dinsdag 30 augustus 2011

The Jesus Verses

In 2006 I published a book on the Jesus Verses in the Qur'an. It has a translation of the 100 verses about Jesus, a commentary related to the context of the various surah's and some suggestions for further development of a doctrine/image about Jesus. Many of the old and established ideas are repeated here, but one new theory has been put forward: in imitation of the theory of Snouck Hurgronje about a changing perception and role of Ibrahim in the 'earlier' and 'later' texts of the Qur'an, I also suggest here a change in perspective about Jesus.
In surah 19, one of the earlier texts, Jesus is seen only in a positive way, without polemics (if we take the verses 34-40 as a later interpolation). The death of Jesus is mentioned more or less as a refrain, repeating the text on John:

19:15 (on John/Yahya)
may peace be upon him on the day that he was born,
on the day that he dies
and on the day that he will be raised up again to life

19:33 (on Jesus/Isa)
peace is with me on the day that I was born,
on the day that I die
and on the day that I will be raised up again to life.

It is quite interesting that 19:33 is also on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, but then in the third person, exactly in the same wordings as 19:15 on John!

The idea about Jesus who did not die on the cross can be read in 4:157 where the text says about the Jews:
They have not killed him. And they have not crucified him. This can also be read as it was done in surah 8:17 about Muslim killed at Badr. The Qur'an says here to the unbelievers: You have not killed them, I, God, have killed them.
The interpretation of the believer can accept such strong wordings.

I thank Dr. Simon Rae of Dunedin/New Zealand, who made a clear translation and also Dr. Varghese Manimala of the Henry Martin Institute in Hyderabad who organized this English translation, published atMedia House, Delhi. See their website:

Selamat 1 Syawwal 1432!

This year it was a quite sober and quiet month of Ramadan. The Dutch local governments were much less generous in the previous years and did not give ample subsidies for iftar meals that blossomed during the last decade as feast of integration of Muslims with other citizens of the country. Non-Muslims were asked to give talks preceding these Ramadan meals and to join the ritual meals. I had quite a few of these occasions last years, where a light speech with some spirituality and jokes was necessary to keep people waiting for the decisive moment of the first date or drink. This year it was also more difficult because of the late time of the meals: starting at 9.45 PM only in the beginning of Ramadan. Somewhat moving forward to shortly after 9 PM. It was a less festive, perhaps even less strictly religious Ramadan: not so much about this religious obligation in the media, in public space. Like in the Middle East, where religion does play not an important role in the politics of Libya, Syria and even Egypt. That would be a nice development!

A wonderful present for Idul Fitr was the dissertation by Fredrik Doeka from Kupang, East Indonesia. Because I will reach the age of 70 years in January 2012, he will be the past Ph.D. Student to defend a dissertation.
His work is about Moses, a giant figure in the religious history of mankind and celebrated by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Fredrik studied the Indonesian perceptions of Moses, worked with Qisasul Anbiya in Malay and Javanese, gave an analysis of the five major Indonesian Qur'an Commentaries, but he also paid much attention to the comic books for children and the cover of his dissertation shows some examples of these literature for children. Besides, he sketches the major themes discussed by Indonesian Christians in their view of Moses. Not the Abrahamic religions, not the different perceptions of Jesus and Muhammed, but Moses here as uniting the two largest religious communities of the world.
There is no Idul Fitr without apologies and excuses. A small devil played with the cover of the book and now we see the hybrid Nederlands. Mohon maaf lahir batin! A'udhu minal syatanil rajim!

dinsdag 9 augustus 2011

Islam in Contention, between Abangan, Moderates and Salafi

Last weekend we had two visitors for dinner in Utrecht. Kobayashi Yasuko from Japan has arrived in the Netherlands for her yearly research in Dutch archives and libraries on Muslim in Indonesia in the period 1930-1960. She concentrates on the new magazines like Pedoman Masyarakat (and the new style of Islam, not so scripturalist, more for the new middle class people who want practical rules for a balanced life). She also looks, especially in the archives, for the influence of the Japanese pre-war relations, the effects of the Pacific War on Indonesian Islam as well as the turbulent history of Kartosuwirjo and other militant Muslims in the late 1940s and 1950s when modern Indonesia started to take shape.
Willem van der Molen is busy with a special manuscript of the Old Javanese Ramayana: the lontar text of the Ramayana, as written shortly after 1500. He is invited to come to Tokyo and so the two came together at a meal in Utrecht. Talkign about the daily affairs of recent past and how to manage living in Tokyo, Japan, but also the Netherlands.

