Muslims in neckties and the politics of change


Posted at Jan 28 2009 08:27 PM | Updated as of Feb 04 2009 04:50 PM

US President Barack Obama's motto for change is spreading not to just to the Western world but to the Muslim community as well.

During Wednesday's conference in the 2nd National Ulama Summit of the Philippines, Muslim leaders from Indonesia urged their local Muslim brothers to embrace change and modernity to become competitive in today's economy.
Dr. Endang Turmudi, secretary-general of Nadhlatul Ulama or NU - the largest Muslim organization in the world with 40 million members - said Muslim-Filipinos could become a dynamic force for political and economic change if they band together.

"It’s very possible that Muslims in the Philippines can become an economic and political force here. Of course, it will depend on how they answer the problems they are facing now. It will depend on how they join political parties and their performance in government. Also, their qualifications to get into politics. What is important is to connect the human resources of Muslims here to be well qualified, have a good education so they can impact economically," he told at the sidelines of the Ulama Summit.

He said, however, that traditionalism could sometimes hinder Muslims in small but significant ways. He said one subtle change that was implemented by their organization was allowing NU members to wear neckties.

"In the past, the Nadhlatul Ulama prohibited members to wear ties because it showed the lifestyle of their Dutch colonizers. It was a very political decision. But now, almost all ulama (Muslim scholars) in Indonesia wear ties," he said.

He said that in Indonesia, Nadhlatul Ulama members follow Islamic jurisprudence as mentioned in the Qur'an and the Hadith as well as the ijma (agreement of earlier ulama on the position of certain things from the Islamic perspective not written in the Qur'an and the Hadith) and the Qiyas (analogy made by the ulama when the above three referenxes are not available).

Negative perceptions

Dr. Anwar Abbas, secretary of Muhammadiyah -- a Muslim organization with more than 35 million members also based in Indonesia -- also said that negative perceptions of Muslims being a "lazy people" are sometimes fortified by Muslim brothers who neglect their surroundings. He said, however, that Muslims can reverse that perception by fostering trust and acquiring vision to better themselves according to Allah's teaching.

"If Obama was chosen by the people for the word 'change', I also want the Muslim world to change," he said.

Turmudi argued that as Islam continues to spread globally, it becomes incumbent upon all Muslims "to review and put in an appropriate way" their relationship with their fellow Muslims and with people of other religions as well.

He also urged the ulama to lead in the effort to inform the whole world that the "violence done by Muslims or those who acknowledge themselves as Muslims is not derived from the doctrine of Islam but from certain interpretations affected by the political situations surrounding them."

The Nadhlatul Ulama official dismissed fears that fostering a bigger world view would mean adopting the Western world's habits and beliefs.

"We have to modernize our thinking without losing the reason why we should modernize. To be modern is not to be Westernized but to enlarge our capacity, to become wiser and knowledgeable in society. We shouldn't be afraid of modernization. In Indonesia, the more educated people are the ones who are also deeply religious," he said.

Ulama hierarchy

Amina Rasul, lead convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, said the purpose of the summit is to gather the ulama in the Philippines to start working together and make their voices heard on issues affecting the Muslim community.

"The ulama are very similar to the Catholic priests in that they are the leaders in spirituality and morality. The difference is -- there is no organized hierarchy so we do not have the structures. The ulama are extremely influential but without the hierarchy, we are not as effective as the Catholic Church for instance," she said in an interview.

"The radicals in the ulama are a fringe group. They are the minority. Majority are for tolerance, for peace but most of those being heard are the squeaky wheels. Once this majority come together, then we can start cohering the interpretation of the faith and not what the fringe group is saying."

She said the creation of the National Ulama Conference of the Philippines (NUCP) during the summit could serve as the vehicle to "help peace and development work, monitor elections and work for human rights issues in the country." 

At least 200 Muslim religious leaders ratified the bylaws of the NUCP and elected 14 ulama to the 15-member interim board of trustees during the summit. The PCID has been given the 15th seat on the Board.

Those elected to the board of NUCP were: Dr. Hamid Barra from Marawi City, Dr. Abhoulkhair Tarason from Basilan, Sulu Mufti Sharif Jul Asiri Abirin, Tawi-Tawi Mufti Abdulwahid Inju, Aleem Abdul Majid Said from Cebu, Aleem Ahmad Darping Nooh from Davao, Dr. Abdussalam Disomimba from Lanao del Norte, Prof. Moner Bajunaid from General Santos City, Shari'a Court Judge Aboali Cali from Marawi City, Aleem Jaafar Ali from Cotabato City, Aleem Abdulhadi Daguit from Manila, Bro. Hassan Garcia from the Balik Islam community, Ustadza Albaya Badrodin and Aleema Khadijah Mutilan from the Aleemat (Muslim women religious scholars).

Former Senator Santanina Rasul, Chair of MKFI and Advisor of the PCID, was given the honor of occupying the 15th seat.