woensdag 28 december 2016

Johan Hendrik Meuleman, 4 May 1954- 20 January 2016

Only yesterday I received  information that Johan Meuleman had died earlier this year.
Johan was the son of a quite conservative, orthodox philosopher at the Free University of Amsterdam. He studied also philosophy, besides history. In the 1980s he went to Algeria for a doctoral research about the economy of Algeria in the full colonial period, 1920-1940. It was most about prices of grain. He fell in love with an Algerian lady, Saïda Belghoul. She was a student of physics and also working on a doctoral dissertation (at McGill University of Montreal if I am not mistaken). They celebrated twice the marriage: once in a Muslim way in Algeria, once in a somewhat 'ecumenical' way in Amsterdam. The father of Johan was not really happy (to say it mildly) with the conversion to Islam of his son. In fact it was the conversion to the rational and open Islam of Muhammad Arkoun. His Lectures du Coran were later translated by Johan into Indonesian. I played a fragment from Mozart's sonata in A at the occasion, because the musician did not come.
I met Meuleman for the first time in 1989, when we were both part of the INIS team, the Indonesian Netherlands Cooperation in Islamic Studies. Johan became between 1993-1998 (or so) a lecturer at the Jakarta IAIN. After the INIS project finished he had problems in finding a good place in the academic world. He worked for some time at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. After 2007 he was a lecturer at the Islamic section in Hogeschool INHolland. He was also a very dedicated lecturer and administrator at the Islamic University of Europe. The IUE was established after the Islamic University of Rotterdam experienced a leadership-crisis around 2000, which ended with Ahmed Akgündüz as its strong rector. A number of people who were not happy with this outspoken follower of Said Nursi came together in the IUE. Like many institutions of Muslims in the Dutch Society it proved to be a complicated affair of people seeking authority and influence in a still fragile organization. Meuleman had no ethnic or organizational backing and was somewhat naive in social contacts. He remained loyal and hoped that here his dream of a modern and moderate European style of Islam could be established. He lived not long enough to see this dream to become reality and died at the still rather young age of 61 years only.
Of his publications some are compilations under INIS initiatives like the collection of articles on Muslim women in Indonesia (1993) and the Survey on Indonesian Islam, 1988-1993. His interest was not the social and definitely not the political expression of Islam but the spiritual meaning and in the academic world the philosophical translation of this spirituality. He was a man who continued to live in the Western (post-) Christian world and at the same time in the various Muslim regions of Europe, Indonesia and North Africa. May he rest in piece and his wife and daughter find their way too.

maandag 19 december 2016

Kafir and attributes for Christmas

7 March 1981 the Majelis Ulama Indonesia, the semi-official national council of Indonesian Muslim scholars or MUI, issued a fatwa on Christmas celebrations. Muslims should avoid participation in such festivities. Some even concluded that it is haram or forbidden to express Merry Christmas. One reason for the fatwa was that Muslim pupils at Christian schools joined the school choir and sung Christmas songs. The head of the MUI, Hamka (Haji Abdul Malik ibn Abdul Karim Amrullah) was dismissed by the Minister of Religion (because he did not obey the inter-religious harmony of Pancasila). However, the fatwa was never withdrawn. Near yearly the President of the Indonesian Republic is one of those who light a candle in a giant tree during the Christmas celebration in the great Senayan stadion of Jakarta. Yearly the fatwa is repeated, debated, nuanced, abused for many purposes.
This year the MUI has taken the subject of 'religious non-Islamic attributes'. (Fatwa no 56, 2016 Tentang hukum menggunakan atribut keagamaan non-muslim). Attribut  is not a common Indonesian word, but has apparently the meaning of 'gadgets, incidental elements'.  Their hukum or legal status is: haram. So, Muslims are not allowed to propagate, use, sell, produce, transport, give to other people 'religious attributes'. No examples are given in the fatwa. Prof. Jan Sihar Aritonang of the (Protestant) Theological School of Jakarta wrote a letter of protest against the fatwa and gave as examples: Christmas trees, dress like Santa Claus, bells, candles, the charriot of Santa Claus.
It reminded me of the four hours I had to stay last year on a trip to Singapore, mid December, where I saw to my surprise that there was a great Christmas tree on the crowded international airport of Dubai. Also our own nice bronze statues for the Christmas group, Joseph and Mary, the three kings, shephards: are made in Burkina Faso by a group of Muslim artists.
What will be the result of this new fatwa in the long history? Will the big malls in Jakarta, Surabaya and other towns stop advertising with all kinds of Christmas trees, Santa Claus to attract Indonesian customers to their shops? I doubt so! Perhaps the FPI, Front Pembela Islam will  seek an opportunity to demonstrate against malls (if they do not pay money for 'protection') and destroy some Christmas trees.
Prof. Jan Aritonang wrote an open letter protesting against the wordings of the Fatwa. In not more than 8 pages the word kafir was used 13 times, denouncing Christians as unbelievers. In the recommendations there is some lip service as to the need that Muslims 'respect the creed and conviction of all religions. This respect includes freedom for non-Muslims to perform their religious duties, without including that there should be mutual acknowledgment of theological doctrines.' But in the arguments there is a quite general qualification about kafir or unbeliever. But the special status of Christians as people who are close to Muslims in a belief in God as creator and sustainer of the world is not mentioned at all. Also the status of Jesus as a prominent prophet is not mentioned in the fatwa. It has now been 35 years since the first Fatwa of Christmas and apparently the debate continues. Happy Christmas to all of you!

