Religious Studies in Malaysia and Indonesia Compared

Friday, June 7th, 2013, 08:26 WIB

 wedforumThere are many similarities between Indonesia and Malaysia as neighboring countries.  Both Malaysia and Indonesia have many common characteristics, not only in term of religion but also in term of common frames of reference in political history, and culture. British collonial government granted Malaysia independence in the middle of the twentieth century. Whereas, Indonesia gained independence through a hard struggle against the Dutch collonial government. Furthermore, there are similar tendencies of Islamic resurgences both in Malaysia and in Indonesia.

In the case of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, former prime minister since 1981, try to control the Islamic resurgence. In this sense, he used his authoritarian power to promote its own Islamicization programs.  As a result, the notion of moderate Islam is face to face with the notion of Islamic state due to Malaysia’s multi-cultural settings. Therefore, the government try to tames the proponent of Islamic state or Islamic revivalist by institutionalizing Islam in particular extents, like in banking system, administration, and in education. For instance, through establishing of the Islamic International University of Malaysia (IIUM). Similarly, in Indonesia, the Soeharto New Order regime also try to control the resurgence by imposing ‘Pancasila style’ of education for national cultural protection and modernization. This also hand in hand with the regime’s political economic ideology of developmentalism.

Professor Jeffey T. Kenney and Dr. Samsul Maarif present this interesting topic at a panel discussion of CRCS-ICRS Wednesday Forum on 5 June 2013. Prof. Dr. Jeffrey T. Kenney is a Professor of Religious Studies at the Department of Religious Studies, DePauw University, USA. Dr. Samsul Ma'arif (Mas Ancu) is a Faculty Member and Academic Coordinator of CRCS. Prof. Kenney presentation is based on his research of the teaching of other religions at the IIUM entitled, “Studying the Religious Other at the International Islamic University Malaysia.” Mas Ancu also present his research findings on the case of Indonesia.

Prof. Kenney explains unique comparative religion major for undergraduates in the Islamic world at the IIUM. He started his presentation with critical questions: “What does it mean to teach other religions from an Islamic perspective? Does such an approach have the potential to treat non-Muslim religions fairly and contribute to the academic study of religion? Is such an approach compatible with promoting justice, tolerance and harmony in a multi-racial, multi-religious society?”  Then, he explore his experiences in the classroom, the findings of an undergraduate survey, and interviews with faculty, staff and public intellectuals at IIUM.

He argues that ‘Islamic perspective’ developed at the IIUM is based on the essential assumption that “truth is on and Islam is the truth.” Therefore, the institution hold the assumption that other religions are contrasted with Islam. Then, all explanations of other religions and ‘secular disciplines’ are used to confirm Islam. In other words, study of religious other in this sense is intentionally to clear identity boundaries between Islam and other religions. In this regard, the IIUM belives that this is Islamic way to build tolerance and harmony. On the contrary, they against pluralism that they consider rooted in the relativism of Western society and secularism.

Dr. Samsul Ma'arif brilliantly criticises religious policies during the Soeharto’s New Order era (1966–1998) that exploit religious education as a tool to indoctrinate the state concepts of religious freedom to Indonesian citizens. In this sense, the despotic regime adopted mono-culturally exclusive model in religious education in public and religious schools. For instance, every school teached their own religions.In this context, harmony just no more than a passive term, because the government has absolute monopoly of religious frameworks and their designs, and there was lacking of people participations, especially through civil society, instead of ellitist participations.

Then, he introduces the religious education program at the Center for Religion and Cross-Cultural Studies (CRCS) Gadjah Mada University. He described that the center that established in 2000 (two years after the fall of the New Order regime), have noble vision and mission, namely to promote just, democratic, and multicultural society in Indonesia. For this reason, religion is considered as a socio-cultural fact. Therefore, CRCS try to build bridges among different religions and cultures. For example, several core corses at the centre includes: Religion as an academic construction; Religion and contemporary issues; Inter-religious relations; and Religion and local culture. In other words, CRCS emphasizes “Academic engagement.” (admin,che)