Yasuko brought a special gift: the new book published by the Wahid Foundation. Islam in Contention is a more or less academic presentation of the basic ideas of Ilusi Negara Islam, that is written in a very simple, simplifying and somewhat polemic style against the wahabisasi, the growing influence of Wahhabi ideas in modern Indonesia.
This new Contention-book is the result of a conference in Kyoto, 2008 and is clearly academic in style, arguments, documentation and suggestions. It is quite striking that Japanese and Indonesian scholars here use the same style, vocabulary and purpose: to sum up, analyze and even denounce the recent developments in Indonesian Islam as a betrayal of the more moderate and open tradition of Islam. There is very little Muhammadiyah. Often Muhammadiyah is identified with Din Syamsuddin and even this leader is more or less identified with Hisbu Tahrir sympathies. The actual picture may be more complicated.
In former times (the Clifford Geertz era) Indonesia was divided in santri and abangan (we leave the Priyangan aside, because it is now generally accepted that they are not relevant). Geertz introduced also the terminology santri kolot vs. santri moderen. As to difference between NU and Muhammadiyah this never was relevant: NU never was simply traditional, backward, but was more lenient towards differences within the Muslim community.

This is nicely illustrated by the article that Yasuko wrote in the book. It is about fatwas about women, issued by NU leadership between 1926-2004. Not all fatwa decision by the NU committee could be gathered: for six years the original documents are missing (I wrote in the margin: truly messy NU administration). NU has no personal fatwas, but collective ones, also truly NU because the individual should first of all be a member of a group. Yasuko emphasizes that the Bahtsul Masa'il is an all male body where 'women's desires are almost ignored. I found one of the strangest opinions that theoretically a pregnancy may go on for four years (300). The Bahtsul Masa'il is changing in its judgments. Remarks about segregation of sexes outside home have disappeared from their decisions after 1971 (303). "NU was six years late (compared to MUI) in issuing legal opinions concerning concrete methods of contraception" (304), more or less in line with the Roman Catholics. Polygamy is still a taboo among NU ulama, and here the CLD-KHI, a quite radical counter proposal in the field is Islamic law is quite refreshing.
The book as a whole has many detailed studies about the loval introduction of shari'a (Perda Syari'ah, about PDI, Hizbut Tahrir, PKS (considered as opportunistic and realistic. A wonderful opportunity to bring updated information to people who are not in close touch to common daily debates in Indonesia. Highly recommended. Thank you, Yasuko, for bringing it to Utrecht!

Remains the question about the disappearance of the abangan. Do we have new abangan people in Indonesia? People not so interested in Islam or in any formal religion at all? In the 1960s the Catholics, especially Jesuit Jan Bakker, hoped that abangan would become more or less a formal religion in the aliran kepercayaan/kebathinan. But they disappeared together with the abangan. Are the NGOs, more interested in social science and politics the new abangan? There is some more interest in eastern spiritulity, yoga, but it is not widespread.
And what about Christians in Indonesia: do they have abangan style among them? Traditional customs are tolerated as adat, but can be seen as some kind of Christian abangan in Flors, Timor, Minahasa, Papua.

Dr. Agus Setiabudi and reading of the Old Testament

Yesterday, 5 August 2011, Agus Setiabudi defended his doctoral dissertation at the Theological School of Kampen, officially the PThU, Protestantse Theologische Universiteit. The title of the dissertation is:
Taking its Shape. Towards an Indonesian Old Testament Theology. The book discusses the four volume work by Christoph Barth, son of the famous Karl Barth, who for about 25 years taught in Indonesia, Banjarmasin and Jakarta. His Theologia Perjanjian Lama is still reprinted and used at theological schools in Indonesia. Setiabudi analyzed this book, the English translation and some 20 dissertations by Protestants scholars of Indonesia. He concluded that the very strict orthodox theology of Christoph Barth is somewhat altered by the Indonesians: they have more feeling for the value of local traditions and do not see the Old Testament as an isolated truth, towering above all the sins and nonsense of human people, but try more to write biblical interpretation in harmony with their culture. This is a nice description of recent history of Indonesian Protestant theology.
Several readers were surprised to see that a similar book: Walter Lempp's multi-volume Tafsir Perjanjian Lama was not taken into consideration. In fact the two scholars share the same academic and spiritual tradition. Several readers were also surprised that the Catholics were not mentioned at all: no Cletus Groenen, John Prior, Stefanus Darmawijaya (with his nice comparison of the panakawan and the ebed Jahwe or Servant of God) and nothing about the much younger Jesuit Deshi Ramadhani.

Setiabudi wants a specific Indonesian Old Testament Theology and writes at various placed in his book that Islam must be an important context for Bible Interpretation. But I am afraid that he knows very little about the strong biblical background of the Qur'an, little about the extensive reference to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus in the basic text of the Muslim community. In fact, biblical scholars could have an important role in the Indonesian contextual theology, but the European tradition is so strong, that not yet much can be seen here.

Gerrit Singgih will receive an honorary doctorate in Kampen in December. Congratulations! Gerrit was co-promotor in Kampen. Above he is shown together with Barend Drewes, for many years teaching New Testament interpretation in Indonesia.

There is a famous Latin proverb: Timeo hominem unius libri. It must be translated as: I fear someone who only reads/sticks to one book. Scripturalism is the word coined by Clifford Geertz for any style of orthodoxy that claims to return to the text of one book alone. In reality, it is always new interpretations that rise. We should be realistic and not stick to one book alone, Bible or Qur'an.