A matter of interpretation


I just returned from four days in Banda Aceh, a place I had not visited before and  will see again.

Indonesia’s general elections are on April 9, and for Aceh, marks the first direct elections for the province. Much has been made of this. Violence has been predicted, intimidation by the military towards political parties, and political parties towards each other has been reported.

This very blog post is distracting me from all the official stories I’d like to write about my time there, so I’ll keep this sort of short.

What will stay in my mind most clearly are the discussions I had with various people in Aceh about Islam, about the way it’s interpreted and implemented. And the various opinions as to how much the religion is weaved in with democracy and the rights of women.

No small part of why I am in Indonesia has to do with my own reflections about the last point. That for another post, perhaps.

But then I got back from Aceh, and came across this article with Muhammad Hasan, the self-proclaimed leader of the Palembang terrorist group responsible for, among other things, blotting to bomb a small cafe in West Sumatra because, in his words:

“My friends and I are not guilty according to the Koran,” Hasan told the Jakarta Globe. “We are fighting against infidels who insult and kill Muslims. We avenge the murder of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine by America and Israel.”

Errr… in West Sumatra and Singapore?

A few more choice quotes:

Hasan said he deserved a reward for fighting against those who disobeyed Allah.

“But here I am, being prosecuted under the Anti-Terrorism Law in the country with the biggest Muslim population in the world,” he said from inside his cell in the South Jakarta District Court. “Shame on [President] Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and [Vice President] Jusuf Kalla. They must be replaced by those who are willing to uphold Islamic law based on the Koran.”

Hasan, who faces 20 years in jail for his role in the planned terror attack, said he would not deny being the group’s leader. “But I will not accept my prosecution under a law prepared by infidels,” he said. “I must be freed and compensated for being illegally detained.”

Despite your country’s weaknesses, Indonesia is much more friendly to Muslims than Singapore,” he said. “In Kelapa Dua [a police detention facility in Depok], my friends and I are allowed to receive visitors and meet our wives and relatives everyday. We are even allowed to play soccer.”“Now I think of myself as an Indonesian citizen and I will try to meet all requirements to get a citizenship here. I will resist any attempt to deport me to Singapore.”

I am reading his words through the frame of an op-ed piece I read recently, which although written in 2005, has lost none of its relevance. 

I know people in Australia who will read Hasan’s words and assume that Indonesia is turning into a comfortable haven for terrorists. And that’s a shame- I hope they keep the  country separate from the individual being held there.

But more importantly, I hope Indonesians see him as a madman whose words don’t make any sense to the religion he claims to stand for.

Would like to hear what you think.


3 Responses to “A matter of interpretation”

  1. nyscha Says:

    I consider myself a very devout Muslim, spiritually speaking, that is, I am in love with the religion, interpret it positively, and am willing to sacrifice myself according to the commandments (moderately).

    As your title says, Belles, I think it’s a matter of interpretation, because I haven’t met 2 Muslims with the same spiritual perspective of the religion.
    Most of them know the basics of Islam, but religion is after all a personal interpretation and each person understands it differently based on that person’s education, life experiences, demography, sex, race, age, the list goes on.
    I was born to a Muslim dad and a Protestant mom, was baptized at a young age, grew up learning the Koran in Arabic, was spiritually lost during the angst-ridden teenage years, sought Buddha in Bangkok, (re) found Islam, and I’ve been happily Muslim ever since.
    I think religion is heavily connected with common sense, if your common sense is all screwy, then really, no religion will help.

    It’s a shame that some people who are unlucky enough to be uneducated, narrow-minded know-it-alls with anger management issues do really fucked up things and name Islam as the inspiration. I think Islam is in major need of a good PR team and publicist at the moment.

    And yes, I do hope people will see that madman’s havoc-wreaking as a separate aspect of Indonesia and Islam as a whole. Like Hitler and Germany.

  2. Marmalade Says:

    Couldn’t agree more. And take the football off him – it is an infidel created sport after all. Wouldn’t want him to appear to a hypocrite would we?

  3. lovelli Says:

    On a personal level, I’m not really religious. There are three concepts in life that I find difficulty in digesting: karma, destiny and fate. The only book my mom sort of forces me to read is the Koran, which I’ve not—to this date—finished reading.

    So now I’m thinking…maybe I should get the English translation instead. But then again, it is a pretty thick book.

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