discussions never detached from pros and cons. Which becomes ironic when we intend to discuss the Islam of Nusantara but has had already armed with the spirit of  “disagreeing”; where, unfortunately, the disagreement is brought to the level of judging others without doing tabayyun (check and rechecking), tashawwur (perceiving one meaning of a word while disregarding other meanings) and tashdiq (finding a relation between two words) first.

Thus it is imaginable that the result of such a discussion would be the thing we could call “failure to understand”. This would give birth to an anti-Islam of Nusantara’s generation that is packed in ways to accused others as heathens, liberals, heretics and so on. And the aftermaths is the birth of  “Straight Lines Islam”, which would consider those who discuss or care for Islam of Nusantara as the “Crooked Lines Islam”.

It’s only natural. Very. Because they discussed the Islam of Nusantara without a congenial methodology and stucked in the trap of “failure to understand”. They are already different from the very start, the poles of the doctrines are already different and expanded to subjective view as  such: “who am I and who are you, we could not be the same and got to be different.”

Whereas I want to address the Islam of Nusantara with a simpler name, which is Indonesian Islam. The “Islam” is just the same with what is embraced by the indigenous Arabs, taught by the Prophet PBUH completed with the deeds and examples set by the apostles, but had been “indonesianized”. It doesn’t mean that it ditches all the Sunnah and weaved it with everything Indonesian. That is a major mistake, akhi (brothers) and ukhti (sisters). Please, do your homework, akhi and ukhti.

The Islam of Nusantara is similar to a knife or a gemstone. An already sharp knife would become sharper when it is often being used and sharpened (and not merely being stored away). A gemstone would be smoother and shinier, gleaming in charisma, if it is often exposed to diamond dust and being rubbed.

Religion is a behavior. Islam is also a behavior. It is not merely a theory of law (sharia). Therefore no matter how marvelous a knife or a gemstone could be, they would not show their shines sharpness if they hadn’t been used. So is the Islam of Nusantara.

Those who don’t understand the nature of knives and gemstones are likely fell victims to the trap of “failure to understand”. We need to study the essence of knives, and various types of gemstones. Once we willed to study, we would sure understand the essences of those two things. It would be better not to barricade ourselves with a desire to allege, before we grasp enough knowledge on the matter.

To understand the Islam of Nusantara, we need four aspects in preparing our minds. For me, these four aspects are absolute.

First, we need to understand Islam in a kaffah (wholesome) way. Avoid learning Islam from translated books or two-a-penny websites which contents are slanders and accusation toward different groups. What is called “kaffah Islam” is Islamic contents that come from the books of turats (referred to traditional books with religious contents), and by learning under the close supervision of a Kyai or a religion teacher with a clean sanad ( a chain of relationship that would end on the Prophet PBUH himself).

Second, do a lot of jam’iyyah (mingle with people). A religion diffused with many people who is in the same akidah (beliefs) is a strong one. Religion being discussed in inter-beliefs would make it more mature. Religion being discussed and interpreted individually or only with their own closed groups would give birth to radicalism and accusations toward different fractions.

Third, always follow the growth of recent global issues without ruling out celestial concern. Both subjects should walk hand in hand, so we would not understand the issues in the time of the Prophet or the apostles only, but also the Islam in the era of Samudera Pasai kingdom in Aceh, Islam in the era of Wali Songo (the Wali Sanga is the nine most notable Muslim missionaries who introduced Islam in the island of Java), Islam in the era of Mataram kingdom up to Islam in the era of President Jokowi.

Fourth, always maintain the husnudhan (positive thinking) and cool attitude when facing diversities. In the language of ahlisunnah annahdliyah there is tasamuh, tawazun and i’tidal. Don’t let your emotion eats its way to your head when facing something new. The word “bid’ah” (heresy) has vast meanings and not focused merely on dlalalah or “lost”.

Please don’t misinterpret or fail to understand the Islam of Nusantara. Because the failure to understand it would be resulted in us being a laughing stock. If we were aware that we fail to understand something, it’s best to ask those who really understand to explain it to us. Don’t pretend to understand, but actually what we did is merely vilifying others. When we want to know about gemstones, it’s best to consult an expert on gemstones, so we would know the various kinds of gemstones as well as their values in the free market, so we wouldn’t get fraud.

If you want to know about the Islam of Nusantara, please be present in the scientific forums where they carry the Islam of Nusantara concept and be ready to discuss it openly. But if you still don’t want to do that, feel free to open an anti-Islam of Nusantara forums, but please hand out the results of the dissents for us to answer scientifically. 

The Islam of Nusantara is NOT a new religion and not a form of heresy. Islam of Nusantara is the interpretation and understanding of Islam within the specific nationality of Indonesia, with—borrowing the term coined by Ahmad Baso—the PBNU, which is an abbreviation from P: Pancasila (The Five Principles), B: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), N: NKRI (Unitary States of the Republic of Indonesia) and U: UUD 1945 (the 1945 Constitution).

I sincerely think that the “fail to understand” groups are those who are anti-PBNU and had wanted to establish a khilafah in Indonesia. That is such a castle in the air, akhi and ukhti. Let us bring back our love toward Islam and our dedication toward NKRI as the sole solution, within the realm of unity of this nation. Please, don’t ever let us Muslims being divisived. 

By: Rikza Chamami, former chairman of PP IPNU

Bahasa Indonesia version of this article has been published in NU Online as a part of Wahid Foundation's Media Syndication Program.