Gospel and Culture: Indonesian Muslim's Perspective

by Nico Gara


Situation of Indonesian Muslims

The Muslims in Indonesia are classified into four groups: the traditionalists, reformists, revivalists and transformists. The emergence of these groups happened within the process of development in Indonesia.

The biggest group is the traditionalists who are mostly in the rural areas. The traditionalists believe that everything is willed by God. Even backwardness is taken as part of one's fate and not considered a human problem. The attitude stems from the idea of takdir which had been predetermined by God even before the creation of the world. The traditionalist group is the target of modernization efforts of the government, universities and research institutions in Indonesia.

The reformists view underdevelopment as something caused by wrong interpretation of Moslem theology, and they blame the traditionalists for this problem. Reformism presents a rational theology in which humans are seen as rational creatures with thier own mind and will to act. Al-Qur'an states that God grants humans the intellect to explain the relationship between God and humans, and the relationship among human beings themselves. World phenomena as well as the Islam doctrine can be explained scientifically and rationally. This rational thinking, according to the reformists, creates rational behavior and attitude. Such openness is expressed in famous Islam passages, "Pursue knowledge as far as China," and "Seek knowledge from birth to death." Modernization is seen as an obligation, an instrument of God's command. Modernization has a deeper meaning -- it is a process of discovering or seeking the ultimate truth which is God. In this context, secularization means desecration, a radical debasement to objects of mythology. The reformists believe that only God is sacred.

Reformism legitimizes the nation's life through Islam. But another group, the revivalists, object to this system of meanings applied to Islam. The revivalist movement takes Islam as the way of life -- not only in value but also in order, not only in form but also in content. Islam is to be understood as the unity of the spiritual and the physical, it transcends the economics, education, family, state and all other aspects of life. The Qur'an and sunnah are the guiding light of values and social order. The revivalists look at other religions and ideologies as the cause of Muslim backwardness. For this reason, they are called fundamentalists.

Transformism also opposes reformism. To be transformists, poverty and backwardness of the people could not be overcome by strategies proposed by the reformists. People's fate cannot be entrusted to the care of the political, economic and cultural elite. The people should take their destiny in their own hands, they should know what they want and should know how to act on it.

Transformism is manifested by NGOs which develop transformation theology, populist theology, and the theology for the oppressed. They have their own reading and understanding of Islam and the Qur'an. The stories of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad reflect their ideology. The coming of the Prophet, Muhammad, signifies opposition to the economic and political elite because the history of the Prophet's life is exactly that. The Prophet's spirit and commitment are reflected in the Qur'an: "Do you know who are anti-religion? Those who scold the orphaned children and who are opposed to feeding the poor." This was the character of the community then which became the object of criticism of the Qur'an: "Woe to the slanderers and disprovers who count and accumulate wealth."

This is the historical and theological basis of transformism. The message of faith is the message to stand for the poor and the oppressed. Poverty and oppression come from a pattern of social relationships in the community and the state. The social structure is made up of unbalanced economic, political and cultural relationships.

Transformation theology expresses faith testimonies of the people. Faith and its expression is not neutral, it is part of reality and cannot be separated from economic and political interests. People's faith, therefore, cannot be formulated by the elite or some religious instrumentality because of opposing interests. In this context, dialogue with other faiths is not prohibited. For the transformists, there should be no theological barriers and cooperation should be encouraged with other religions. Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha are realization of interests of the oppressed people.

The doctrine of transformism is actually a synthesis of the traditionalist and reformist doctrines. Humans have the power to change history, but they are not situated as the essence of change. There are other influencing factors -- system and structure. There is a dialectic relation between human's free will and the outside influences of system and structure. To change the system and structure needs critical human awareness of the system and structure.

The transformists' idea of a community is as follows:

  1. a community without exploitation,

  2. an egalitarian community without domination of culture, knowledge and ideology, and

  3. a community without gender domination.

Gospel and Culture: Indonesian Perspective

Churches in Indonesia define their understanding of the gospel as good news on repentance, renewal and salvation which have been granted to humankind (Mark 1:15); as justice, peace, humanity and world welfare which God willed (Luke 4:18-19); as signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God in the new heavens and the new earth, where righteousness dwells (Revelations). How can this understanding be expressed to the predominantly Muslim Indonesian people. It has been noted that Muslim culture emerged alongside the process of development. We therefore need to put the gospel in the context of the development process in Indonesia. This will enable the Indonesian churches to find a common ground for the gospel and Indonesiam Muslim culture. The churches can dialogue with the reformists and the transformists on development issues. But since development issues can only be tackled through actions, then the dialogue must involve common actions in solidarity with the backward and oppressed people to realize the vision of an Indonesian community free from exploitation, domination of culture, knowledge, ideology, religion, etc.


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