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Denny JA at the first workshop of the Liberal Islam Network (Photo: IslamLib)

Hoping on Liberal Islam

OurIndonesia – Lately, a community named their selves as Liberal Islam was born in Indonesia. They are youngsters, activist of Paramadina, NU, journalism, and IAIN (Institute of Islamic Studies) Ciputat. In its second level, there are activist of 1980ies study groups who took doctoral degree in US, or being journalist and researcher. This group is crystallized by having homepage and internet discussion, making network trough newspaper and radios.

The particular thing from this network is its Islamic views which represent Liberal views. Their concept regarding Islamic sharia, Koran, secular state and Jakarta’s charter is very much different to the mainstream one. From democracy political interest, Liberal Islam community gives a new hope. This community becomes a synthesis between democracy principles and Islam. They interpret history and Islamic doctrine in order to be parallel to principle of democracy and modern cultural plurality.

If this Liberal Islam community and its Liberal Islam platform develop, they will change what has been stereotyped in Islamic and democracy studies. Islam has been considered as the hinder of democracy. There is no democratic country consolidated in the muslim majority country. But Liberal Islam community can be a deviating embryo from the stereotype.

In exploring relation between democracy and religion in general, there are studies about four religions: Protestant, Catholic, Confucius, and Islam, just as Huntington did. He wanted to disclose religious contribution upon democracy. Huntington had a positive attitude toward religion. Even the history proved the present of religious interpretation hindering democratization, he opened possibility of the birth of new interpretation among religious scholar.

To Huntington, Protestant painted the first democracy wave, since 1820-1920ies. Undemocratic country was dominated by Protestant, from the North America to Europe.

Protestant teaching upon individual awareness and autonomy, like individual access to contact the Creator directly is compatible with the thought of individual sovereignty in democracy system. The Protestant church is structured democratically as well by emphasizing the wide participation (supremacy of the congregation). Besides, as written by Weber, Protestant ethic has supported the growth of capitalism and economical welfare.

Catholics painted the third wave of democracy, since 1970ies up to now. Democratic country in this period from Portugal, Spain, South and Central America, Philippine, Poland and Hungarian are dominated by Catholic.

Relation between Catholic teaching and democracy is very particular. Before 1960ies, Catholic was considered as anti democracy, furthermore as compared to Protestant. But religious interpretation changes fundamentally since Pope John XXIII which was known as the second council of Vatican, 1962-1965.

Vatican II emphasized on the urgency of reverends and disciples to be involved socially to help the poor. The reverends have to admit individual rights and take out legitimacy upon injustice and authoritarian government. This new interpretation gave a very significant cultural basis for democracy.

Confucius has exceptional problem with democracy. Various new prosper countries in Asia like South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore and China which is dominated by Confucius, is not heading for democracy. Some elements of Confucius interpretation are the reason. It emphasizes more on collective interest than individual right, authority than freedom, and duty than right.

While Islam, conceptually, teach many progressive principles of democracy, justice and economical progress. Principles like egalitarian, individual sovereignty, piety, hard work and spirit of science seeking, are numerous in its holy book.

The problem occurred in practical field. A wide distance between Islamic doctrine and its civilization happened. Hence, countries dominated by muslim from Middle East to South East and East Asia has never experienced a long and stabile democracy.

But the chance always opens, where the muslim reformer respond interpretation which has been deteriorating its disciple and change it with a compatible interpretation to democracy. It is easy since the basic element of democracy like deliberation, control and consultation is certainly its core teaching. Liberal Islam community is expected to be the pioneer of cultural supports on democracy trough the reinterpreted Islam.

The first thing should be done by Liberal Islam community is making a blue print which must be promoted among society. In this blue print, the principle of democracy and the neutral state is explained; supported not only by Islamic history, but by the Islamic doctrine itself. Liberal Islam community should have its own think-thank which is strong and having commitment. The history will prove whether this liberal Islam community would grow large, or die in the middle of way.


The Indonesian version of this article was published in IslamLib.