If we see Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah as representatives of Muslims in Indonesia, we can say the pattern of sociality developing among the Muslim population is conducive to upholding democracy.
ULIL ABSHAR ABDALLA
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In recent years, several experts have expressed concern over a global phenomenon known as democratic backsliding. The spread of democracy increased significantly since the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s, then stagnated globally since the mid-2000s. As Rizal Sukma wrote in this column (Kompas, 22/12/2022), signs of this decline have also been observed in Indonesia.
But that is not what I want to discuss. What I want to point out are the efforts that various parties in Indonesia, especially Muslims, have made to maintain democracy. One question that has often been subject of debate in the last two decades, especially among Western societies, is: Is Islam compatible with democracy?
Based on the experiences of Indonesian Muslims, the answer to this question is very clear: The majority of Muslims do not see any contradiction between Islamic teachings and democracy. One of the reasons why Indonesia has a vibrant democracy is due to, among other factors, enormous support from Muslims.
A resilient democracy does not only rely on procedural processes, such as elections, civil supremacy, political parties that are trusted by the public, parliament and an independent judiciary. Of course, these procedures are very important. But we cannot forget cultural conditions, or democratic sociality, according to Jeffrey Stout in Democracy and Tradition (2003).
The cultural conditions for maintaining democracy include many things, such as cultural views, religious understanding, traditions, values that underlie sociality and attitudes toward minority groups. If the sociality among the people develops a democratic character, we hope that democracy will be able to survive.
This is where we ask: What patterns of sociality are developing in Indonesia, especially among the Muslim community? Is it democratic or not? The answer to this question is not simple. However, I have noticed a dominant pattern of sociality among Muslims in Indonesia that is conducive to maintaining democracy.
This can be seen, for example, by the religious understanding of the majority of Muslims in Indonesia. If we see Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah as representatives of Muslims in Indonesia, we can say the pattern of sociality developing among the Muslim population is conducive to upholding democracy. In summary, the dominant religious views perpetuated by these two mass organizations are characterized by three important foundations, namely tradition, Indonesian-ness and modernity.
Here, tradition refers to a religious understanding that local cultural contexts are very important in the practice of religion. Based on experiences in a number of Muslim countries, groups that are too obsessed with “religious puritanism” generally find it difficult to adapt to democratic culture.
Indonesian-ness refers to the understanding that there is no contradiction between nationality and Islam. They can coexist without denying the other. Groups that tend to be antagonistic toward the state also generally have a negative attitude toward democracy.
Meanwhile, I view modernity as an attitude of being open to social changes that have risen in the modern era. Religious groups that tend to be antagonistic toward modernity also generally do not view democracy kindly.
These three foundations of religious understanding, which make up the sociality of Muslims in Indonesia, are important in upholding a culture of democracy in this country. These are important contributions Muslims are making to maintain democracy in Indonesia. Amid boisterous political dynamics ahead of the 2024 general elections, perhaps many no longer consider these cultural aspects.
By shedding light on these matters again, I would like to point out the strength of democracy in this country is supported by intangible factors that are rarely highlighted in public discussions. These factors are rooted in the patterns of sociality that have developed within the Muslim community, the largest political community in this country.