Julia Suryakusuma: Being Feminist And Muslim Is Not Contradiction

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  • Julia Suryakusuma. Twitter.com

    Julia Suryakusuma. Twitter.com

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Known as an iconoclast, Julia Suryakusuma has never been afraid to speak her mind. In a panel discussion about her book, "Julia's Jihad" in @America, an American cultural center in Jakarta on Tuesday, June 11, 2014, she explained about the problems of Islam in Indonesia. Julia mentioned that the misunderstanding about the religion stemmed from a literal interpretation of the Quran. She argued that Islam must develop according to time and become a compatible religion with democracy.

    Other than being a liberal Muslim, Julia is also a feminist, a concept "not only misunderstood, but also deliberately distorted," she believed. In an interview with Tempo Contributor Amanda Siddharta, the open-minded author and columnist shared her point of view. Excerpts:

    Did you already have this concept of compiling all your articles into a book when you started writing your columns in 2006?

    From the moment I started writing, I already had this concept in my mind that I was going to create a mosaic about Indonesia. So, every column is like an icon of Indonesia. I have a very clear concept from the very beginning because nowadays I think it satisfies my needs to have something relatively instant and something long-term. So it's being created brick by brick, or icon by icon. You put them all together, one by one they create their own story, they have their own image, but you put them all together and you get a bigger picture, so from inception, from day one when I first started writing I already knew I was going to make a book out of it.

    In your columns you want to challenge the socio-cultural hegemony in Indonesia, why is that?

    Because there are so many things that are wrong with Indonesia, I think there are so many things that are right but made wrong because of bad management, bad leadership, just bad organization, and bad way of handling things. And we've got so much going for us, Indonesia is just an amazing country, one of the most amazing countries in the world, of course I would say that because I’m Indonesian. I think you could tell I'm biased, but there are no other countries in the world that also has a diversity that Indonesia has, across the equator, 17 000 Islands, I mean it's amazing that we can even be together as one nation.

    You’re a feminist and we can say that Indonesia is a patriarchal community, how does that work out?

    You have a lot of fights and I'm a fighter. I think I was born a warrior, I'm a rebel, so it’s in my nature. But now I’m a peaceful warrior. You should’ve seen me when I was young. I was picking, always fighting about everything with anybody. Now I pick my battles, and I don't really fight, I'm more diplomatic and I use humor. That's the one thing about being older, that I'm able not to take myself so seriously and not be offended, not being an angry person because it’s tiring to be an angry person.

    You mentioned that Islam is a matter of interpretation. Can you elaborate on that?

    Yes it is. I think life is a matter of interpretation, I mean they un-interpreted many things, there are saying that is like that. That is why I think people say that Islam and democracy are not compatible but they are compatible, I mention that often in my column because both are interpretation. So, my book is about Indonesia and about Islam and if it's about Indonesia then it’s about democratization, human rights, about all these things. And Islam is one of the religions, which deal with so many aspects of life, and so does democracy. That's why the two has to go together. Indonesia is the third largest democracy in the world, it's also the country with the largest Muslim population. So if you're going to study Islam, you're going to study democracy and how the two go together, look to Indonesia.

    So Islam also goes with feminism instead of contradicts it?

    This is what I try to point out in my book that it is not a contradiction, it depends on the reading of the Quran and not just about gender but about many other things, for example pluralism.

    How does your background help you in the writing process?

    I'm a diplomat's daughter and even though I don't want to be a diplomat in the sense of the world, be in a foreign ministry or all that, I'm a free spirit. Put me in a bureaucracy and I would die, it would just kill me. I can be a diplomat or an ambassador for my country and I think Indonesia is still an unknown giant. Both Indonesia and Islam are really misunderstood so this is what my book is about. This is my mission, my Jihad is to make people understand better Indonesia and Islam and by doing so understand more about Islam because if you think about it, a lot of the problems in the world is about this issue. If you understand what's going on in Indonesia then it's possible also to understand about other places. (*)