By: Luthfi Assyaukanie
Last month, I have attended the lecture of Karen Armstrong, a British scholar who is very sympathetic to Islam. She delivered a lecture entitled The Role of Religion in the New Millennium. Almost all through her lecture, she talked about Islam and its various challenges. This forum, attended by more or less thousand participants in a ballroom of a Singapore’s hotel, was very fascinating particularly for Muslims who perceived that they were supported.
Since 9/11, this author of History of God turned out as a sympathetic spokesperson for Islam. She was invited to diverse forums for explaining the other side of Islam which the observers and mass media have often neglected. That is because since the 9/11 tragedy, the image of Islam has been inevitably associated with terrorism and violence. Armstrong explained that associating Islam and terrorism is a big mistake. Islam is a peaceful religion and did not instruct its adherents to use violence or terrorist actions in the Islamic missionaries.
As far as the campaign on the positive image of Islam concerned, Armstrong was not alone. There are other names like Montgomery Watt, Edward Said, John Esposito, and Robert W. Hefner in the Western academic world. These non-Muslim scholars identified an unfair circulation of information providing the negative image of Islam. Any news regarding Islam published in the media or written by scholars was either on terrorism or violence. Islam seemed to be identical with violence.
I want to describe those western scholars as “Front of Islam’s Image Defenders” (FIID), as the opposite of other fronts in Indonesia that used to employ violent means. FIID has adopted the Quranic method namely employing the knowledge (bil hikmah), good message (mauizah hasanah) and strong argument (wa jadilhum billati hiya ahsan). They presented this method both in scientific forums and in their works.
Armstrong has written several books on Islam, including Islam: A Short History and Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, which brilliantly analyzed Islam and Prophet Muhammad. By way of deep research on the history of Islam, Armstrong attempted to reveal Prophet’s humanitarian sides by neither apologetic nor attacking tones like the orientalist works. Armstrong did not deny the fact of many battles in the days of the Prophet, saying it must not be separated with the life dynamics of the Prophet.
Armstrong, in The Battle of God, found many battles carried out in the name of religion in all religions. Indeed, modern fundamentalism that ended in terror actions in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is a form of resistance to the secular and atheist world. The rational based modernity has been regarded dangerous for the faith based religion. Therefore, religious people who seemed to be threatened would launch a backlash toward the symbols of modernity, including commercial buildings, train station, and cafes.
Of course, these non-Muslim intellectuals were not alone. Muslim intellectuals in the West have striven to restore the image of Islam, harmed by terrorist attacks carried out to defend Islam (in fact they damage it). Scholars like Fazlur Rahman, Abdullahi Ahmed al-Naim, Khaled Abu el-Fadl, Moqtader Khan, and Irshad Manji, were in the list of the real FIID.
Unlike the previous Western non-Muslim scholars, they did not quit in defense, but they also criticize Muslim behaviors and several Islamic doctrines which were regarded incorrect. Fazlur Rahman, for instance, was aware upon Muslim’s behavior which he regarded incorrect in understanding Islam. Furthermore, Rahman criticized several Islamic doctrine which he regarded irrelevant with the modern life.
In Indonesia, I observed more Islamic movement launched by young generation. They came from santri background and had an excellent Islamic scholarship. This movement aimed to counter they who (mis)used Islam for their political and ideological interest. Via their thoughts and works, they attempted to restore the image of Islam disgraced by terrorist attacks carried out in the name of this righteous religion.
Islam as presented by this reformist or liberal Islam movement is peaceful, tolerant, pro-democracy, and endorsing the civil liberties. Apart from the terrorist’s version of Islam, liberal Muslims believed that Islam is compatible with the modern world, able to interact with the West, and cooperative with the international world.
No other way to restore the image of Islam except by developing the liberal Islamic notions, in Muhammadiyah, NU and other organization. Pluralism, liberalism, women right and civil liberties are the main issues that is helpful in restoring the image of Islam which has been associated with violence, suicide bombing, kidnapping, and destroying café. It is the right time for Muslims to restore the image of Islam by deeply burying the primitive notions raised by the terrorists and their supporters.