vrijdag 2 december 2016


For the great research project CMR, Christian-Muslim Relations, a Bibliographical Survey, I am now reading sections of 5100 pages of Francis Valentijn's Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien. I look especially for his vision on Muslim-Christian Relations, of course. The eight volumes tell us much about Asia, concentrating first on tyhe Moluccas, (Ternate, Tidore, Ambon), Javanese history and also further countries of Asia. Because Valentijn was a Protestant (Calvinist, Reormed) minister he gives much information about his own church, but deals also in length with other topics.
The first to be said is about the title page with the image of Valtijn himself, three ladies and three men.
The left above is the Church of the East (in fact of Ambon and batavia): she is a shining light for others. The lady with one bare breast is the Greek goddes Pallas Athena, in the Latin world known as Minerva. She is a goddess of war (therefore the helmet) but also of science. A strange combination! Right on top a lady has disappeared, Thalia, the goddess for festivals and theatres. She is a daughter of Zeus/Jupiter.
The man right, with the turban, is the representative of the Jewish religion.
Below left, in the back, there is a Chinese man, representative for Mandarins, Confucians religion. With the curly hair we see a Moor or Muslim, but from East Indonesia. He is looking in a book where we can read the words Al-Kitab which stands for the Bible (not the Qur'an here!) and apparently a Muslim who is interested in Christianity (a rare occasion and not really supported by the content of the book by Valentijn).
One interesting thing in the first volume is a letter in Malay, written in Arab script by Valentijn's daughter Cornelia.  It is originally written by the Sultan of Bacan, who hopes that a precious diamand will be sent to him from Hitu on the island of Ambon.
Here is the text (with small alterations taken from Valentijn, Volume 1, Section on the Moluccas, page 121):

Kalām al-sidq  qaul al-haqq
Salaam afdalul doa akmaal yang terbit dari pada Mahabet ul coloeb, iya itu Anacdah padoeka siri Sulthan Makadeddin, Raja Bacan yang menyampaikan tsahhief ul ikhlas, akan menyatakan hormat al aziz serta dengan tabea banyak-banyak kepada ayahanda Heer Gouwernedur Adriaan van der Stel yang memerintahkan dalam negeri Ambon, memegang kuasa Kompeni, hingga dari sekalian dalam India, sebab cahaya akalaan budiman lagi bijaksanaan melakukan pada segala pekerjaannya. Syahdan mengasih segala orang kesukaran dan kedagangan, lagi mengetahui segala bangsa qarib dan ba’id dan terlebih pula yang menganugerahkan Akkah subhanahu wa ta’ala salamat sempurna usia umur kabesaran dan yang ketinggian, selama-lamnya. Amin Ya, rabb al ‘alamin.
Kemudian daripada itu tiada ada barang sesuatu, hanya anakdah bilang tatkala kaicil Mangsur dan kaicil Duba Duba itusudah memberitahu kepada ayahanda daripada bat uiwak itu. Maka itu anakda minta tolong sedikit kepada anakda, memanggil mana orang yang menaruh batu itu namanya tubang besi, baiklah iya membawa kepada Ayahanda Heer Gouwernadoor, maka ayahanda mengambil batu itu, memberi kepada budak anak Syahbandar yang bernama Abdur-Rahman itu karena batu itu dengan janjinya, jikalau Ayahanda tiada mengerti janji itu baiklah panggil Latuwani karena anakda sudah memberi tahu kepada Latuwani itu tempat.
Tiada ada cenderamata barang sesuatu seperti patut, hanya dua ekor burung Papua.
Demikianlah kami tamatkan surat ini dari istananya Raja Bacan, daripada selikur hari bulan Syawwal tahun seribu dan seratus dua puluh satu.

Another picture here is about the queen or sulthana of Ternate who ruled after her husband Bayanuallh had died in 1522. In fact the drawing looks somewhat like a European court scene!  But the queen is not sitting on a chair or throne, but on the ground, the courtiers wear turbans. Valentijn also tells us that Bayanullah wanted to kill all Portuguese in his realm (they were just arriving at the time).