Are shariatisation and democracy compatible? — Hakimul Ikhwan
JUNE 24 — There have been anxious responses to the increasing tendency of sharia-based ordinances being enacted in Indonesia especially since the inception of regional autonomy in 2001.
Not only is shariatisation deemed a phenomenon that undermines democracy but also a threat to the unitary state of Indonesia and the pluralistic nature of its society. I am of the opinion, however, that shariatisation and democratisation do not always clash or threaten each other. I have found that shariatisation and democracy have clashed in some instances and concurred in others.
Shariatisation indeed has contributed to the development of democracy. This can be seen in the fact that shariatisation became a “safety net” in the midst of the systemic crises facing the country’s law enforcement, social and political disorder and the government’s loss of legitimacy from the late 1990s to early 2000s.
The discourses on sharia have created an imaginary “new” common morality within society. I call this process a temporary imaginary common morality since it has neither legal sanctions nor bodies either in government structures or local community institutions, except for those in Aceh.
Shariatisation is to be understood as a way to find sources to establish a common morality and values in the midst of multidimensional crises as well as to strengthen social integration and maintain order that, thus, will spur the development of democracy.
Every society is in need of common values and morals to maintain social integration and order. Many sociologists have emphasised in many different ways the significance of those common values as seen in the works of Durkheim (1938; 1951) on social fact, or Weber (1968) on legitimate domination and structures of authority, or Foucault (1977; 2003) on power.
With those in mind, the issue of shariatisation is not related to compatibility or incompatibility between Islam and democracy. Rather, it is the problem of finding and establishing common values and morality within a pluralistic society. In a highly religious society, religion or religious teachings and values will be the major sources of reference.
In Indonesia, this tendency is not only happening in Muslim-majority communities but also in predominantly Christian regions. For instance, in Papua, where the majority population is Christian, religion-based legislation and regulations are emerging, whereas in Yogyakarta, for instance, where the royal family still exists, traditional culture has become the main reference for a common local morality.
Sharia incorporation into official policies has prevented anarchism on the part of Islamist groups since responsibility for it is held by the state, or more precisely the local government.
Previously, the Islamist groups had claimed to hold the responsibility for the enforcement of sharia. Moreover, shariatisation has attracted the formerly politically exclusive Islamist groups to actively participate in politics and democracy. They had boycotted elections held since the government forced all political and social organisations to adopt Pancasila as their founding ideology (asas tunggal) in mid-1980s.
The Islamist groups’ excitement about getting involved in political activism will contribute to the future development of democracy in Indonesia, especially in terms of broad and substantive participation among diverse groups within society.
However, shariatisation and democracy oftentimes have collided and sparked tensions. There are two local conditions underpinning these tensions. First is the failure of political Islamism to maintain loyal followers amid tight political competition. This is especially true post-2005 when Indonesia adopted the direct election of regional leaders and a shift to an open-list proportional system.
Political liberalisation has significantly changed the pattern of political loyalty between the masses and the elites. Prior to 2005, political loyalty was significantly shaped by social and cultural identification and submission to informal or religious leaders. After 2005, the loyalty moved from social-religious leaders to high-capital owners in both the legislative and executive branches of power.
Due to these failures, many Islamists frequently cited and quoted Islamic texts and doctrines, which are prone to interpretation and do not support democracy. In other words, the texts and doctrines were being used a “pain killer” for their disappointment in political contests. In fact, those Islamists used to promote democracy and had a desire to get involved in politics.
The second source of tension is underpinned by the mode of economic reproduction. Shariatisation has not only failed to make an impact on improving of people’s welfare but has also placed certain limits and conditions on economic production. For instance, shariatisation would work against the entertainment industry and other economic activities considered immoral. This has gained support from particular violent Islamist groups.
As a result, in regions which rely heavily on tourism, entertainment and service industries as sources of revenue, economic growth stagnated if not declined during the golden period of shariatisation in the first half of the 2000s. The backlash on the economy has undermined people’s expectations and support for sharia policies. — The Jakarta Post
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.