Maneuver in the narrative space: Lessons from Islam Nusantara
January-March 2018
By: C Holland Taylor

Following months of careful preparation, in the spring of 2017 Ansor announced the launch of a concerted effort to promote humanitarian Islam (al-islam li al-insaniyyah) by developing and operationalizing a global strategy to recontextualize (ie, reform) the teachings of orthodox, authoritative Islam and thereby reconcile certain problematic elements of classical Islamic law with the reality of contemporary civilization, whose context and conditions differ significantly from those in which classical Islamic law emerged. As The New York Times headlined its coverage of the humanitarian Islam campaign: “Indonesians Seek to Export a Modernized Vision of Islam … pressing governments around the world to bring Islamic law into line with 21st century norms.”

Ansor quickly followed up in May 2017, when more than 300 Indonesian religious scholars gathered in East Java with colleagues from South Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America to address “obsolete tenets of classical Islamic law, which are premised upon perpetual conflict with those who do not embrace or submit to Islam.”

A Mustofa Bisri opened the event with a prayer that the assembled scholars’ deliberations would constitute “a humble act of religious piety and a blessing for all humanity … [as well as] the starting point of a movement that may bring the rays of enlightenment to a desperate world.” The two-day international gathering of ulama concluded with the adoption of an 8,000 word analysis of the manner in which state and nonstate actors have “weaponized” orthodox Islamic teachings, and a detailed road map that calls for “a serious, long-term sociocultural, political, religious and educational campaign to transform Muslims’ understanding of their religious obligations, and the very nature of Islamic orthodoxy.”

In the words of Ansor chairman H Yaqut Qoumas, which also appear in the 21-page strategy document titled “Gerakan Pemuda Ansor Declaration on Humanitarian Islam”: “No progress can be made towards neutralizing a threat, unless it is understood and identified. It is false and counterproductive to claim that the actions of Al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram and other such groups have nothing to do with Islam, or merely represent a perversion of Islamic teachings. They are, in fact, outgrowths of Wahhabism and other fundamentalist streams of Sunni Islam.” The declaration goes on to state, “If Muslims do not address the key tenets of Islamic orthodoxy that authorize and explicitly enjoin such violence, anyone, at any time, may harness the orthodox teachings of Islam to defy what they claim to be the illegitimate laws and authority of an infidel state and butcher their fellow citizens, regardless of whether they live in the Islamic world or the West. This is the bloody thread that links so many current events, from Egypt, Syria and Yemen to the streets of Mumbai, Jakarta, Berlin, Nice, Stockholm and Westminster.”

“Muslims face a choice between starkly different visions of the future. Will they strive to recreate the long-lost ideal of religious, political and territorial unity beneath the banner of a caliphate – and thus seek to restore Islamic supremacy – as reflected in their communal memory and still firmly entrenched within the prevailing corpus, and worldview, of orthodox, authoritative Islam? Or will they strive to develop a new religious sensibility that reflects the actual circumstances of our modern civilization, and contributes to the emergence of a truly just and harmonious world order, founded upon respect for the equal dignity and rights of every human being?” the declaration said.

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