Recently, I came across this article discussing the lack of democracy in Muslim world. Citing examples on Muslims states in the Middle Eastern and Gulf region like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Oman, several African states like Libya, Egypt, Morocco and Tanzania as well as in South, Central and Southeast Asian region like Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Malaysia, it says that,
“It is hard to find a purely democratic country in the Muslim world, one that is governed by the people directly or through elected representatives. But pseudo-democracies abound and have various names: "guardian controlled," "military-based," "dictator-based," "religious-based," "unstable," "limited" and "puddle," among others.”
I cannot agree more with the statements above. Democracy is visibly lacking, or rather, if it ever exists, it is limited, unstable or controlled like in Malaysia and Iran. But there is a part in the article that made me beg to differ. It says,
“In the largest Muslim state, Indonesia, democracy is unstable. Corruption, communal riots and political clashes have plagued Indonesian democracy.”
While I agree with the fact that corruption, communal violence, political clashes and relative stability are the features of Indonesia in the post-Suharto period, but is Indonesia a Muslim state? What defines it as a Muslim state?
Is it just because the majority of its population follows the teaching of Islam and it is a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference then Indonesia is a Muslim state?
What about Suriname or say Thailand? Suriname is a member and Thailand is an observer of the OIC but the majority of their populations do not follow the teachings of Islam. Can we call them as Muslim states merely due to their association with the OIC?
Asghar Ali Engineer once wrote about Islamic state. He said that Islamic state has no Qur’anic sanctions and that, “Muslim countries claiming to be Islamic states are far from these ideals. The greatest ideal projected by the Qur'an is justice ? both in personal conduct and in distribution of wealth. It is conspicuous by its absence in the Muslim countries.”
He further explains that,
“… the Qur'an presents a concept of society, not of any state. … The Qur'an was greatly concerned with establishing a just society. It exhorted the rich to be sensitive to others' suffering and required them to redistribute their wealth and levied Zakat (alms) which was to be spent on the poor. … The Qur'an laid stress on justice and benevolence in all socio-economic matters.”
And as for the Madina state founded by the Prophet in which Islamists believe to be the ideal concept of an Islamic state, Asghar has something to say about it. He said that, “Madina was a pluralist society and there was no attempt whatsoever to impose Islam on anyone unwilling. It was `secular' in as much as plurality of religion was recognized.”
Thus it needs to emphasize here that Qur’an does not explain about an Islamic state but it gives the concept of an ideal society. Furthermore, during Prophet’s tenure as the head of Medina society there was no imposition of Islam on anyone unwilling. The Prophet had given full freedom to all Medina populace to practice their respective religions, be it Christianity or Judaism. Medina was a pluralist, secular society in the sense that there was an equidistance of respect and recognition of the variety of religion.
Now, let’s return to the question about whether Indonesia is a Muslim state or not. Before answering this question, it will be interesting to explain here the basic idea about Indonesia.
Indonesia is a country which has more than 190 million Muslims. More 80 percent of its populace follows the teachings of Islam but Indonesia never declares itself as a Muslim state. The Indonesian state is based on the idea of Pancasila (five principles) that covers the idea of a belief in God, humanitarianism, unity in diversity (pluralism), representative democracy and social justice. It is nowhere to be found in the Indonesian Constitution that mentions about Indonesia being a Muslim State.
As for the Islamists who have been fighting for the establishment of an Islamic state in Indonesia, they have been defeated both through bullets and ballots. The successful suppression of rebellion by Islamists in the turbulent days of the 1950s and the results of the democratically administered general elections in Indonesia held in 1955, 1999 and 2004 are clear proof to this conviction. In these elections, even though Islamist parties secured quite a number of votes but they never came up as a majority in a country where more than 80 percent of its populace follows Islam. Secular-nationalist and religious-nationalist parties secured better results in these elections.
The recent and current resurgence of Islamic leaning parties in Indonesian politics needs not to be worried. It is just an integral part of an evolving Indonesian democracy. The recent media coverage about the imposition of local laws based on Islamic tenets by a ruling Islamic party in their districts has been blown out of proportion to create an impression that Indonesia is controlled by Islamists. Islamists do not control Indonesia.
It must be remembered here that even though these so-called Islamic parties supported an Islamic ideology, but once they go to the masses to appeal for their votes in the elections, they choose political pragmatism over ideology. Because they know Islamism does not sale and the voters know that it is the economy, social justice, eradication of corruption and eradication of other social illness that matter the most.
Thus to say that Indonesia is a Muslim state in the same brackets as those states cited in the beginning of this article is misleading. Indonesia is not a Muslim state. But going by the suggestion about an Islamic society as explained by Asghar Ali Engineer, Indonesia is definitely going into that direction. It is still a long and winding way ahead but surely, a pluralistic Indonesia is the best ideal that all Indonesians must strive for.