April 2019
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A. Wahid: Promoting the Good

A few years back in a discussion with Professor Samuel Huntington about the clash of civilizations symposium organized by the United Nations University in Tokyo, I said to him, “Professor, you look at the woods and don’t see the trees. Because you forget that each year, hundreds of thousands of Muslims throughout the world come to Western civilization and learn from it. And I feel that Western civilization also learns many things from Islam. So, this mutual learning should be emphasized. But you emphasize only the differences between Islam and the West. This is where I would like to correct you.”

Not that the Muslims don’t commit mistakes. They make mistakes. For example, in these modern times, many Muslim students in so-called advanced societies are learning the challenges faced by Islam. They look into the holy books, to the written sources, the sources of Islam, the Holy Qur’an and the prophetic traditions. The direct result of any kind of interpretation or learning inherited from their fathers and grandfathers is that the protection of religion then becomes harsh. I can find an example of this. A few years back, a Pakistani alim, a scholar of Islam, came to me in my office at the Istana, the presidential palace in Jakarta. And he said, “Please, let’s promote hatred for the Pakistanis.”

“Why?” I asked. He said, “Now they’re led by a woman, a lady, Benazir Bhutto. Because the prophet said, ‘Pity to the tribe that’s led by a woman, which will take them into drain.’ "

I said to him, “Well, it’s a tradition. It is true. It comes from the seventh century A.D. in the Arabian Peninsula. At that time, for the relationship of any tribe to be strong, power had to be in the hands of strong people because the leader had to lead commerce, divide waters for irrigation, be lawmaker and lawgiver as well as executor, and do many things while leading the tribe in war. So, as only physically powerful people could lead a tribe. That’s why the prophet said that man should be the leader. Now leadership is not personalized anymore, but institutionalized. One person cannot make decisions without the cabinet participating in the decision. And the cabinet is mainly a male majority. The cabinet has to carry out the wishes of the Parliament regarding the law. The cabinet cannot contradict any law. So, the majority of Parliament members are males. And then, to help the Parliament, we have all-male executives, so there is nothing to be afraid of in the leadership of your nation being a lady.”

But he said to me, “Please decide by giving a fatwa—a religious ruling.”

You can see that tradition or, let’s say, heritage is difficult to overcome. But this is precisely what the Muslim has to do, look to the future. And, the two verses read by our friend at the opening are greatly relevant. That is, the promoting of uf, the good, and avoiding munkar, the bad. A group of you should encourage health, welfare, or goodness, the maruf, the good. And only after that, stop the munkar to prevent things that are abhorred by religion.

So, the first thing is to promote the good. That is, we have to do the most for people’s welfare. This is important because we try to produce the goodness that we agree to. And then, what we don’t agree with, we say it comes not from the Qur’an. So, when the family welfare project on the so-called health front was proposed by the Catholics and then taken over by the government, the Muslims were angry. Remarketing it is a Christian program that we should not emulate. But in my view, we don’t look into the origins. We look into the meaning. That is fair, it is good; it is for the welfare of our people.

Many things can be done. For example, in environmental considerations, I think about how to help to preserve forests and at the same time how to export natural resources that are in abundance in a way that will benefit the people. All of this can be done by Muslims if the religion would be meaningful for all different peoples.

There is no point in reiterating that Islam is good or Islam is bad if we don’t think of our people’s welfare. We have the principle of uf (the good): that the policies and actions of our leaders for the people’s benefit shall be related directly to the welfare of those who are led.

Muslims should have leaders who look after their people’s welfare, and not leaders who look out only for themselves. Because of this, there is no other way for Islam than to adopt democracy, because with democracy we can of course choose our own leaders. These would be elected leaders, not inherited leaders or leaders who manipulate people.

Democracy offers this. But in talking about democracy, it is important also that we should not make Western values our own values. These are the so-called universal values of Islam.

[Source: Islamic Perspectives on Peace. Tarrytown, NY: Universal Peace Federation, 2006.]