Sunni-Shia Convergence In Indonesia and Austria: Problem and Prospects (an Introduction) - Test Repository


Asfa Widiyanto

Sunni-Shia Convergence in


and Austria: Problems and Prospects

State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN) Salatiga,




  Indonesia Sunni-Shia Convergence in and Austria: Problems and Prospects Asfa Widiyanto State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN) Salatiga, Indonesia @2016 Contact: obtained the certicate of

  “intellectual property rights” from the Indonesian Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, certificate number: 078662, year: 2016 to my beloved wife Nur Fajriyah Rohmat and my lovely children: Adib Asfa Widiyanto and Nabeela Naora Widiyanto



  The Islamic history witnessed the tension and divide between Sunnism and Shiism, nevertheless the efforts of ecumenism and rapprochement between these two major denominations of Islam have been also undertaken. The comparative account on Sunni-Shia ecumenism which takes place in Indonesia and Austria is still underdeveloped. Such a picture is however of importance in unravelling the ways in which Sunni-Shia ecumenism shapes the nature of “Indonesian Islam” and “European Islam” and the other way around.

  This book investigates the models for Sunni-Shia ecumenism in Southeast Asia and Western Europe by taking a closer look to the experience of Indonesia and Austria in the reconciling between Sunnism and Shiism.

  The tensions between Sunnites and Shiites are to some extent rooted in the misunderstandings between these two main sects of Islam. The politics of recognition of faith community also contributes to mould the current state of Sunni-Shia ecumenism in both Indonesia and Austria. The prospects for Sunni-Shia ecumenism lie accordingly in the hands of authoritative personages and organisations, and in the ability of various elements in the society to enter into a dialogue so as to eradicate misunderstandings and prejudices between Sunnites and Shiites.


Keywords : Sunni-Shia ecumenism, model, problem, prospect, “Indonesian

Islam”, “European Islam”.



  This book has been developed from parts of my sabbatical research manuscript at the University of Vienna, Austria. My supervisor Prof. Rüdiger Lohlker has been an invaluable support throughout my sabbatical research. Without his advice this book would not exist in its current form.

  My sabbatical research research fellowship would not have been possible without the financial support of the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs. Herewith I express my sincere gratitude to the Ministry.

  I would like also to extend my thankfulness to Prof. Azyumardi Azra, Prof. Amin Abdullah, Prof. Patrick Franke and Prof. Claudia Derichs, for their suggestions and criticism to the earlier versions of this book. My thankfulness also goes to the respondents of the research.

  Last but not least, I must thank those who gave such great encouragement me to complete the manuscript: my parents, my brother and sister Mangsur Nashoruddin and Husnul Khotimah.





  6. The commonalities between Sunnism and Shiism


  7. Differences and misunderstandings between Sunnism and Shiism


  8. Shiite identity and Shiite religious authority

  36 Chapter Two: Sunni-Shia convergence in Austria

  1. The recognition of Islam in Austria

  5. The scholarly endeavours on Sunni-Shia Ecumenism


  2. Islamic Faith Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) and Sunni-Shia encounters 46

  3. Efforts of Sunni-Shia ecumenism in Austria


  4. The intricacies of Sunni-Shia relationship in Austria


  5. Austrian experience: a model for Sunni-Shia ecumenism in Western Europe?



  3 Introduction

  4. Research method and ethical issue


  1. Background of the enquiry


  2. Aim of the study


  3. Prior research review and significance of the study


  18 Chapter One: Scholarship on Sunni-Shia ecumenism

  4. The institutional ventures of Sunni-Shia ecumenism


  1. Inner-Islamic Pluralism


  2. Islamic ecumenism


  3. Questioning the notion of ecumenism



  Chapter Three: Sunni-Shia convergence in Indonesia


  1. The history and development of Islam in the Indonesian Archipelago


  2. The recognition of faith communities in Indonesia


  3. Inner- Islamic pluralism and “Indonesian Islam”


  4. The ventures of Sunni-Shia ecumenism in Indonesia



5. The challenges towards taqrib in contemporary Indonesia 111


6. Indonesian experience: a model for Sunni-Shia ecumenism in 114

Southeast Asia Closure


  1. Concluding remarks 116

  2. Limitations of the current study 131

  Bibliography 133



1. Background of the enquiry

  One of the earliest books on history of religions, al-milal wa al-nihal (Sects and Creeds), defines Shiism as a group of people who specifically support „Ali ibn Abi Talib (601/607-661) and attribute to the leadership to him based on the testament (wasiyya) of the Prophet Muhammad. They argue that the leadership of the community is not a public interest (maslaha) which is left in the hands of people, but rather a principal matter, a pillar of religion (usul al-


