Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Yaqut Cholil Qoumas set the bar high for President Joko Widodo as well as Nahdlatul Ulama, the religious backbone of Mr. Widodo’s government when he presented his country’s presidential agenda of the Group of 20. The G20 brings together the largest economies.
Addressing the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna as Italy prepared to hand over its presidency to Indonesia, Qoumas also challenged Indonesian competitors in the Middle East in a battle to define the extent to which l islam integrates the principles of tolerance, pluralism, equality of the sexes. , secularism and human rights as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The battle, which is likely to also determine which Muslim-majority country (ies) will be recognized as leaders of the Islamic world, takes on increased significance with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and concerns about the Taliban’s policies towards activists on Afghan soil.
Meanwhile, uncertainty over the reliability of the United States as guarantor of security in the Gulf prompts regional enemies to contain their differences to ensure they don’t get out of hand, placing more emphasis on the soft power projection.
Turkey’s 2022 budget appears to signal the change and importance that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attributes to this particular challenge.
The budget of the powerful Directorate of Religious Affairs or Diyanet is expected to increase by 20% for the 2022 fiscal year, giving it greater financial flexibility than the ministries of interior, foreign affairs, trade, industry and technology, environment and urbanization, energy and nature. resources, culture and tourism.
These ministries are essential in enabling Turkey to resolve its economic woes, offset the fallout from the pandemic, and strengthen its appeal as a potential leader of the Muslim world.
The Diyanet, in another sign of Mr Erdogan’s emphasis on religious rather than national identity, recently urged Turks to use the religiously framed greeting Peace Be Upon (Selamün aleyküm) You rather than phrases like Good Morning (Gunaydin), widespread in Turkey since its founding of a republic nearly a century ago.
Diyanet President Ali Erbas argued in a recently published Turkish-language book, Human religion and religion in the information age, that the greeting “Hello” dates back to the pre-Islamic era.
These latest measures suggest that Mr. Erdogan is leading his country, also a member of the G20, on a path diametrically opposed to what Mr. Qoumas was supporting in Bologna.
The minister argued, contrary to Mr. Erdogan’s policies, that religion “has the potential to help block the political militarization of identity; curb the spread of community hatred; promote solidarity and respect among the various people, cultures and nations of the world; and fostering the emergence of a truly just and harmonious world order, based on respect for the equal rights and dignity of every human being. Yet to realize this potential, we must wisely manage the inevitable struggle between competing values, as globalization brings together very diverse peoples, cultures and traditions. “
Mr. Qoumas made his remarks as an Islamist journalist called on Mr. Erdogan to avoid the militarization of religion.
Write in Karar, a Turkish publication reportedly close to Mr Erdogan’s former prime minister and foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who left the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to found his own party, the journalist Ahmet Tasgetiren, warned that the president appeared to be politicized the Diyanet.
Comparing with the politicization of Turkish justice by Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Tasgetiren noted that this “weakens people’s confidence in it”. Pleading with Mr Erdogan, Mr Tasgetiren warned that “the politicization of religion and Diyanet ruins people’s relationship with religion… I think you would never want that for religion. For the love of religion, please.
Mr. Qoumas, the descendant of an influential family of Nahdlatul Ulama and the former leader of the powerful youth wing of the group, GP Ansor, went on to say in his speech that “a major task that awaits us is to identify and conscientiously observe those universal values that the majority of the world’s inhabitants already recognize, such as the virtues of honesty, truth-seeking, compassion and justice. Another parallel task is to develop a global consensus regarding the shared values that the diverse cultures of the world will have to embrace if we are to coexist peacefully.
Implicitly, the minister noted that unlike his competitors – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Iran – in the battle to reshape traditional Islam, Nahdlatul Ulama, one of, if not the most large organization of Muslim civil society in the world, has put its money where its mouth is.
Mr. Qoumas noted that a gathering in 2019 of more than 20,000 Muslim religious scholars associated with Nahdlatul Ulama ruled that the legal category of infidel was “neither relevant nor applicable in the context of a modern nation state. “. In doing so, Nahdlatul Ulama became the first major contemporary Sunni Muslim religious entity in the world to seek to update and modernize Islamic jurisprudence.
Mr. Qoumas did not present a program to deal with other concepts of Islamic law that the clerics of Nahdlatul Ulama identified as problematic or obsolete, such as blasphemy. Nahdlatul Ulama argued that concepts like the dhimmi or the people of the book which are recognized in classical Islamic jurisprudence but do not enjoy equal status before the law, and apostasy, had been invalidated by the ruling on infidels.
Certainly, countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where Islamic law is at least constitutionally recognized as a primary source of legislation if not the primary source of legislation, have liberalized social rights considerably.
Saudi Arabia has significantly strengthened women’s rights in recent years by lifting the ban on driving for women, liberalizing gender segregation, reducing men’s control over women’s lives and expanding professional opportunities. .
Likewise, the United Arab Emirates announced last November a major overhaul of the country’s Islamic personal laws, allowing unmarried couples to cohabit, easing restrictions on alcohol and criminalizing “honor killings”, a tribal custom. widely criticized and religiously conditioned that allows a male relative to kill an accused woman. to dishonor a family.
The liberalization of social mores in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was rooted in civil law, rules and regulations, but none of the countries, unlike the process initiated by Nahdlatul Ulama, adopted Islamic jurisprudence accordingly.
In this way, the two Gulf States, unlike Indonesia, seek to maintain close state control over their interpretation of Islam without the intervention of civil society.
The dichotomy raises fundamental questions, notably whether what Nahdlatul Ulama calls the “recontextualization” of Islam can be achieved by autocratic or authoritarian regimes that seek to ensure their survival and project themselves internationally in a positive light or whether the religious reform must be popularly anchored. and led by civil society.
Although in government, Mr. Qoumas implicitly answered the question by quoting a poem by Kyai Haji Mustofa Bisri, a prominent spiritual leader Nahdlatul Ulama. The poem, titled “Religion” focuses on the behavior of the individual rather than the role of the state.
“Religion is a golden coach prepared by God to lead you on the path of his divine presence.
Don’t be mesmerized by its beauty, let alone enchanted to the point of arguing with your own siblings over who’s in the front seat.
Leave! ”The poem reads.