The Jakarta Post | Wed, 08/03/2011 2:00 PM | Opinion
We call the event “Tarhib Ramadhan” or “welcoming Ramadhan”. There are parades, feasts with traditional foods and drinks, and religious sermons.
The core aim of this is, in fact, to prepare all Muslims for the upcoming fasting month — physically, mentally and socially. It is also obligatory that the fasting month should be greeted with contentment.
At a mosque, four days ago during a Ramadhan-welcoming event, a preacher spoke about good deeds as the main thing we should focus on throughout the holy month. Whatever a Muslim does, even if it is as tiny as an atom, it will count and be rewarded by God, he said. The better person is the one who can give advantages to other people.
However, amid his one-and-a-half-hour sermon, our preacher came to a problematic theological question on: What would happen if a Muslim does bad things while a non-Muslim does good things? Who would be accepted by God or be rewarded with paradise?
As you could expect, he answered that neither are courteous. Being a good Muslim requires one to conduct good deeds and avoid bad deeds. However, for the acceptance of God, one must be a Muslim, regardless of the abundance of virtues one does, he said.
And this was actually the safest answer, particularly for the preacher himself. He would not be hailed, or conversely, hated, rejected or not invited to the congregation. Despite how illogical the answer is, most preachers, especially those who rely on the money they get from delivering sermons, would do the same.
People who live near mosques or who pass by them often hear such sermons being blurted out over loudspeakers high in the mosques’ minarets. I cannot imagine what fellow Christian or Buddhists or Hindus feel or think about when this happens, but one thing is clear: Their right to the same freedom as Muslims is violated.
In fact, our preachers have a better alternative on this controversial issue. The Prophet Muhammad’s uncle, Abu Thalib, was not a Muslim when he died, but he had done his utmost during his life, not only for his beloved nephew but also to the newly-formed, critically challenged Muslim community in Mecca, during the eighth century.
We can read in Islamic history that nobody surrounding the Prophet Muhammad dared to question Abu Thalib’s faith or whether he would go to hell or heaven. Then, one or two centuries later, the question emerged with its answers as conveyed by Muslim clerics.
One of the answers suggested that Abu Thalib, and consequently virtuous non-Muslims, are to be placed by God to a place somewhere between heaven and the hell. The other, which was the best answer from a social and rational perspective, tells us that this decision is up to God. What a Muslim must believe and do in the world is to do as many good deeds as possible, and that is all.
And the latest answer to emerge was not without reference. After a stern war against the attacking Meccan people, for instance, Prophet Muhammad was told that one of his disciples had killed a Meccan who had surrendered and hence converted to Islam. Surprisingly, dissenting what the disciple had assumed, the Prophet said, “Verily, we can only decide on worldly matters (al-zawaahir), so let’s leave the invisible affairs (al-saraa’ir) in the hands of God Himself.”
That’s why, thus, several moderate clerics have asserted that certain issues such as religious conversion or other symbolic issues should be returned to their proper place: out of reach of human beings. Let God Himself decide everybody’s fortune eschatologically.
Nobody can judge whether someone is a true Muslim or not without being able to see the advantages they bring to others.
In accordance with this discussion, Sheikh Ali Goma, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, has said that 97 percent of both the Koran and the Prophet’s Traditions discuss matters of etiquette as the essence of Islamic theology and sharia, and not about scary sharia laws or radical theological thoughts such as those represented, for example, by Islamic fundamentalists who encourage Muslims to kill other people.
From this statistical perspective, one can conclude that the concept of jihad is often misunderstood to mean an obligation to commit physical holy war. Instead, jihad should be understood, for example, as an obligation to take part in righteous deeds, as the highest moral message expressed in the Koran.
During the coming days and nights of Ramadhan, therefore and after all, if we find an example of the above intolerance or worse, preaching through mosque loudspeakers, we should recognize it as a known mistake.
If the state is concerned, it will do something about it. If we are concerned, let’s start by getting our own neighborhood, community and workplace to realize and prevent the same mistakes from continuing.
This way may provide us (not only Muslims but also non-Muslims) with a better month ahead, with less intolerance and a truer meaning of religiosity.
The writer is a researcher at Paramadina Foundation, Jakarta.