Commentary: Let There Be Temptations to Overcome During Ramadan


JUNE 21, 2015

Pure gold is pure because it has passed the furnace. Acknowledgement of anything that is of high quality or value only follows hard tests. Even academic titles are earned only after you have passed tough examinations.

In short, tests are necessary to ascertain the quality of anything worthy of keeping. Likewise, the quality of fasting lies in the depth of devotion that often needs to include unavoidable tests and temptations.

In facing temptations as a test of life, the right attitude is not to run away from or attack them, but face them up front to ascertain the depth of your devotion and the height of your belief in the Almighty God.

Believers of any religion know too well that the test of life has a purpose that is not meant for their destruction and failure but is meant for their dignity and victory.

I was pondering on such theological recipes ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan when the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) issued a warning against sidewalk food vendors operating during fasting hours, arguing that such temptations should not exist during the holy month.

Islamic scholars need to teach FPI members that forcing food vendors to close only shows that they have actually cancelled their own fasting, because it brings suffering to the vendors — mainly from the lower walks of life — who would lose their daily income. FPI cannot claim to uphold its devotion by causing others to suffer, because that is not part of any religious doctrine.

What surprises me is that FPI members refuse to take such tests as an opportunity to ascertain the quality of their faith. They probably want to fast in an easy situation void of physical temptations. But even if they passed such an easy test, would it be right for them to victory on Idul Fitri Day?

Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin and Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama have called on Muslims to not force food vendors to close during Ramadan —apparently because not all the vendors are Muslims and selling food during fasting hours does not violate any state law.

In this pluralist society, tolerance is the standard operating procedure. And tolerance is not just about non-Muslims having to show respect to their fasting brothers and sisters, though they must; it should work both ways.

Here’s the reason: On the upstream level of Indonesia’s history as a pluralist nation, founding Muslim leaders had demonstrated an extraordinary level of tolerance.

Though Islam was the majority religion, they showed a high degree of respect to the non-Muslims by not allowing Islam to be made the official state religion. That itself is an Islamic victory, far more dignified than merely demanding that others should be confined to their corners the whole day and fast along with us because we are fasting.

Likewise, even though Javanese was the language spoken by majority of the population, founding Javanese leaders showed respect to no-Javanese by not allowing the Javanese language to be made the official state language. And though Kalimantan and Papua were the two largest islands rich in natural resources, their representatives who constituted Indonesia’s founding generation did not demand that the nation’s capital city be situated in either island.

But 70 years after independence, Indonesia is back to the situation before it became a republic. Radical groups interpret the religion according to their selfish understanding and the government is bowing powerlessly before them, crawling behind the pretext of democracy and human rights.

You cannot uphold your human rights by destroying those of others. You cannot uphold your self-defined faith by causing others to be driven at bay. That is not the kind of the nation-state that the founding fathers established in 1945 after 37 years of concerted independence struggles against colonial powers.

Indonesia’s biggest irony is that all the presidents that have been in power since the reform era began in May 1998 have not been able to instill in society that degree of nationalism that harmoniously held our founding fathers together.

The government doesn’t even have the courage to reposition radical groups to the extent that they not take over the duties of state organs. FPI is not a state organ, nor an Islamic police force, nor a true source of pride for majority of Muslims in the country.

But above all those arguments, one crucial issue the government has not been able to tackle is what to do with radical groups whose controversial actions often spoil the reputation of the Islamic religion.

They must be protected and raised as noble citizens because the constitution says so. But when they hide behind religious symbols and doctrines to terrorize public harmony, the government becomes powerless. But neither do religious authorities outside the government structure, nor Islamic scholars have the executive power to enact law against troublesome citizens.

A middle course is needed here. Police must act uncompromisingly against law breakers who disturb harmony in society, regardless of their high profile application of religious pretexts.

The existence of radical groups only shows police’s inability to uphold state laws. Taking over police’s duty in preserving public order, FPI is showing to the nation that it is a police force in its own right and must be allowed to remain so. And where is the national government which is supposedly fair to all segments of society?

Unless Indonesia would be reshaped into an Islamic state, which is highly unlikely given the deep roots of state ideology Pancasila, the government must be firm in dealing with all radical groups, because that is part of its duty of preserving the country’s pluralist harmony in line with the constitution.

The fasting month is a golden opportunity for all radical groups to repent and repaint their image as good citizens. Rather than raiding sidewalk food stalls and threatening poor vendors with harsh actions, radicals should use this holy month to promote harmony among people from different religious backgrounds.

Instead of being afraid of tests and temptations, they should face them with the same degree of gallantry that they exhibit when they storm into discotheques and massage parlors to threaten powerless nocturnal workers from earning a living.

Because Islam is a religion of peace, the Islamic Defenders Front must defend this reputation with good deeds and noble behavior to justify their name. Defend the religion according to its true definition.

To many critics, the very name of Islamic Defenders Front itself actually conveys a message of worry. Why should such an organization exist in the first place, in a country where Islam is the majority religion with 87 percent of the population adhering to the faith?

If at all a defenders front is needed, it is the minority groups — not the majority — that would probably think of one. And they don’t need one. There is no Christian, Catholic, Hindu, or Buddhist defenders front, anyway. So, what is the FPI for in the context of nation building and pluralist harmony?

The government must straighten this out and not allow radical elements in society to interpret laws and religious doctrines according to their own narrow understanding. Now, as Ramadan rolls on, is the best time to do it.

Pitan Daslani is director of Managing the Nation Institute in Jakarta.

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