Oleh: Malja Abror
To Rahman, bank’s interest is not riba (usury) since the philosophy of bank’s establishment is as the agent of change in the national development system of a modern state. Therefore, bank’s interest is not equal to riba which is based on individual-consumptive motive. Rahman also allowed massive mechanical slaughter of animals (chicken), with a single blessing only. He also believed that zakat could be gradually perceived as tax with certain mechanism.
Islamic studies were booming in the United States in 1980ies. This phenomenon bred eligible scholars of Islamic studies. Three prominent figures represented three model of Islamic movement in that time. Ismail Raji al-Faruqi represented the revivalist, Sayyid Hussein Nasr represented the traditionalist, and Fazlurrahman represented the modernist or neo-modernist.
Later on there was a tendency to associate neo-modernism with the liberal Islamic movement in the late 1990ies. This tendency appeared in Greg Barton’s work, Gagasan Islam Liberal di Indonesia: Pemikiran Neo-Modernisme Nurcholish Madjid, Djohan Efendi, Ahmad Wahib dan Abdurrahman Wahid/ The Notion of Liberal Islam in Indonesia: Neo-Modernism Thought of Nurcholish Madjid, Djohan Efendi, Ahmad Wahib and Abdurrahman Wahid (Jakarta: Paramadina, 1999).
Fazlurrahman, who died on 26 July 1988, had a wide influence in the world of Islamic thought, including in Indonesia. Therefore, on Tuesday 26 of August 2008 Liberal Islam Network held a discussion under title “Commemorating the Death of Fazlurrahman: Reviving the Islamic Reform in Indonesia”.
The first speaker Bachtiar Effendi, a political scientist and lecturer of the University of Indonesia, said that the association of neo-modernism with the liberal Islamic movement must be reviewed. Effendi observed that it is hard to find the meeting point between neo-modernism and liberal Islamic movement. In the issue of Islamic state for instance, Fazlurrahman accepted the notion of Islamic state, in this case Pakistan.
Rahman voluntarily accepted the fact that Pakistan was an Islamic state, and further delivered his advice and suggestion to General Ayyub Khan, who led the country then. “It is difficult to find any liberal Muslim who accept the notion of Islamic state”, said this graduate of Ohio State University. However, Rahman’s acceptance of the notion of Islamic state is not without critical viewpoint.
Rahman, according to Effendi, is a multifaceted scholar. It is not appropriate to label Rahman as a Muslim traditionalist, modernist, neo-traditionalist, or neo modernist. “If we see beyond his books, observe his teaching method and his notions about several issues, those labels are fail to represent the accurate personality of Rahman.” Effendi added.
Luthfi Assyaukanie, the host of the discussion, responded Effendi’s presentation and said that “Rahman’s students were also anxious about the raising responses upon Rahman’s acceptance of the notion of Islamic state, and they therefore wrote an article under title The Nature of Islamic State in Pakistan.” Assyaukanie, quoting the article, said that there are several categories of the Islamic state namely: secular-islamic-state, humanism-islamic-state, and divine-islamic-state. “Rahman’s students seemed to pose Rahman in such position in which although he accepted the notion of an Islamic state, he for some extend accepted some secular values too.” Added Assyaukanie.
The next speaker, Hamid Basyaib, commented that “The problem of biographical study is that we cannot just quote one’s opinion without looking at the context of when or where it is issued”. According to Basyaib, the Executive Director of Strategic Political Intelligence (SPIN) and Program Director of Freedom Institute, Rahman had fiercely condemned al-Maududi in the context of Islamic state. “If the system applied in Islamic state is theocracy which means power is in the hand of God, what if a non-Islamic country colonizes it? Isn’t it a colonization and abuse against God? Basyaib illustrated Rahman’s sarcastic condemnation over Maududi. Maududi used the terms of theo-democracy in the context of Islamic State of Pakistan, instead of democracy or theocracy.
Basyaib explained further that the main controversy about Rahman is not about his acceptance of the Islamic state. It is more about Rahman’s position as Director of Institute of Islamic Research (August 1962), which is endorsed by Pakistani government led by General Ayyub Khan, as well as Rahman’s position as member of Advisory Council of Islamic Ideology Pakistan (1964). In that time, public begun to question Rahman’s integrity and moral responsibility as a scholar.
The Institute aimed to translate Islam into rational and academic terminologies to meet the needs of the progressive and modern society. While the Council reviewed the laws and adjusted them with al-Quran and Sunnah. Both institutions have a strong partnership since the Council asked the Institution to collect the materials and propose suggestion upon the draft of regulations.
The controversy went on when Rahman issued the fatwas on bank’s interest, machine slaughtered animal, the position of zakat over tax and so on. To Rahman, bank’s interest is not riba (usury) since the philosophy of bank’s establishment is as the agent of change in the national development system of a modern state. Therefore, bank’s interest is not equal to riba which is based on individual-consumptive motive. Rahman also allowed massive mechanical slaughter of animals (chicken), with a single blessing only. He also believed that zakat could be gradually perceived as tax with certain mechanism.
Basyaib started his presentation by the story of his intellectual encounter with Fazlurrahman, trough the first translated work of Rahman in 1983. Basyaib was interested in Rahman’s perspective on hadith. Many have paid so much attention to the narrative chain (sanad) of hadith. Rahman ignored the conventional methods of understanding hadith as described in Musthalah Hadith and offered a new method in valuating hadith.
Rahman applied two principles in reading hadith. First, to compare the hadith with the higher principle, al-Qur’an. Second, to see whether a hadith is reasonable in terms of the social-historical background of the Prophet’s life. To Hamid, Fazlurrahman’s principle of reading hadith can be applied also for reading other religious aspects. “Reading Rahman’s works, I have just realized that I can discuss about religion in such way.”
Using Rahman’s new perspective of re-reading and interpreting hadith, many hadith will be regarded as inauthentic. Hadith seemed to be over supplied and therefore it underwent “inflation”. He gave an example that although hadith saying about equality between Arab and non-Arab (la farqa baina ‘arabiyy wa ‘ajamiyy) is morally correct, it is historically wrong. Since the matter of supremacy between Arab vis a vis non-Arab started to appear after the Islamic expansion out of the Arab peninsula, and it only took place post the death of the prophet. Hadith glorifying the ulama’s position for instance, saying that the ink of the ulama (religious scholar) is holier than the blood of the martyr must be inauthentic. Since the terms of ulama just as many perceived it today, a cleric or religious scholar, is certainly not available in the days of prophet’s life.
Both speakers paid a serious concern on Rahman’s ambition of creating an Islamic weltanschaung (worldview), in which the Islamists also share similar ambition. “Rahman, with his ambition of creating an Islamic weltanschaung is like the other side of Islamist”, said Hamid. “However,” Hamid added, “Rahman is a real great scholar, despite of the fact that the Middle Eastern scholars have never recognized him so”.