Review Article : A New Hope for Moderation


The New Hope for Moderation

Pradana Boy Zulian

University of Muhammadiyah Malang, Indonesia


IN many of my writings on recent religious landscape in Indonesia, I frequently quoted the late Peter L Berger’s analysis on the marginalization of religion against the secularization backdrop. As a sociologist of religion, among his earliest academic concern was the theory of secularization. The interesting point with Berger is his transformation in viewing the position of religion within society. Initially, he believed that with the advancement of modernity, which is followed by the secularization of society, religion would not play major roles in human life. However, the situation run not as he once predicted. Rather than fading out, anywhere across the globe, the resurgence of religions can be spotted.


At scholarly level, disagreement to Berger’s observation might occur. Nevertheless, modern day world has proven the thesis of religious resurgence to be true. Although resurgence might be grasped in both positive and negative ways, since 1990 up to the present day, religious resurgence in the context of Islam can be identified in two major types, namely societal and individual. On societal level, Islamic resurgence in Indonesia manifested in the forms of massive movement of Islamization, span from economy, culture, law to politics.


In 1990s, as never before, interest in studying Islam proliferated profoundly among university students, initially. Such situation was not so much found in society then, but when the political restriction was left by the fall of authoritarian regime under Suharto, freedom of expressions featured new democratic life for Indonesian; interest in studying Islam proliferated among lay Muslims. In addition, as new democratic life brought consequence of free market of religious ideology, diverse and even contradictory orientations emerged.


The meaning of this wave for individual piety is fundamental. Moreover, when digitalization of life becomes part of society, the societal resurgence of Islam took other form. The easiness in gaining information and material regarding Islam has paved the way for the ascendance of conservatism. This marks the resurgence of Islam in Indonesia in 2000s. Whether or not it is related, the Islamization of society is then followed by increasing awareness of religious piety among individuals. It is nothing wrong with the individual piety. The worrying aspect is that those who transformed into more pious path usually trapped into exclusivism which one of its manifestations is claiming others’ understanding as invalid.


In this situation, Indonesia is actually blessed with many progressive and liberal Muslim intellectuals. However, they seem reluctant to speak up on alternative voice on Islam. This is not due to the absence of courage or the limited opportunity of campaigning progressive, open and tolerant understanding of Islam. Rather, the ascendance of Islamic conservatism, to certain extent, has turned into intimidating factor that force people with dissenting views of Islam not to speak publicly. Of course, this does not mean that no public exchanges on progressive Islamic views in Indonesia. But rather, it has very limited reach. Public in general have tendency to follow pragmatic aspect of religion, adopt very simplistic views and black and white approach of understanding Islam, rather than views which provoke them to critically think. I might be incorrect in this sense, but from my personal experience, the more open the perspective and understanding offered, the more minor following is reached. In such situation, liberating Muslim mind and moderation of thought and practice of Islam cannot be ignored.


Having participated in Islam and Liberty Network (ILN) international conference in Mardin, Turkey, in the end of October, brought some optimism for me. I am convinced that ILN is a new hope for moderation force. I am not really sure about experience of Muslim in other Muslim majority-countries, but in Indonesian recent context, being associated with any groups, or even orientations, which being identified as related (entirely or partly) as liberal will create any problems, including the problem related to social integration and public role. Without any intention to be subjective or exaggerating my experience, this is the case with me. Being identified as the so-called “liberal” intellectual, I face so many problem of social acceptance both in academia circle and in society.


Again, in this context I believe that ILN is a new hope. My conviction is based on two bases.


First, ILN is an international Muslim think tank campaigning for contemporary issues confronting Muslim societies. Sometimes, Muslims in Muslim majority countries are not aware of the issue. They are ignorant of the fact that Muslims must deal with those issues in contemporary world. Not only that they are unaware of contemporary challenges, but also they show tendency of looking back to the history without any contextual application. Let us take the system of government as an example. In contemporary situation, democracy is not only a challenge to be responded, but also a system of government which need contextual applications in Muslim societies. But, in this very age, the popularity of caliphate is increasing in many Muslim polities, including Indonesia. The late Ahmad Syafii Maarif, a leading Muslim intellectual in Indonesia, qualified caliphate as ancient system which promise no future.


Secondly, as an international network, ILN have convinced Muslim progressive intellectuals anywhere across the globe that “you will never walk alone”. Being part of an international network will give confidence to individual scholar to work more seriously on issue focusing in liberating and moderating Muslims’ mind. Therefore, the significance of ILN in liberating and moderating the extreme resurgence of Muslim society is that it can play roles as think tank where liberty-inclined (not to mentioned liberal) scholars across Muslim world gather. The Mardin international conference also conveyed messages of common problem faced by Muslim majority countries, namely radicalism, intolerance and conservatism’ and the urgency of dealing with those problem on practical level, yet intellectually based.


I feel that I am late joining this network. But it is never too late to learn. More importantly, it is also never too late to groom hope and optimism for better future of Muslim societies.