Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Critical Muslims: Cosmopolitans or Heretics?

I have managed to track down lengthy videos of two of the protagonists featured in Cosmopolitans and Heretics: the Egyptian philosopher Hasan Hanafi and the late Algerian-French historian of Islam Mohammed Arkoun. Unfortunately, there does not seem to exist a comparable audiovisual impression of the third intellectual featured in the book, Nurcholish Madjid. Instead, I have included a recording of the fifth Nurcholish Madjid Memorial Lecture, entitled 'Marx or Machiavelli: Towards quality Democracy in Indonesia and America' of 2011, delivered by the American political scientist and Indonesianist, R. William Liddle. The lecture was organized by the Center for the Study of Religion and Democracy (PUSAD) of the Paramadina Foundation in Jakarta, and hosted by Paramadina University.

Documentary on Hasan Hanafi
Former presidential adviser and head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Jacques Attali, talks to Mohammed Arkoun.

 Nurcholish Madjid Memorial Lecture by R. William Liddle

For further readings on these three Muslim thinkers, check out the recommendations below:

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Zero Tolerance towards Dissent: Saudi Author Turki al-Hamad arrested

Saudi author Turki al-Hamad
Another critical Saudi Muslim has fallen victim to the government's determination to stamp out any religious dissent through social media. Less than a year ago, the journalist Hamza Kashgari was extradicted by Malaysia and subsequently arrested for tweets that where considered insulting to the Prophet Muhammad  (see the post of 25 April 2012).  In December 2012, the celebrated author Turki al-Hamad was arrested on accusations of defaming Islam via twitter.

Al-Hamad established himself on Saudi Arabia's in itself not so exciting literary scene with a coming-of-age trilogy of novels called Phantoms of the Deserted Alley (Atyaf al-Aziqah al-Mahjurah in Arabic).  It was not so much the by Saudi standards perhaps raunchy treatment of sex in the first two installments, Al-Adama and Al-Shumaisi, but the religious questions he raised in the third volume Al-Karadib. Musing such as whether God and the Devil are not merely two sides of the same coin, earned him the condemnation of the religious establishment, which issued a total of four fatwas in 1999 and 2000.

His recent tweets were less philosophical and more straightforward in their criticism of Saudi Arabia's state-sanctioned religious doctrine and the way Islam iconizes the Prophet.
 Because I am a Muslim in the tradition of Mohammed, I reject Wahhabism.
 Just as our beloved Prophet once came to rectify the faith of Abraham, the time has now come in which we need someone to rectify the faith of Mohammed.
A political scientist with a PhD from the University of South Carolina, al-Hamad is not just a witer of literary fiction, but he has also authored studies on the challenges Arab culture faces in a globalizing world and about the politics and religion.

Prince Muhammad bin Nayif
An interesting question that remains to be answered is whether this latest condemnation is  unanimously shared by the top echelons? Al-Hamad was detained on the instructions of the Minister of Interior, Prince Muhammad bin Nayif, a rising star of the hardline represented by his late father and former heir-apparent (see my article for Open Democracy). However, in 1999, the then regent and current King, Abdullah, offered al-Hamad the protection of bodyguards after the issuance of the first fatwa. It seems that in the post-Arab Spring Middle East, the incumbent regimes are resolved to stamp out not just political dissent, but also any deviation from the authorized religious discourse.

A more detailed assessment of Turki al-Hamad's recent arrest can be read here.

For more books by Hamad al-Turki and the cultural world he operates in:

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Making of Progressive Islam in Indonesia

The Muhammadiyah Studies blog, maintained by Ahmad Najib Burhani, an Indonesian scholar and Muhammadiyah activist who is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of California at Santa Barbara, contains an announcement of the recent completion of a PhD Project on progressive Islam in Indonesia by Alexander Arifianto.

Alexander Arifianto
Arifianto, who now works as a visiting scholar of political science at the University of Miami, pursued his PhD studies at Arizona State University. The full title of his doctoral dissertation is Faith, Moral Authority and Politics: The Making of Progressive Islam in Indonesia. Part of the abstract reads:

 This study is a comparative historical analysis of two Indonesian Islamic groups: the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and the Muhammadiyah. It finds that the NU was able to successfully change its theological positions due to the presence of a charismatic moral authority leader, the tolerant institutional culture within the organization, and the ability of the organization to ally with the Suharto regime, allowing the reform to be institutionalized with little intervention from the regime. On the other hand, theological reform within the Muhammadiyah was not successful due to the lack of a leader with moral authority status who could have led the reforms within the organization, as well as to the dominance of a revivalist institutional culture that does not tolerate any challenges to their interpretation of Islamic theology. The analysis makes theoretical contributions on the role of religious leadership within Islamic movements and the likelihood of Islamic groups to adopt liberal political norms such as democracy, religion-state separation, and tolerance toward religious minorities. It identifies the mechanisms in which theological change within Islamic group become possible.
 A full overview containing abstract and contents page can be found here. The author has also given a talk about the parallels between the development of progressive Islam in Indonesia and Turkey at the University of Chicago. To listen to this talk click here.

