Chapter 7. A Vision of Shariah–Led Prosperity: PKS Attitudes to the Implementation of Islamic Law

Table of Contents

A. The Pros and Cons of Shariah Implementation
1. Those Opposed to Shariah
2. Those For Shariah
B. Revising the Image of Shariah
1. Educating Muslims
2. Being Exemplars
3. Dialogue with Non-Muslims
C. Implementing Shariah
D. Challenges

Political openings and opportunities, particularly after the end of Soeharto’s New Order regime, have allowed activists of Jemaah Tarbiyah to promote their agenda of Islamisation with a broader target in view. Under the New Order they had remained outside the formal system and kept their distance from political activities, but after the resignation of Soeharto in 1998 they found a way to participate in the democratic system, transforming Jemaah Tarbiyah from an underground religious movement into a legal political party. The issue of the implementation of Islamic law in Indonesia has become an integral part of PKS’s agenda to make Indonesia more religious in nature.

The question often arises about PKS’s attitude towards shariah. What exactly is the party’s stance towards its implementation in Indonesia? PKS has made no plain statement in its political platform but this does not mean that it has no desire to implement shariah. PKS has been ambivalent in responding to this sensitive issue. On the one hand PKS has tried to deny allegations that it has a hidden agenda to Islamise the state and on the other hand it also has insisted its commitment to the struggle of Islam, including to applying shariah.

This chapter analyses the broad question the formalisation of shariah in Indonesia. PKS’s understanding of the issue has a significant place in this discourse; however, explaining it is not an easy task, since we must deal with political rhetoric and PKS’s strategy for achieving broad support. What is the ultimate goal of PKS, and how will it bring about the “re-Islamising” of Indonesian society? Another important question that needs to be posed is “what makes PKS’s idea of implementing shariah distinct from those of other Islamic parties in Indonesia?” In fact, the debate among Muslim scholars and leaders on the merits of shariah has made PKS avoid the issue. Its main concern is how to revise the image of shariah and to popularise it by stressing the goals of prosperity and justice for the Indonesian people.

A. The Pros and Cons of Shariah Implementation

Since Indonesian independence and during Soekarno’s Old Order, the debate on shariah was carried out between secular and Islamic factions. The first group rejected the idea of the formulisation of shariah and the second group promoted it. With the New Order, the debate was pushed aside; any discussion about reviving shariah as a broader source of law was discouraged. However, after the collapse of the New Order shariah discourses have re-emerged and have inevitably sparked controversy. Disputes about the implementation of shariah no longer take place just between secular and Islamic factions but also among Muslims themselves. On an earlier political stage, for instance, M. Natsir (of santri background) would engage in confrontation with Soekarno (non-santri in orientation) in dealing with shariah issues. Nowadays the proponents of shariah, Hamzah Haz (PPP) and Yusril Ihza Mahendra (PBB) face challenges from their fellow devout Muslims, such as Abdurrahman Wahid, former leader of NU and Indonesian President from 1999-2000.[1] The shariah “pros” and “cons” debate is intensively discussed within the Muslim community itself.

1. Those Opposed to Shariah

Secular oriented Muslims argue that it is impossible to implement shariah comprehensively and successfully in Indonesia. Rather than a positive contribution to society, it is seen as a source of division. The secularists argue that the implementation of shariah would be counterproductive for society,[2] since Indonesian Muslims are not monolithic but embrace many orientations and interests. The diversity of religious practice and jurisprudential schools in Indonesian Islam is a significant factor to be considered.[3] There is a main obstacle in determining which school should be preferred.

Some areas of dispute in the shariah discourse, which often draw criticism from scholars, revolve around issues concerning gender, criminal law and attitudes to non-Muslims. Muslim scholars who oppose the implementation of shariah claim that it brings inequality in the status of women and imposes over-severe punishments for the violation of moral laws and to the conversion to other religions. Any effort to implement shariah creates discrimination for Indonesian citizens who do not embrace Islam. Embracing a religion and upholding its obligations are individual choices and cannot be enforced. When Islam is imposed on others, it will lose its fundamental character of giving mercy to all creatures (rahmatan li al-‘alamin).[4] Finally, it is not feasible for a nation to have two different laws, one for Muslims and another for non-Muslims.

Ulil Abshar-Abdalla, a leading opponent of shariah-isation in Indonesia, argues that not all Islamic laws are created by God, so that when it comes to human matters, religion is to be understood and formulated by human nature. It follows that human perceptions open up debate and criticism. Ulil adds that many aspects of shariah must be questioned; for example, some do carry the potential for discrimination against women. In the case of witnesses in a trial, for example, two women are considered to be equal to one man. Furthermore, in Islam, if someone accuses another of committing adultery but is not able to show valid evidence of the charge, the accuser will be lashed 80 times for calumny. Four male witnesses must be provided in order to support the allegation. When a woman is raped and she is not able to bring the four witnesses, she will not get justice. These questions are hardly discussed in Indonesia because “if we want to criticize, it will be seen as insulting shariah and religion itself.”[]

According to the secular-minded group, in order to prevent the violation of individual human rights, shariah must not be implemented in Indonesia beyond family law. Any effort to bring religion into an organic relation with the state must be rejected. If Indonesian Muslims want to live in accordance with shariah, they may, as long as they do not use the state to back up their will. All religions are equal before the state and each religious adherence must respect all others equally, making no exceptions regarding Islam.[6]

The rejection of the implementation of shariah varies from the strictly secular groups who promote a total separation of state and religion to the moderate secularists who merely oppose the formalisation of shariah into the Indonesian legal system. The first believe that a secular system is the appropriate solution for Indonesia, which is of a diverse socio-cultural nature, whilst the latter does not fully support the idea of radical secularism, but attempts to promote universal human values derived from Islam. Both share common ideas in their rejection of any effort leading to the formalisation of shariah in Indonesia. For the opponents of formalisation, secularism is a blessing for all religions, since it prevents conflict among different religious adherences and any opposition between religion and state power.[7] Liberal Muslims contend that pluralism, understood as the acknowledgement of the truth in all religions, is most appropriate for Indonesian society. When Muslims are ready to accept and practice democracy, they also need to adhere to the principle of pluralism. The group led by Ulil Abshar-Abdalla has promoted its commitment to secularism and pluralism with this renowned slogan: “In the name of Allah, the entirely merciful, and especially merciful, the Lord of all religions.”[8]

2. Those For Shariah

Islamist groups believe that shariah must be implemented in order to bring about justice and to end the Indonesian multi-dimensional crisis. Those who believe in the role of shariah in solving Indonesian problems are divided into two orientations. The first group contends that the Indonesian people not only need shariah but that it should also be implemented immediately. They see shariah as a kind of “generic medicine” to cure all social, economic and political ills in the country. Indeed, crisis has occurred because of the very absence of shariah. They also believe that the entire political system of Indonesia and its institutions must be Islamic.[9]

The “immediate” shariah-oriented group comprises hardliner Islamists who usually appeal to non-political organisations, such Hizbut Tahrir, Salafi Groups and MMI but draw benefit from the issue of the autonomy of the provinces and districts. They have also appealed to the central government to implement shariah at the national level. According to this group, the secular system is responsible for all crises in Indonesia. A partial solution will not bring any benefit to the country; rather it will produce other problems in the future. The radical and fundamental solution lies in the upholding of shariah so that the Indonesian people live according to Islamic laws.[10]

This group also views the present application of cultural aspects of shariah in family affairs and regulations of Islamic charity (zakat) as insufficient.[11] Shariah must be implemented comprehensively, kaffah, meaning that the Islamic criminal laws must also be applied, since for this group the fundamentals of shariah lie in the application of such laws. Proponents of this idea often criticise the role of the mainstream Islamic organization in Indonesia, such as NU and Muhammadiyah, which have no intention to observe a comprehensive practice of shariah, including its Islamic criminal laws.[12]

Salafi movements and Hizbut Tahrir have become well known for their demand to implement a total shariah but not through democratic means. They do not believe there are any benefits in following a democratic system since it is against Islam. Other groups associated with Darul Islam, such as Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI) and Komite Persiapan Penegakan Syariah Islam (KPPSI) in South Sulawesi have worked consistently to push the central government and provinces to implement Islamic law.

The second pro-shariah group are moderate Islamists arguing that shariah is an alternative for Indonesia but that its implementation must be through a long term democratic process, using constitutional means. The re-emergence of Islamic parties in Indonesia after Soeharto’s resignation is a response to accommodate this demand. PPP, PKS, PBB and other smaller Islamic parties have worked to promote the implementation of shariah. Even though this group share the one ideal of the significance of shariah, it differs in terms of its views of the methods of implementation.

PPP and PBB, for instance, stress the significance of promoting shariah in Indonesia through the acknowledgment of special status for Muslims by reviving the idea of the Jakarta Charter (Piagam Jakarta) as it was initiated by their predecessors. A constitution that explicitly recognises the status of shariah is a crucial issue. In contrast, PKS has sought a different approach in promoting shariah and no longer regards the Jakarta Charter as important. For PKS, the implementation of shariah should not rely on the constitution but must begin with the individual, family, society and the state.[13] A Constitution specifying the status of shariah is not a priority in gaining formal recognition from the state. The state must not be designed in the way that privileges Islam, since the 1945 Indonesian Constitution and the state ideology of Pancasila ensure the rights of all religions.[14]

Whereas hardline Islamists see the absence of shariah as the main cause of the Indonesian crisis, moderate Islamists take a different approach. They assert that the non-implementation of shariah is mainly because the Indonesian people do not yet understand the concept in full. Furthermore, the absence of welfare and justice, including education, are the main reasons for this lack; first, the people need to be educated and have their living standards and their security improved. So at this stage, implementing shariah is not a priority; rather meeting the basic needs of the people is the first step, while continuously encouraging the people to practise shariah in their lives.[15]

Even though it has downplayed the issue of shariah, PKS still considers it important to promote it through to the state level. Rather than pushing its implementation through a “top down” or radical approach, PKS has worked to educate Muslims to understand the essence of shariah so that they willingly practise it in their daily lives and subsequently extend it into governmental activities. PKS believes that when people become familiar with the practice of shariah they will not oppose its implementation. The main effort for PKS activists is how to revive the image of shariah and to relate it to the basic needs of ordinary people.[16]




[1] Saiful Mujani, “Syariat Islam dalam Perdebatan,” in Syariat Islam Pandangan Muslim Liberal (Jakarta: Sembrani Aksara Nusantara, 2003), 43.

[2] See “Azyumardi Azra: Penerapan Syariat Bisa Kontroprouduktif, “ Islamlib.com, 5 August 2001.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. In the Qur’an there is a verse that states the freedom to embrace a religion, “there is no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion.” See the Qur’an II: 256.

[5] See Ulil Abshar Abdalla, “Syariat Islam,” Suara Karya, 23 March 2004.

[6] Ibid.

[7] See Lutfi Assyaukanie, “Berkah Sekularisme,” Islamlib.com, 11 April 2005.

[8] See opening statement at the website of a liberal Islam group, Islamlib.com.

[9] Jamhari, ed., Gerakan Salafi Radikal di Indonesia (Jakarta: Rajawali Press, 2004), 52.

[10] Ismail Yusanto, “Selamatkan Indonesia dengan Syariat Islam,” in Syariat Islam Pandangan Islam Liberal, 147.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Wawancara with Untung Wahono, Canberra, 12 July 2005.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Interview with Rofi’ Munawar, Surabaya, 7 March 2003.

[16] Interview with Zulkieflymansyah, Canberra, 30 August 2004.