Certification of Ulema Would Help Protect Fabric of Our Plural Nation

By webadmin on 06:44 pm Sep 14, 2012
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Bramantyo Prijosusilo

Following comments from the National Counterterrorism Agency that there are Internet sites that propagate radicalism and terror here, the spokesman of the Ministry of Communication and Information, Gatot Dewa Broto, indicated that his office might block radicalizing sites.

Asking the agency known as BNPT for the list of such worrying sites he promised that the government would scrutinize them to determine whether or not they have radical content. The spokesman’s statement indicates that the experts in that ministry cannot and have not, in all these years, been able to find for themselves these radical sites.

Some of us might still remember Arifinto of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which is also Communication and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring’s party.

Arifinto was caught watching porn during a plenary session of the House of Representatives to discuss important affairs of the state. Obviously he had no problem in seeking out porn sites on the Internet. This was of course done with the sole intent of scrutinizing Internet porn from beginning to end to determine whether or not it is harmful to our nation’s morals. God forbid that anyone should ever even imagine that the honorable members of this religious party would ever touch Internet porn sites with a long pole, other than for the noble purpose of protecting us from moral degradation.

We are grateful that the ministry has blocked many porn sites, so that porn is now much less accessible.

But why has it taken so long for the ministry to find and block radical sites in the religious sphere?

There are Indonesian websites that routinely criticize democracy, the government, the police, the West, Christians, Ahmadis, Shiites and other minorities. While always declaring the martyr status of dead terrorists and glorifying organizations such as Al-Qaeda, they diligently vilify the police, especially targeting the anti-terror unit.

In the wake of the recent terror attacks and accidents in Indonesia, comments of Rizieq Shihab from the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) were published, stating that the BNPT’s suggestion to certify clerics — like Singapore and Saudi Arabia do — was a blasphemous idea, and that Muslims should prepare to resist BNPT and the anti-terror police.

Worryingly, people who usually stand out as beacons of reason, such as Mahfud M.D. of the Constitutional Court and Said Aqil Siradj of Nahdlatul Ulama, also stated their opposition to the idea of certifying religious scholars, or ulema.

Said Aqil said that this would be the state interfering too much in the private lives of their citizens and Mahfud said that such certification would violate the human rights of Muslims. Each and every Muslim is compelled to spread the word “if only one verse” so there cannot be any limitation on who can proselytize.

Unfortunately these two gentlemen, whom I respect very much, have got it totally wrong.

Would they go see a doctor who had not completed a course in medicine in a respected university if they were feeling unwell? Would they hire a driver who had no driving license?

Would they prefer to fly in a plane that had just been safety-checked by a local bicycle mechanic and was being flown by a Jakarta bajaj driver or would they rather their plane be checked by competent mechanics and flown by experienced pilots?

The same goes for ulema.

The general public would prefer to listen to ulema that are genuine men and women of God, rather than listen to confidence acts who dress up in robes and grow their beards in lieu of really studying and practicing the whole body of religious texts that a real cleric is expected to have done.

The problem I feel is not in the need of certifying ulema to make sure that the general public receives quality spiritual guidance, but rather the issue would be: who would be competent to issue such certificates that guarantee the ulema we see are truly people of wisdom and knowledge?

Should the Religious Affairs Ministry conduct the certification of ulema?

Notorious as one of the most corrupt institutions in the country, where even the procurement of the Holy Korans to be distributed throughout the state apparently has been marked-up, the concern would be that ulema certificates could merely be sold to the highest bidder.

The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) is also not an institution entirely clean of controversy, and there are worrying indications that there are anti-Indonesia elements within it. Some are preaching that saluting the red and white national flag is haram, and MUI has also issued fatwas that are used by some as licenses to attack minorities.

The controversial 2005 fatwa declaring that secularism, pluralism and liberalism is haram and evil is an indirect attack against the state philosophy of Pancasila. If the MUI was given the task of certifying ulema, it may just be possible that all the moderate ulema would be stricken off and instead certificates would be issued to people propagating the destruction of the Republic and the establishment of a caliphate.

Maybe for the time being we cannot expect any certification of ulema to be practicable. But perhaps the more realistic demand would be for ulema to be honest about their education.

The ulema are scholars, people of knowledge. The Arabic word actually has the same root as “ilmu,” which means science.

As one expects to know the qualifications of a teacher in a school, the public should also know the qualifications of someone who preaches from the pulpit, especially when there also are those who preach hatred and violence in the name of religion. While we work out how to go about this, it would of course be most helpful if the Communication and Information Ministry started blocking radicalizing websites that are intent on destroying the fabric of our plural nation.

Bramantyo Prijosusilo is a writer, organic farmer and former broadcast journalist.