UIII Book Forum: ‘Inspiration for the World: Indonesian Islam in Perspective’

July 04, 2023

Contributor: Magello Fenis | Editor: Supriyono

The Central Library of the Universitas Islam Internasional Indonesia (UIII) held a Book Forum discussion on June 21, 2023, with the book entitled “Inspirasi Untuk Dunia: Islam Indonesia dalam Perspektif” which translates to “Inspiration for the World: Indonesian Islam in Perspective” published by the UIII Press and Mizan.

Spoke at the event were the book initiator and co-editor, Prof. Komaruddin Hidayat, who serves also as the UIII Rector, accompanied by the book contributors who are also UIII academics Dr. M. Syafi’i Anwar, and Dr. Philips Vermonte. Prof. Nina Nurmila was also among the discussants in the forum, moderated by Dr. Phil Syafiq Hasyim, the Director of UIII Press who also contributed to the book.

The conversation about the book revolves around the exploration of three prominent Indonesian intellectuals, namely Abdurrahman Wahid, Nurcholish Madjid, and Ahmad Syafii Maarif. These prominent Muslim scholars serve as crucial points of reference to understand the development of modern Indonesian Islamic thought in the early 21st century.

To introduce the book, Dr. Anwar recounted his interactions with three notable Indonesian Muslim scholars. He began by reflecting on his time as an undergraduate at Universitas Indonesia, where Nurcholish Madjid, also known as "Cak Nur," served as his thesis supervisor and played a crucial role in shaping his perspectives on political Islam in Indonesia. 

Additionally, he discussed his connection with Abdurrahman Wahid, commonly referred to as "Gus Dur," who, as a former president, afforded him the opportunity to edit his book titled "My Islam, Your Islam and Our Islam." 

Furthermore, Dr. Anwar also highlighted the influence that Syafii Maarif had on his scholarship venture, particularly in understanding the conceptual framework concerning the relationship between religion and the state.

Dr. Anwar's meaningful interactions with these notable Indonesian Muslim scholars have unquestionably made valuable contributions, not only to the scope and profundity of his work but also to the fundamental principles of Sharia and to the notion of the inclusive nature of Indonesian Islam.

Meanwhile, Dr. Vermonte mentioned that while these three leaders are all civil society leaders, cultural leaders, and thought leaders, only Gus Dur had experience of serving as a policymaker and ultimately became the president of the Republic of Indonesia. As a result, Dr. Vermonte dedicated a chapter in the book to explore Gus Dur's example of how civil society leaders can transition into formal political leadership roles.

Dr. Vermonte emphasized that the Indonesian power transition experience should serve as a valuable lesson for students from developing countries that "coup is not good, and power has to be fixed and maintained, and we could only gain power through electoral and democratic means." It implies that the three Indonesian scholars were also huge proponents of democratic principles and the significance of peaceful means in attaining and preserving power.

In explaining the purpose and goal behind the publication of this book, Prof. Hidayat affirmed that the intellectual endeavors of these three thinkers align with the vision and mission of UIII. Hence, the intention is to write this book in English; however, it is currently important to also cater to Indonesian society's need for knowledge about these three thinkers. 

In addition, it is also worth noting that the followers of these intellectuals come from diverse backgrounds, encompassing various economic, political, ideological, and social categories. Gus Dur is associated, to some extent, with NU (Nahdlatul Ulama), which represents a more traditional society. Maarif is affiliated with Muhammadiyah. While Cak Nur resonates with the modern urban society.

"They make Islam inclusive in a much higher position, which is more global and universal, while also appreciating the local roots of Indonesian society. For foreign students and friends who wish to understand contemporary Islamic thought in Indonesia, it is important to know and read about these three thinkers," Prof. Hidayat concluded.

Providing a viewpoint from a gender perspective, Prof. Nurmila highlighted that although these three Muslim thinkers may not have explicitly focused on gender issues, they were not opponents of gender equality. On the contrary, they supported it. Their inclusive thinking also benefited women, as embracing opposing views, such as the formalization of Sharia, would lead to increased restrictions and enforcement of conservative ideologies, resulting in further suffering for women.

At the conclusion of the Book Forum, the speakers reiterated the unique features of Indonesian society, such as its archipelagic nature and the history of migration, which have played a significant role in shaping a moderate version of Islam in the country. They also stressed that Indonesia's distinct interpretation of Islam should not be mistaken as a sign of Westernization. Rather, they highlighted how Indonesia's rich historical tradition of intercultural encounters and diverse influences have contributed to its multifaceted cultural landscape and unique identity.