The Politics of Intolerance and the Future of Jakarta

By Azhari Setiawan *)

REPUBLIKA.CO.ID, Nowadays, we can see the video of Basuki Tjahaya Purnama’s statement at Pulau Seribu on his ‘Official Duty’ as Governor of DKI Jakarta Province becomes viral worldwide.  The statement has caused numbers of polemics. The first polemic is his position that is not appropriate and not ethical to say a racist statement in a public sphere, even, on behalf of the official program of DKI Jakarta Province. The second polemic is the “tafsir” and “pseudo-tafsir” of “Awliya” term in Surah Al Maidah Verse 51. The third polemic is the future of tolerance in Indonesia. Everyone may not be able to see and understand that Basuki’s statement has triggered discordance between the Muslim and people in Jakarta. But, by this article, I would like to explain why we should concern with Basuki’s statement.

First, is it ethical, or appropriate? For a governor in his official program and official duty, funded by government declares, states, or proclaims, that people-the Muslims-are being deceived, or lied by using Surah Al-Maidah Verse 51, where Basuki himself, is not even a Muslim. His statement shows us that the Ulama’ or everybody who deliver this Surah is a deceiver or a liar. It seems to me that it is not the Muslims bring the religion to politics, but Basuki himself has brought politics to religion. We can’t deny that Muslims in this country are hurted by the governor’s statement. Basuki’s statement could harm the future of diversity and tolerance in Indonesia.

His comments were met with protest by several parties. Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak on his article in Republika stated that the Muslims’ anger has nothing to do and actually is not related to what is Basuki’s religion. But, as a politician and public officials, Basuki is ‘poor-ethics’, and has low capacity on religion diversity literacy because he was dare to get into others’ religion holy book. In other words, dare to ‘blame the belief of other faiths’ through speech ‘fooled and/or deceived by using Surah Al Maidah Verse 51’.

Muslims themselves have become accustomed toward debates and differences in interpretation regarding to the text of the Alquran, the Fiqh Studies differences in the implementation of worship between Muhammadiyah and NU for example, never become big issues that divide people. Muhammadiyah and NU also never tell or done recriminations related with very different religious perspectives of other religions, let alone, mentioning other groups are fooling the others.

These differences had been treated as the strength of the legacy of Islam in Indonesia. Scientific reasoning of Indonesian Muslims has been accustomed to diversity and feel pleasure with the fact of the diversity within the ‘ummah’. Thus, what was done and has been said by Basuki in Pulau Seribu is a serious threat to the diversity within Islam and the future of diversity in Indonesia.

The Tafsir Polemic

The second polemic is the tafsir of “Awliya” term. The tafsir is divided into two explanation: 1) awliya as leader; and 2) awliya as allies, best-friends, and patron. The meaning of Awliya is walijah which means: ‘the believed, which is a special and close’ (see Lisaanul ‘Arab). Awliya in the plural form is wali that people are tend to granted aid, compassion and support more (Aysar At Tafasir, 305). Not only Tafsir Ibn Kathir, but also Thabari, Buya Hamka, etc. expressly stated that it is forbidden to make the disbelievers as Awliya ‘or leader. In other words, if we are forbidden to make disbelievers as best-friends, it is also unlawful to make them as leader. It is logical enough.

Dr. Syamsuddin Arif (INSISTS), in his article, ‘Re-Interpretation of the Qur’an: Peril and Pitfall’ on Brunei Times, explains much about ‘the peril and the pitfall’ of [pseudo-]tafsir. He stated, “The advocates of reinterpretation of the Alquran often are not aware of the methodological risk involved in such undertaking. Interpreting the Alquran is not as simple and riskfree a business as they would have us believe. To be sure, not everyone is qualified and allowed to do it. Prophet Muhammad – Peace be upon him – to whom the Alquran was revealed, has admonished: “Whoever says something about the Alquran without knowledge (bi-ghayri’ilm) or on the basis of his opinion (bira’yihi), let him take from now his seat in the Hellfire” – narrated by Imam al-Tirmidzi and al-Nasa’i.”

According to Imam al-Ghazali, there are three kinds of blameworty interpretation. First, if you employ a linguistic approach to the Alquran without consulting the Prophetic tradition. Second, if you deliberately skip and reject the literal meaning in favor of the hidden, esoteric sense and allegorical interpretation. Third, if prior to interpreting the Alquran you have already had some preconceived idea, theory, opinion, ideology, or personal interest, and so you interpret the Alquran according to the thought in your head. This is akin to placing the chart before the horse. It is this kind of approach, which skews the meaning of the Alquran so that it comes out saying something entirely different than what was intended by Allah, that is prohibited and whose perpetrator is condemned regardless of the motives behind it (see ihya ‘Ulum al-Din, Cairo,1967, vol.1, pp.378-83).


According to the news, Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama denies that he insulted verses in the Alquran last month and says that his words were taken out of context. Basuki’s claim follows protests from some groups who say that the governor engaged in religious defamation. “I did not say [things] that insulted the Alquran. I did not say the Alquran was stupid. What I said to the local people of Thousand Islands is that if you are fooled by racists and cowards using that verse in the Alquran not to vote for me, then don’t vote for me,” he said on Friday as quoted from

Even though Basuki denies that he has insulted the Alquran, he has apologized regarding to his speech. Basuki has apologized to Muslims for quoting a verse from the Alquran during a speech. “To Muslims who felt insulted, I apologize. I had no intention to insult Islam, I understand that some people are upset. Religion is a very personal matter and should not be mixed up with public discourse.”

Related to the case, the police also promise to be professional and immediately investigate Basuki for alleged blasphemy. He made the promise in front of thousands of members of civil organizations who had marched from the Istiqlal Grand Mosque to the National Police Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim) office and City Hall.

This is the time we can choose what future for diversity and harmony of Indonesia that we want. Basuki has apologized and the Police also have called Basuki for investigation and clarification, we must oversee the law process and create conducive situation in Jakarta and other regions. The True Muslims are worldwide-known by their magnanimity and their firmness on principles. Islam is a religion, which has finished on modeling and discussing about tolerance. History has answered how Islam has kept world peace agenda and contributes to it.

Islam is inclusive sociologically but exclusive on its theological matters. This is the tolerance concept of Islam that must not be abused by others. When someone, without knowledge and capability, interpreting the Alquran in political context, than it might categorized as an intolerance. We always hope that the future of Jakarta as the capital city would become the role model of diversity and tolerance in Indonesia. Pulau Seribu incident may be a red mark for our diversity and tolerance history but we hope it would be the last so we could welcome the clean, peaceful, and democratic local election in all regions in Indonesia next 2017.

*) Observer in Center for Ta’dib and the Islamization of Knowledge (CADIK)