Religious without religion

– Muhammad As’ad
The Malaysian Insider
December 28, 2013

To be a religious believer we have to follow certain strict rules which cannot be violated. For instance as Muslims we believe that Allah is the only God and the Prophet Muhammad is His messenger; we must regularly observe the five daily prayers, zakat, fasting during the month of Ramadhan, and the haj at least once in a lifetime — all these are the five pillars of Islam. As Muslims, we cannot evade those five pillars except for some specific exceptions.

Another important step is to make religion a part of our life. The number of Muslims in this country is remarkable. How can we say that we are not religious?

However, Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index showed that Indonesia was ranked 118 out of 176 countries; worse than in 2011 when Indonesia was ranked 100. The Indonesia Ulama Council (MUI) even issued an edict in 2000, stating that bribery, corruption and gratification are forbidden.

Nonetheless, these rules fail to deter corruption. For instance, the treasurer of MUI, Chairunnisa, who is also a lawmaker of the Golkar party, was arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) along with the former Constitutional Court chief Akil Mochtar. We probably have religious piety but we certainly do not have social piety.

In terms of religiosity, we are quite remarkable. We can see many Indonesian people celebrating religious activities, rituals and commemorations. Nevertheless, this religiosity does not seem to influence our life.

Recently I was invited by the Japan Foundation to an intellectual exchange program. Japan resembles a nation that religious people might think and imagine as a religious country. Everything is well ordered, the streets are clean even in a rural area like Fudai, a village in Iwate prefecture where I visited. We could say that the Japanese people are very religious, through their adherence to a moral code of conduct in daily life.

However the World Values Survey in 2010 showed most Japanese think religion is not important. Only 9.9% said that religion was very important. Interestingly, this proportion is decreasing over time.

Apparently religious rituals are not an important factor in determining the good progress of a country particularly in the Japanese case.

In comparison one could refer to an article published in the Berkeley-based Global Economy Journal in 2010, on “How Islamic are Islamic countries?” It measured the degree of Islam in some countries especially in the field of economy, education, corruption, financial systems and human rights.

Interestingly, most Islamic countries including Indonesia ranked low. Most of the high ranks were occupied by non Muslim countries; New Zealand came first, followed by Luxembourg. This fact once again shows that many developed countries are already religious even though some of them claim to be non-religious countries.

I am not saying that we have to copy most of those countries, leaving behind our religious rituals and focusing on social piety. We can do better than those who think that religion is not important.

We have to implement our religious values so that they are embedded in everyday life, by helping to stop corruption, for instance, or not lying to ourselves. By applying our religion we can contribute to making our country better. – Jakarta Post, December 28, 2013.

* The writer is the director of the Pesantren Tebuireng Social Fund (LSPT) and a participant in the 2013 Invitation Program for Young Muslim Intellectuals in Southeast Asia.

  1. #1 by tak tahan on Sunday, 29 December 2013 - 12:48 am

    Well thought and enlightened article about religion,ethic and moral for Malaysian Muslim to read and digest instead of the Umno-jenis-version.Kudos to you,Muhammad A’sad.

  2. #2 by tak tahan on Sunday, 29 December 2013 - 1:18 am

    I got study help from Japanese government but not 1Melayu government.Yet has the cheek to ask non to be patriotic,expecting non’s taxes but still bite non’s fingers which feed you for more than five decades,ouch !? Ouch,why,cause waste of labour.Apa lagi non mau kasi ?Don’t force non to say this as blatantly as I have said so.Ask what you can do as patriot for your countryman la when you’re so hopelessly dependent on not your champion race to help you out but non… !? Better call yourself Kampung patriot…no wonder British gave you kampong to live and stay happily within yourself….

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