By Mohammad Mazhari

Jalaluddin Rakhmat was victim of slander by takfiris: Indonesian professor

March 1, 2021 - 18:49

TEHRAN – Jalaluddin Rakhmat, a top Sia figure in Indonesia, lived under harassment and slander by takfiris, especially in recent years, an Indonesian academic says. 

“As is the case in many parts of the world, the Shia’s emergence was met with negative reactions from takfiri groups linked to Saudi Arabia,” Professor Otong Sulaeman tells the Tehran Times.

“Dr. Jalaluddin Rakhmat and the Shia community in Indonesia often become victims of persecution and slander by the takfiris,” Sulaeman laments. 

“This phenomenon has been increasing in recent years along with the Syrian conflict,” notes Sulaeman, a member of Sadra Islamic Philosophy College in Jakarta.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you evaluate Dr. Jalaluddin Rakhmat's position, personality and contributions in developing Islamic thought in Indonesia?

A: In the 1980s, youth in the Muslim world experienced a period of Islamic awakening.  Indonesian youths at that time were very passionate about studying Islamic teachings and philosophy. Books written by intellectuals from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, including Iranian writers such as (Ali) Shariati and Morteza Motahari, were widely translated and read. On campuses, students regularly hold regular discussions to discuss Islamic teachings and principles.

Dr. Jalaluddin himself repeatedly gave speeches in seminars that were attended by various religious figures and schools of thought. That is why the commemoration of Dr. Jalal's death was also attended by minority figures in Indonesia who gave testimony about Dr. Jalal's efforts to fight for the protection of minorities.
 The young Jalaluddin Rakhmat was one of four or five prominent Muslim thinkers in Indonesia at that time. He wrote many articles published in national media. He also delivered scientific speeches, which many students attended.

In my opinion, Dr. Jalaluddin Rakhmat had two outstanding qualifications. First, he was professional in presenting excellent speeches and writing skills so that readers or listeners enjoy his writings and lectures. People know Dr. Jalaluddin as a very talented orator and writer. His speeches and writings were able to touch the heart and excite the mind. The second qualification was his ability to introduce a new approach to understanding Islam. He called it an “alternative approach”. A collection of his speech on this new approach has been published in a book entitled “Islam Alternatif” (Alternative Approach). The book was very well known and widely read by Indonesian youth and is still circulating today.

In that book, Dr. Jalal wrote about Islam as the source of compassion, Islam and liberation of the oppressed, Islam and community development, and Islam and science. In the last chapter, he explained about Shia teaching school and the Islamic Revolution of Iran. In this chapter, he encouraged people to be open-minded and accept the differences between many mazaheb (school of thoughts). According to Dr. Jalal, having an opinion and passing it on to others is allowed in Islam. What is forbidden is turning differences of opinion into sectarianism and disunity. The speeches and writing of Dr. Jalal have made significant contributions to the spread of moderate and intellectual Islam in Indonesia.

Q:  What were his achievements as a researcher and academic?

A: Dr. Jalaluddin Rakhmat was a man who had spent his entire life devoted to the development of science. He had taught at Padjadjaran University in the faculty of communication. He wrote tens of books and almost all of them were best sellers. Most of these books are related to Islamic thought, from the interpretation of the Quran, mysticism, the study of hadith, to the explanation of prayers. Some of the others are related to education, communication science, and psychology. His book, entitled “Communication Psychology”, has become a compulsory book taught in psychology and communication faculties in universities in Indonesia. Apart from being an Islamic thinker, Dr. Jalal is also known as an expert in communication science.

Q:  How do you describe his relations with the Islamic Revolution in Iran? What was the impact of the Iranian Revolution on Indonesian Muslims?

A: As I said earlier, in the 1980s, youths in the Muslim world, including Indonesia, experienced an Islamic awakening era.  Many Islamic thinkers viewed this phenomenon as the impact of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. At that time, the translation of the books of Imam Khomeini, Rafsanjani, Ali Shariati, Motahari, and Tabatabai were among the bestselling books in Indonesia. The university students discussed these books; along with the books of Muhammad Abduh, Jamaluddin Al-Afghani, Rasyid Ridha, etc. 

Muslim scholars in Indonesia provided their views about the revolution in the form of writing and speeches. However, in my opinion, the best explanation regarding the Iranian Islamic Revolution is that of Dr. Jalaludin Rakhmat. As I mentioned earlier, in his legendary book “Alternative Islam”, he describes the Shia and Wilayatul Faqih system, which became the basic ideology for the Iranian Islamic Revolution and the formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. When the Iranian Islamic Revolution began to receive attacks from takfiri groups, in the form of slander and baseless accusations, Dr. Jalaluddin always provided his defense. 

Q: Please tell us about his approach towards other religions and dialogue between the religions?

A: Dr. Jalaluddin was one of the intellectuals who consistently called for the importance of dialogue between religions and various sects. He did this not because he was part of a minority group but because he believed that dialogue was one of Islam's most important teachings. He believed that when the tradition of dialogue to resolve differences fades away, the pillars of our nation will collapse. 

Dr. Jalaluddin himself repeatedly gave speeches in seminars that were attended by various religious figures and schools of thought. That is why the commemoration of Dr. Jalal's death was also attended by minority figures in Indonesia who gave testimony about Dr. Jalal's efforts to fight for the protection of minorities.

Q: Could you tell us about the coexistence of different religions and sects in Indonesia? Is there any takfiri or extremist ideologies there?

A: The nature of Islam in Indonesia is a peaceful Islam. History shows that Islam entered Indonesia without the slightest bit of war or conquest. This situation continues today. The two largest Islamic organizations in Indonesia, namely Nahdahatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, are moderate organizations. Indeed, as is the case in many parts of the world, the emergence Shia was met with negative reactions from takfiri groups linked to Saudi Arabia. 

Dr. Jalaluddin Rakhmat and the Shia community in Indonesia often become victims of persecution and slander by the takfiris. This phenomenon has been increasing in recent years along with the Syrian conflict. However, in general, takfiri groups are the minority in Indonesia. The majority of Indonesian Muslims reject their ideology, which is considered contrary to our state's principles.

Q:  How do you assess Indonesian Islamic scholars' contribution to Islamic world?

A: I should mention that Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world. Our population is more than 270 million people, and 80% of us are Muslim. So, there are more than 200 million Muslims in Indonesia. I think, with this huge number, it is inevitable that the development of Islam in Indonesia has an impact on the Muslim world. In Indonesia, many Muslims have essential roles in social, political, and economic fields. Although Indonesia is not an Islamic state, the Indonesian state's basic principles, called "Pancasila", are the essence of Islamic teachings, namely monotheism, humanity, unity of the people, democracy, and justice.

Islamic scholarship is quite well developed in Indonesia. We have universities that specifically teach Islamic sciences in various fields, from philosophy, law, education to economics. However, the studies conducted by Islamic scholars in Indonesia still need to be improved so that their thoughts can contribute more widely to the Islamic world.

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