It Is My Religion

I understand that in light of all the bad things that have been happening lately in the name of Islam, we would want to distance ourselves from them. A year ago when the Paris bombing happened, all I could say was something along the lines of “Not Islamic”, “Not in my name”, “Not my religion”.

But now, a year later, after the 411 debacle and the Samarinda church bombing, I may have to revisit my thought.

I was born and raised in a very religious, moderate Islamic family. My family has a long, rooted history in Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organisation. My grandfather was an esteemed religious leader. My father is an established scholar in Quran tafseer. My aunts and uncles are all well-read in Islamic teachings and this created a peaceful little religious bubble for me to grow up in. I was raised in a small town, in the middle of like-minded religious people, and growing up I always thought Islam was a peaceful religion. Everyone around me preached tolerance, and they led by example.

It was not until much later did I realise that the relationship between Islam and the rest of the world was not quite as peaceful. I witness Muslims in Indonesia close down restaurants and food stalls during the Holy Fasting Months because they say “restaurants being open disrespects the fasting Muslims”. I witness Muslims bomb churches and take down Buddha statues. I witness Muslims calling each other infidels and heathens because the other interprets Quran a little differently. I witness Muslims yell Allahu Akbar while killing innocent people, including children and women. I was in shock that the Islam I grew up with was not the Islam seen by the world.

And I was angry. My first reaction of anger was to say that whatever they do differently with what I believe in is not Islamic. Those people killing others in the name of Islam are not Muslims. They have nothing to do with Islam. They are traitors and slanderers and they are doing it just to smear Islam in the eyes of the Western World.

Then 411 happened. Half of my friends — who I know are intelligent, rational people — were blinded by anger and a disconcerting tafseer of a verse in Quran. They went on to join a massive demonstration demanding the prosecution of a man they believed had debased Islam. I thought this demonstration was unnecessary at best and downright ridiculous at worst, simply because the debasement accusation was formed on a questionable tafseer of the said verse. I was genuinely dismayed because I had believed that these people were confused with their understanding of Islam and its teachings.

Then I remembered that Islam as a religion is kind of like a spectrum. I remembered that this spectrum was not vertical, but rather it was horizontal. Meaning that there are many kinds of beliefs within Islam, but there are no levels. Believing that the 411 movement was stupid does not make me sit a level higher than its supporters, nor does it make me an infidel — simply because there are no levels. I realised that I had every right to disagree with what the 411 supporters believed in, but at the same time I was required to respect that belief. So I tried to do just that.

Then the Samarinda church bombing happened. The bombers identified as Muslims; one of them lived in a Mosque and had a blackened forehead — a telltale sign of pious Muslim, these marks are rug burns from praying too much. So if they really identified as Muslims, if they prayed five times a day and recited Quran just like I did, would it mean that they belonged in this spectrum? Would it mean that I was also required to respect their belief?

I say yes and no. I do not respect their belief at all. Bombing church is undeniably an act of bigotry and intolerance and violence and it is against everything I know of Islam. A little girl was killed in the bombing. She was two years old. Only demons are capable of such things. Demons do not belong in Islam.

However, a large part of me also believes that it is about time we Muslims stop distancing ourselves from such acts. I know it is so much easier to simply say “These people are not part of my community” and get it over with. I know we all believe Islam is not to be blamed, that this is the action of a few perverted believers rather than the result of a misguiding religion altogether. But these people are Muslims. As much as we are ashamed to admit, these people are our brothers and sisters in Islam. Different with IS fighters who do not pray and do not read Quran, these people do. They just wholeheartedly believe that what they are doing is right.

I fear that the more we distance ourselves from these people, the further they will divert from the peaceful Islam that we all wish to convey to the rest of the world. This idea might seem ludicrous, but what if we say that yes, they are Muslims, and yes, we are related to them. We condemn what they do and we are ashamed of this behaviour but we all hold responsibilities.

If it is hard to understand, imagine having a brother/sister who is a criminal. Would you shun them forever or would you help them through their dark times? Supporting them obviously does not mean that you support their criminal acts, but you do so because you care for them. You want them to be better. You want them to redeem themselves so that people do not see your family as an irresponsible family of a criminal, but as a strong group of people who have each other’s back and are ready to face any problem together and grow from it.

If it is still hard to comprehend, let me just ask one question. What is your ultimate goal? For me, it would be the glory of Islam. I want the world to see Islam as a pure and peaceful religion, just like how I was taught growing up. If Islam is a body, it is now scarred and scratched and bruised and marred with soot. If we say these bombers are not Muslims, then we are putting them in someone else’s body — our twin sibling’s. I personally feel like it would be so much easier to heal the scars on my own body than those on my twin sibling’s. The worse thing is, my twin sibling and I are identical, so whoever is the badly injured will not mean so much to ignorant bystanders. And boy, are there a lot of them.