MY upbringing is far away from being “liberal” and latitudinarian. When I was a little child in “kampong” (village), my father was so harsh and strict in setting up a moral standard for me and my siblings. And this was not peculiar to my family; everybody else’s house followed the same rule. We lived in a village where “strict morality” was the only game in “town”. Piety rules in every aspect of our life.
Music, for example, is an anathema in my family, the reason being that it will lead you away from remembering God. The axis of believer’s life, so goes the wisdom of my devout family, is to remember and worship God. Anything that distracts you from this noble goal should be kept at bay. Anything that increases your proximity to God and remembering him should be welcome.
Except the music of Om Kalthoum, the Egyptian female singer whose exquisite and miraculous voice earned her the honorary title of “the star from the east”, kaukab al-sharq.
My father fell prey to the spell of Ms. Kalthoum. He acquired a modest collections of her album. But, he would not let himself indulge in this “mundane affair” every day. He only played Ms. Kalthoum’s recordings on Friday morning after he finished his lecture on Quranic exegesis at 7 am. He would spend two or three hours for Ms. Kalthoum before he left for a mosque for Friday prayer.
As my father rolled his days on this routine, my ear got used to Ms. Kalthoum’s music. This was the only sweet music I was lucky enough to be exposed to. Western or even Indonesian musics was far away from my house. I was caught by my father with a radio transistor listening to a “dangdut” music with my friend. My father was so enraged that he confiscated this sinful edifice and broke it into pieces.
My father had a list of “do and don’t”, and it grew as time went by and our society was corrupted in his eye by modern technology. He was very unhappy with any types of sports, particularly soccer. My father told me, relying on the authority of my grand-father who was a noted Islamic scholar, a faqih, that soccer is forbidden since it will distract you from your sole noble goal to worship God. Beside, soccer is an aimless game that suits non-believers’ life. Those who believe in God has better and higher cause to serve other than such frivolous affair.
Piety rules in every aspect of our life in the village. Every single act in our life was governed along divine rules promulgated in what is now called “Islamic shari’a”. My father never became member of an Islamic party that advocates the application of Islamic shari’a. But his entire life is imbued with and ruled by this divine law. For him, Islamic shari’a is not a political rhetoric and “ideologized” agenda that we see now so rampant among Islamists of various hues.
Islamic law was meticulously practiced in my family not out of political motive. It was not imposed by state apparatus. Shari’a was part of my father’s life because he chose voluntarily to do so. Nobody put gun on his head to live such life. No moral authority that polices his life. Every thing springs from his voluntary decision to live under the God’s rule.
Even though I suffered from this strict morality, I took pride in ever living such pious life. I never lamented my past upbringing in such stoic midst.
AS I contemplate on a current debate that is going on among the Islamists, I see a stark contrast between shari’a as advocated by those modern Islamists and shari’a as lived by my father. Shari’a in my father’s life embodies what Tarek Fatah termed in his latest book, Chasing Mirage, “the state of Islam” as opposed to “Islamic state”. Shari’a in the rhetoric of modern Islamists is part of their larger ideology to re-enact the Islamic state, a project that turns to be so elusive that it is nothing more than a mirage, as Mr. Fatah aptly put it.
The problem with shari’a as Islamists propose it is that it tends to be “solidified” into a fixed and rigid formula that is impervious to any critical examinations. Any critical inquiry will end up being accused as sedition against God, Islam, and the apostle. After all, shari’a as clothed in modern Islamist ideology relies on state authority for its realization. It is acted upon out of imposition, not of piety as I saw in the exemplary life of my father.
I say yes to shari’a as part of piety at home; but no to it as a political project!