Blogger Indonesia of the Week (88): Imdad Robbani

Blogger Indonesia of the Week (88): Imdad Robbani

“Like many Indonesians, Lolo[1] followed a brand of Islam that could make room for the remnants of more ancient animist and Hindu faiths. He explained that a man took on the powers of whatever he ate: One day soon, he promised, he would bring home a piece of tiger meat for us to share.”[2] – Barack Obama

Everybody everywhere tends to take a standpoint where it will socially have an advantage, not a liability. Take, for example, the case of a controversial word “secular” and its variants as far as Islamic and political discourse go.

In Indonesia, the word “secular” is a liability. If you’re a Muslim and are called secularist then it may imply that you’re not a “muslim” enough. It’s true especially among Muslim conservative or traditionalist[3]; not to say the Islamist[4]. In India, however, the situation quite the opposite. Claiming a secular is quite an advantage. Being a secular in India means that you are a modern and a pluralist.

That’s said, once may wonder what does the term “secular” and “secularization” actually mean? The question and the answer are equally important because not all common Muslim understand or even care about this.

It’s in this regard that Imdad Robbani’s article about Secular and Secularization has a certain point where a wider auidence needs to know.

… it is a category by which we define the entirety of contemporary Western civilization, that is, from theologico-philosophical, legal-political, and cultural-anthropological aspect of it.

… Secularization is generally regarded as a process of differentiation between “religious” and “secular”. We can speak of it, utilizing categories made by Jose Casanova, through three perspectives; theologico-philosophical, cultural-anthropological, and legal-political. From the first angle, Al-Attas say that secularization is liberation of human reason and language from control of something religious and metaphysical; and turning human attention from the world beyond into this world.

Another approach to understand secularization is through cultural-anthropological perspective, which is, in many cases, more apparent. Culturally it means “the disappearance of religious determination of the symbols of cultural integration”. In Arab context, it is “the marginalization of Islam or its exclusion from the process of re-structuring society during both the colonial and post-independence periods”. This suggests that Islam is excluded as much as possible from shaping the society.

It is also differentiation of things “secular”; like economy, science, art, entertainment, health, and welfare; from those “religious”; such as ecclesiastical institution and church’s activities. It also means “the transfer of activities from religious to secular institutions, such as a shift in provision of social services from churches to the government.” We may conclude that secularization culturally and socially is the disappearance of religious symbols, omission of religion’s role in shaping society, differentiation between what is secular, i.e., related to this world only and what is religious, i.e., related to the world beyond, and moving social activities from religious to secular institutions.

Imdad Robbani’s post on this matter has not finished yet. While it’s worth waiting for the whole piece, his readers may look around some other interesting articles written previously from serious topic such as Religious Pluralism, Sufism, Greek Philosophy, etc to some topic which is not so serious and “cultural contemplation” in nature. Look for example at such post as Intercultural Marriage, A reflection of how hard it’s to socially break a taken-for-granted tradition, marriage in this case, without being labelled as socially, even religiously, “unethical”.

Another interesting post is concerning parents-children relationship and his implicit question the parents need to answer: how far should a parents in a traditional family exercise and impose their authority towards their children and in what matters and how far can children disobey them in a manner which is not construed as a disrespect gesture?

A young man like him needs to write more on this conflict of cultural gap to represent what other young generation think of themselves and about their previous generation particularly their parents. In which way it’s hoped it will open a smooth dialog and wider understanding between the elder and the younger one. Not many young men, living in a traditional family like him, are able to speak up their mind before their parents. This blogging technology, if used properly, should break that barrier.


[1] Lolo is Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian, Barack Obama’s step father. The second husband of his mother and the father of Maya Soetoro, Obama’s half sister.
[2] Quoted from Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father, Three Rivers Press, (New York:1995), pp. 37.
[3] The term conservative and traditionalist Muslim have similiar meaning in the sense they usually refer to those practicing Muslims–who follow the basic standard of Islamic teaching, but not necessarily involve or campaign for an Islamic state. In short, they are purely religious, not political. Hence, they are practically secular in Western sense of the term. The non-practicing Muslim are called abangan in Indonesia as implicitly mentioned by Barack Obama quoted above.
[4] Those Muslims who campaign for the establishment of Islamic state in scientific discourse or in actual political activity.

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