din ), accordingly the messengers of God are not allowed to neglect it and to

  1 hand over to the people.

  Shiism comprises of many sub-divisions, most notably the Zaydiyya (Fiver), the Isma‟iliyya (Sevener) and the Ithna „ashariyya (Twelver).

2 Madelung points out that the Twelver makes up the larger sub-division

  within Shiism. The theological and juridical teachings of Twelver are considered by many specialists to be moderate. Interestingly, Twelver is frequently “identified with Shiism as such”.

  Shiism is considered by some Sunnite scholars as a heterodox sect which moves away from the proper teaching of Islam either with respect to jurisprudence or theology. Shiism is classified as minority sect of Islam since the adherents of this denomination makes up only approximately ten percent of the world‟s Muslim population. Whilst Shiites make up a majority in Iran, 1 Abu al-

  Fath Muhammad „Abd al-Karim al-Shahrastani, al-milal wa al-nihal (Sects and Creeds), (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, n.d.), p. 146-147. 2 Wilfred Madelung, “Shiism”, Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 13 (1995), p. 242- 278. Iraq and Bahrain, they live as a minority group in the rest of Muslim

  3 countries, including Indonesia.

  In Islamic history, we observe tension and divide between Sunnism and Shiism. We could not negate, however, the efforts of ecumenism and


  rapprochement between these two major streams of Islam. In the 20 century, the efforts of ecumenical dialogue between Sunnism and Shiism were promoted most notably by Al-Azhar University.

  The term “ecumenical” has been used to signify “the inhabited world” or “the land which the people dwell”, which is theologically neutral, but then employed to signify

  “both an understanding of church in its worldwide sense


  and expressions of belief that have universal ecclesiastical expressions. In line with this, Encyclo paedia Britannica designates ecumenism as “the


  movement or tendency towards worldwide Christian unity or cooperation ”.


  Rainer Brunner, in his book entitled Islamic Ecumenism in the 20


Century: The Azhar and Shiism Between Rapprochement and Restraint

  , employs the term “Islamic ecumenism” to signify the tendency and efforts within Muslim community towards unity, rapprochement and cooperation, most particularly between two major streams of Islam: Sunnism and Shiism.

  This book is a translation of his doctoral thesis which was submitted to the University of Freiburg: Annäherung und Distanz. Schia, Azhar und die

  islamische Ökumene in 20. Jahrhundert

  (Rapprochement and Restraint: Shiism, Azhar and the Islamic Ecumenism in the 20the Century). According 3 Zulklifli,

  The Struggle of the Shi’is in Indonesia, unpublished doctoral thesis, (Leiden: Leiden University, 2009) 4 Robert Mcafee Brown, “Ecumenical Movement”, Encyclopaedia of Religion. Vol.

  5 (1995), p. 17-18. 5 See: “Ecumenism”,, accessed August 30, 2015. to Brunner, Al-Azhar University, which was the most important representative of Sunnism, played a strong role in advancing inner-Islamic

  th ecumenical dialogue between Sunnis and Shiites in the 20 century.

  Up to now, Al-Azhar is considered as one of the guardians of Islamic ecumenism and moderatism. This can be observed for instance from the viewpoints of Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb (b. 1946). During his visit to Indonesia in the end of February 2016, he is reported to have said that the Sunnites and Shiites are brothers in Islam. He points out that there is no principle problem that makes the Shiite infidels. Even many Shiite teachings are close to those of Sunnites. For him, the only difference between the two denominations revolves around the issue of imama. The Shiites regard the imama as part of the fundamentals of religion (usul), whilst the Sunnites maintain that the imama falls into the category of

  furu’ (branches of

  religion). El-Tayeb went on to say, “If we read classical books of Shiites, we

  6 begin to realise that they generally respect the Companions of the Prophet”.

  The statements of the el-Tayeb on Sunni-Shia ecumenism triggered a negative reaction from the conservative Muslims in Indonesia. One conservative media reveals that, “If the Pesantren Modern Gontor, which is against Shiism even once published books against Shiism, rejects the coming of Ahmed el-Tayeb who is considered as the defender of Shiism, the Pesantren will be revered and will mark a bright history in eradicating the


  heretical sects like Shiism”. The negative reaction of conservative Muslims

  6 “Grand Syekh Al-Azhar: Sunni dan Syiah adalah Saudara”,, accessed 23 February 2016. 7 “Gontor Terhormat bila Menolak Kunjungan Syeikh Mesir Pro Syiah“, syiah/, accessed on 26 February 2016. towards el-Tayeb is also observable in social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

  Some Muslim scholars in Indonesia have done their best to venture dialogue and cooperation between Sunnism and Shiism. They learn that the Sunni-Shia conflict which takes place in the Middle East should not be imported to Indonesia. These personages include most notably Abdurrahman Wahid, Quraish Shihab, Haidar Baqir, Habib Husein al Habsyi, Masdar F. Mas‟udi and Said Aqiel Siradj.

  Abdurrahman Wahid (1940-2009) is considered as a scholar who is appreciative towards Shiism. He is reported to have said, “Shiism is like Nahdlatul Ulama plus imama, correspondingly Nahdlatul Ulama is like

8 Shiism minus imama ”.

  Wahid‟s statement indicates that there are parallels between Shiism and Nahdlatul Ulama, especially in the realms of culture and ritual. The only observable distinction between Shiism and the Nahdlatul Ulama is the doctrine of imama, which assigns the political and religious leadership to the


  . When we look into the notion of imam in Shiite tradition and that of


  in the circle of Nahdlatul Ulama, we begin to realise that there is slight similarity between the two, in the sense that both are highly revered in their respective circle, and both are deemed to hold the charisma and baraka. The difference between the two positions is that the position of kiai is embodied in the culture of the Nahdlatul Ulama, whilst the position of imam is embodied in the theology of Shiism.

  8 “Kutip Gus Dur, NU disebut Syiah minus Imamah“,,-NU-Disebut-

  Syiah-Minus-Imamah, accessed on July 28, 2014.

9 Quraish Shihab (b. 1944) is also considered as one of Indonesian

  Sunnite Muslim scholars who aspire towards the unity of Sunnism and Shiism, and seeks to minimize the tension between the two by implementing the so called “taqrib al-madhahib” (reconciliation of Islamic schools). His idea of reconciliation of Shiism-Sunnism and Islamic ecumenism in the context of Indonesia is noticeable in his book entitled Sunnah-Syiah:

  Bergandengan Tangan Mungkinkah?

  (Sunnism and Shiism go hand in hand: is it possible?).

  The present-day Indonesia witnesses the politicisation of Shiism, most particularly prior to and during the general election and presidential election. Some political parties exploit anti-Shiite sentiments within the Sunni-majority Muslim country as Indonesia, to maximize their votes from the majority of the population. They accuse their rivals as taking side with Shiite ideas and personages, and subsequently discourage the people from giving votes to these rivals. This politicisation of Shiism is considered strategic in attracting sympathy and votes from the majority of the population, since Shiism has been stigmatised by the Sunni-majority as deviant sect.

  Some Muslim scholars in Austria have also ventured the Sunni-Shia ecumenism, which are for them important for the future of peace within the Muslim community. These personages include most notably Adnan Ibrahim, Hamid Kasiri and Tarafa Baghajati. 9 Quraish Shihab was born in Rapang, South Sulawesi on February 16, 1944. He


pursued his study at Al-Azhar University, from bachelor until doctoral level. He obtained his

doctoral degree in 1982 with the thesis on “Nazm al-durar li al-biqa‟i: tahqiq wa dirasah”

(Al- Biqa‟i‟s Nazm al-durar: edition and study), and since then he has been known as one of

the leading scholars on Qur‟anic exegesis. He was appointed as the rector of State Institute

for Islamic Studies (IAIN) Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta, for two periods ( 1992-1996 and

1997-1998). In 1998, he served as the minister of religious affairs in Indonesia (see for

instance: Quraish Shihab, Kaidah Tafsir, (Jakarta: Lentera Hati, 2013).

  Adnan Ibrahim is Austrian Muslim scholar with Palestinian background. He belong to the progressive Muslim scholars who defend the rights of women, accordingly he stands against female genital mutilation. Currently Ibrahim serves as the imam of Alshoura Mosque in Vienna. He got his master‟s degree from the University of Vienna. In his master‟s thesis he deals with the life and influence of Aisha bint Abi Bakr. He wrote a doctoral thesis under Prof. Ruediger Lohlker which he completed in 2014 at the University of Vienna. His doctoral thesis is entitled “Die Freiheit des Glaubens” (the Freedom of Religion). Ibrahim is a progressive Muslim thinker. His doctoral thesis clearly shows his progressive Islamic thoughts, in which reveals the roots of freedom of religion in Islamic tradition. It is worth mentioning that in this doctoral thesis he cited the article of Abdurrahman Wahid, namely “Extremism Isn‟t Islamic law” (The Washington Post, May 23, 2006).

  Ibrahim is appreciated among Austrian Shiites. The president of Austrian Islamic Shiite Community (Islamische-Schiitische

  Glaubensgemeinschaft in Österreich

  ) Salem Hassan showed his appreciation towards Ibrahim, and specifically pointed Ibrahim‟s moderation and


  openness to Inner-Islamic pluralism, The context of recognition of faith community in Indonesia is distinct to that in Europe. In Indonesia, the recognition is rooted in the state ideology

  Pancasila. The first pillar of this state ideology is the belief in one God, which clearly exhibits. One may say that this principle of monotheism is modelled on Islam accordingly religions other than Islam have to conform to this principle. 10 Interview with Salem Hassan, 9 November 2015.

  In Europe, church structure and profile serve as a model of recognising other faith communities. Church structure shows a limited degree of plurality. This will create a problem if this structure is applied to Muslim community, since their diversity is high. Rights in public are also comparable with church: pastoral care and the like.

  It is of particular interest to investigate the ventures of Sunni-Shia ecumenism which take place in Indonesia and Austria. Such a study is of significance in highlighting the similarities and differences between the expression of

  “Indonesian Islam” and “European Islam”, and revealing the extent to which these two expressions shape the nature and future of Sunni- Shia ecumenism in the respective countries.

2. Aim of the study

  This book investigates the models for Sunni-Shia ecumenism in Southeast Asia and Western Europe by taking a closer look to the experience of Indonesia and Austria. This study unravels three main research problems: a.

  What are the problems and the prospects for Sunni-Shia ecumenism in Indonesian and Austria? b.

  How do the Muslim scholars in Indonesia and Austria contribute to the rapprochement between Sunnism and Shiism? c.

  To what extent the Indonesian and Austria experiences in reconciliation between Sunnism and Shiism may serve as models for Sunni-Shia rapprochement to other countries?

3. Prior research review and significance of the study

  Some works have been dedicated to investigating the facets of relationship


  between Sunnism and Shiism. Maréchal and Zemni deal with the dynamics of encounter between two main streams of Islam: Shiism and Sunnism. Maréchal and Zemni claim that this area of study is still underdeveloped. The chapters in their collection contribute to the exploration of historical, sociological as well as political processes beyond the dynamics of relationship between Shiism and Sunnism. The first part of the book is dedicated to unravel geopolitical tension as well as doctrinal rapprochement and rejection surrounding Shiite-Sunni relationships. The second part of the book deals with the encounters between Shiites and Sunnis in the Middle East and Gulf states, whilst the third part is devoted to the encounters in Iran, Central Asia and Indian Sub-Continent.


  bring together a number of writings which assess Benǧô and Liṭvaḳ the problem of dissension and rapprochement between Shiism and Sunnism in Middle East, by using a historical approach. This collected volume deals with the varied features of this historical picture, ranging from tension and confrontations between these two main denominations of Islam in classical, medieval and modern period, to the efforts at ecumenism (taqrib al-

  madhahib ).