For further readings check the titles below.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals and Democratization: An Insider Perspective

Regular followers of this blog will have noticed the author harping on and on about the importance of paying more attention to developments in Indonesia when it comes to assessing possible future trajectories for the Muslim world at large in terms of democratic change and the role of educated middle classes in this process. Too often only Turkey is held up as the example to follow, but ignoring Indonesia means missing some very important lessons (see earlier posts on 11 December 2011 and 5 February 2011).

I am therefore very pleased to see my friend Luthfi Assyaukanie, a political scientist associated with the Paramadina University and the Freedom Institute in Jakarta, and also a founding member of Indonesia's Liberal Islam Network, addressing exactly these points in an essay on Indonesia as a model of Muslim Democracy, discussing its development, problems and opportunities.
   Prior to 1998, Turkey was often considered a model of Muslim democracy. Not only was it the sole majority Muslim country that rigorously applied secular principles, it also tried to maintain a democratic government. Although there were some criticisms against military dominance in Turkish politics, many people at the time still considered Turkey to be the only democratic Muslim country in the world. In the absence of a democratic government in the Muslim world, the presence of Turkish democracy, however minimal it was, was a relief.
 Since then, many world leaders lauded the rise of democracy in Indonesia. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, called Indonesia a role model of democracy for the Muslim world. She believed that "Indonesia's own recent history provides an example for a transition to civilian rule and building strong democratic institutions". Likewise, President Obama pointed out that Indonesia's democracy can be Egypt's model. Indeed, Obama has often praised Indonesian democracy as a good example for the world. In the wake of democratic movements spreading through large parts of the Arab world, it is necessary to explore Muslim models of democracy.
 Luthfi identifies four reasons why it is important to include Indonesia in assessments of prospects for liberty and democratic transformation in the Muslim world:
First, Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world that has undergone political transition from authoritarian regime to democracy.
Second, the country has maintained political stability despite the ethnic conflicts and religious riots in the first years of its political transition.
Third, Indonesia has demonstrated stable economic performance. Over the last five years, economic growth in Indonesia has been around 6%. During the global financial crisis in 2009, together with China and India, Indonesia was the only country that could maintain economic growth above 4%.
Fourth, Indonesia is the only Muslim majority country where Islamic political parties have failed to win the general election. In North African and the Middle Eastern countries, democracy always gives Islamic political parties victory.
In particular this last point makes the Indonesian case interesting to consider, because it illustrates that, when it comes to the prospects of democracy in the Muslim world, it is not a dichotomous choice between two evils: some form of secular authoritarianism or an Islamist alternative.
The question we should address here is, why did the majority of Indonesian Muslims not vote for Islamic parties, but rather to secular (or non-religious) parties? Has not there been an Islamization process in the country? Why is the resurgence of Islam in Indonesia not followed by the success in gaining political power?

There are many answers to these questions. But, the most striking one is that there has been a radical change in the political mindset of Indonesian Muslims. Partly due to the external factors that were boosted by secular-militaristic regime under Soeharto and partly due to internal ones which were pushed by liberal Muslims. These two factors played a crucial role in changing Muslims' political mindset and the way Muslims perceived democracy.
Another important aspect of the Indonesian experiences is the role of progressiveintellectuals in mobilizing increasingly better educated middle class urbanites.

The shift, however, is not only due to Soeharto who ruled the country repressively, but also due to the long and passionate role played by Muslim intellectuals. What is happening in Indonesia is not happening in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. Indonesian intellectuals have always played an important role in changing Muslims political mindset and attitude.

Through lectures, writings, and actions, they advocated democracy and delegitimized Islamic parties. Unlike in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, the Indonesian reform movement has always been doing their work through organizations. Intellectuals such as Abdurrahman Wahid (1940-2009), Ahmad Syafii Maarif (born 1935) and Nurcholish Madjid (1939-2005) are Muslim leaders who chaired big organizations.

To read the whole article click here. For further readings on Indonesia, Islam and democracy, check the suggested readings below: