Ahmadiyah and The Definition of Power

09/30/2010 00:00:00
Penulis/Peneliti : Setiono Sugiharto


Bidang Penelitian : Linguistik


Jurnal : The Jakarta Post


Volume : 2010


Tahun : Fri, 09/24/2010


A plan proposed by Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali to dissolve the Ahmadiyah congregation adds fresh rhetoric to the protracted myriads of quandaries the country is facing.

Having been the target of violent attacks, the long-practiced Jamaah Ahmadiyah seems to be facing tougher resistance from the mainstream Muslim majority following the minister’s call to allow the public to act as a watchdog to ensure Ahmadiyah’s compliance (The Jakarta Post, Aug. 31).

By disbanding the congregation and declaring it heretical or blasphemous, the state, represented by the Religious Affairs Ministry, has been too quick in exercising its power.

The call by the minister to disband the Ahmadiyah immediately should never have taken place, given that the Ahmadiyah case has nothing to do with religious issues.
The fact that mainstream Muslims acknowledge Muhammad as the last prophet, and that Ahmadis profess Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the last prophet is more ideological or philosophical than religious 
in nature.

The conflict in ideology (if one wishes to call it that), interestingly, takes place in the context of theism. It is not a conflict between theism and atheism (which is strongly opposed here), theism and agnosticism, or between atheism and agnosticism. 

That is, both opposing parties with their insistent ideological positioning do not dispute the fact that the concept of God is indeed instantiated, and that the divine attributes of the Almighty God are universally true and, as such, must be accepted as they are, even without the presence of physical evidence. No one in the conflicting parties denies the omniscient, omnipotent, omnitemporal and omnibenevolent properties of God.

Even if the conflict touches this divine being (e.g. one cast doubts over God’s divine properties), it is none of the state’s business to meddle in this issue. 

Thus, the differing perceptions as to who is really the last prophet attests to the fact that there is no such a thing as a universal truth in ideology. Pursuing the truth in ideology is an endlessly vain endeavor. Ideology never presupposes a universal truth.

It is always value-ridden. It can, at best, be challenged, but cannot be imposed as something so sacrosanct that, like it or not, one must accept it. 

The relative truth-value injected in an ideology is shaped by one’s accumulated experiences throughout history. This is what Michel Foucault calls the “regimes of truth”.

Truth, then, does not exist in its own, but is continuously and endlessly constructed through one’s engagement with reality or lived experiences. One, therefore, cannot say the truth is here or there, and we have to pursue it in order to acquire and possess it. 

So much so, we cannot appeal to one’s ideology to claim that other ideologies are heretical, deviant, or blasphemous. To those accusing that one’s ideological positioning is deviant, as has been the case between the Muslim majority to the Ahmadiyah, the logic can then be twisted as follows: To claim an ideology heretical or deviant in favor of one’s ideological positioning is in itself heretical or deviant.

Abuse of power might be an infamous, yet relevant, catchphrase to describe the state’s continuous intervention in a matter far beyond its territory.

In the specific case of the seemingly unabated ideological conflict between mainstream Muslims and Ahmadiyah, physical violence can be avoided, provided the state (i.e. the Religious Affairs Ministry) becomes a mediating rather than provoking agency.
A traditional liberal or Marxist perspective, which sees power as repressive, seems to be no longer germane in this specific case. Too often, such a view brings about destructive consequences. 

By contrast, we need a more inclusive definition of power. Foucauldian’s view of power fits our situation right now, as it paradoxically offers critical insights for the state as a mediating agency.

In this view, power is not seen as a thing, but a relationship; it is not repressive, but productive; it is not the property of a state and exclusively localized in the government and the state, but is exercised throughout the social body; it operates at the most micro levels of social relations; and it is omnipresent at every level of the social body. 

The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta. He is chief editor of Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.