11 Brigitte Maréchal and Sami Zemni (eds.), The Dynamics of Sunni-Shia

  , (London: Hurst, Relationships: Doctrine, Transnationalism, Intellectuals and the Media 2013). 12 Ofra Benǧô and Meir Liṭvaḳ, The Sunna and Shia in History: Division and , (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011)

  Ecumenism in the Muslim Middle East

13 Marcinkowski unravels Shiites and their negotiated identities in the two distinct contexts: Muslim heartlands and Southeast Asia.

  Marcinkoswski‟s discussion of Shiism in Southeast Asia in the second part of his study is worth particular remarking, since it offers an historical overview of the Shiite presence in this region and highlights the socio-political features of today‟s Southeast Asian Shiism.

  To the best of my knowledge, there is no detailed study which assesses the problems and prospects of Sunni-Shia ecumenism in two parts of the Muslim world: Indonesia and Austria. This study strives to remedy this deficiency.

  It is hoped, that this study will constitute a contribution in elaborating the comparative picture of Sunni-Shiite ecumenism, which involves Indonesia and Austria. Such a picture is of significance in revealing the similarities and differences between the expression of

  “Indonesian Islam” and “European Islam”.

  In addition, it is hoped, that this study will constitute a contribution in elaborating the body of knowledge of “Indonesian Islam” --by making a comparison with the expression of Islam in other parts of the Muslim world-- as well as in making “Indonesian Islam” more well-known in international academia, most specifically by emphasising the tolerant aspects of Islamic religiosity in Indonesia. As s ome specialists argue, “Indonesian Islam” is in some ways distinct to that Islamic religiosity which develops in Middle East,

13 Christoph.Marcinkowski, Shiite Identities: Community and Culture in Changing Social Contexts , (Münster: LIT Verlag, 2010).

  in the sense that “Indonesian Islam” can easily connect and conform to the ideas of democracy, human rights, and pluralism.

  This study is interdisciplinary and takes account Islamic studies perspective as well as sociological and political science perspective. Such an interdisciplinary endeavor (which takes account of various useful perspectives) is highly important and will constitute a contribution to the scholarly world, in theoretical level. In practical level, this effort will be one of the milestones in promoting the inter-disciplinary spirit in Islamic higher education in Indonesia, in general, and in the State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN) which I work in.

4. Research method and ethical issue

  This study is mainly library research. In answering the research questions, I make use the works of Muslim scholars in Austria and Indonesia as well as mass media reports pertaining to the advocates of Islamic ecumenism, as well as my own interviews. The interview with these scholars is carried out to substantiate the points of his ideas, which will help me assess further insights in answering the research questions. In addition to that, I make use the materials drawn from social media, which includes Twitter, Facebook, popular reviews in Goodreads, popular reviews in Blogs, commentaries in online newspaper, and Youtube videos.

  14 In this study, I employ qualitative content analysis by sticking into

  these following steps: formulating the categories, defining the categories, 14 Philipp Mayring, Qualitative Inhaltsanalyse: Grundlagen und Techniken (Qualitative Content Analysis: Principles and Techniques), (Beltz Pädagogik, 2008). indicating the words which represent each of these categories. In order to apply this method in more convenient way, I employ the Atlas.ti software, the software which is often used and helpful in qualitative data analysis.

  In this study, I pay attention to the ethical issues pertaining to the respondents. Before performing the interviews, I explained the aims of the research to the respects. I wrote the full names of the respondents only if they consented to do so. For the respondents who did not give consent to reveal his full names, I put their initials.



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  Discussion with Carla Amina Baghajati Discussion with Dennis Turkovic Discussion with Eva Kiepplinger Discussion with Patrick Franke Discussion with Rüdiger Lohlker Discussion with Tarafa Baghajati Interview with Hamid Kasiri Interview with Salem Hassan Interview with MD Interview with MF.