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MUI Chairman: We Have Always been Close with the Government
Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) chairman, Ma`ruf Amin. TEMPO/Subekti
Tuesday, 20 June, 2017 | 19:22 WIB
MUI Chairman: We Have Always been Close with the Government

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Two weeks ago, MUI Chairman Kiai Haji Ma`ruf Amin issued a fatwa (ruling) and guidelines on social media interaction at the communication and information ministry, making it the first ever fatwa announced at a government institution in the MUI`s 42-year history. 

The fatwa sets to forbid Muslims from gossiping, slandering, pitting people against one another, spreading hate, incitement, and lies. The council also outlaws earnings generated from spreading negative news content. "Everyone had hoped that MUI could issue a fatwa to put a cap on the social media flow that was getting out of hand," Ma'ruf, 74, said. 

Two days later Ma'ruf, who is the Rais Am Syuriah (Head of the Advisory Board) of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), was invited to the Presidential Palace. Along with other senior national figures such as Megawati Soekarnoputri, Ahmad Syafii Maarif and Try Sutrisno, Ma'ruf sits on the steering board of the newly inaugurated President's task force on strengthening Pancasila. Many see this harmonious association as a wind of change for the MUI, which eight months ago was still seen as taking an opposing stance from the government. Its fatwa that former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama had committed religious blasphemy ignited a series of mass protests against the governor. Many also saw the MUI fatwa banning Muslims from voting for non-Muslim leaders and using non-Muslim attributes as promoting intolerance. 

Saturday two weeks ago, Ma'ruf agreed to sit down for an interview with Tempo's Reza Maulana and Raymundus Rikang at his residence in Koja, North Jakarta. The founder of the An Nawawi Islamic boarding school in Banten dismissed all the allegations against the MUI. "MUI will always remain the government's partner," he said. 

What is the background of the MUI fatwa on social media? 

Lately, there's been an increase in the frequency of negative content being posted on social media. So many of these postings are hoaxes, lies, slurs, and even people being pitted against one another. We also see the emergence of 'buzzers' who specialize in generating and sharing hoax news.

Who first expressed the need for the fatwa?

Reports from the public, the police, ulamas and activists in the past six months. They all hoped that the MUI would issue a fatwa because the social media information flow had gone awry. Slanders were so rampant during the Jakarta elections that even the President complained, as he often became the target. Don't forget that we'll have simultaneous regional elections next year, and then the presidential election in 2019.

Did President Joko Widodo also suggest it?

No. The request from the government came from the communication and information ministry.

Why are the efforts to reduce hoax attributed to the MUI?

Because MUI is a religious institution considered to have influence over the ummah (Muslim citizens) who are also social media users. Sanctions are not enough in dealing with them. But at the same time, it's impossible for the law enforcement authorities to detect malicious postings as they pop up everywhere. Therefore, that must be offset by a religious approach to increase awareness.

How strong is (this approach)?

It is very binding. We call it ilzam syar'i, bound by the Sharia law. Ulamas in religious institutions have the competency to give religious guidance. The MUI is an institution that represents various religious groups. So it has a wider authority. NU's fatwas, meanwhile, are only valid for NU members. The same goes for Muhammadiyah and the Persatuan Islam (Persis).

But there are MUI fatwas that have been largely ignored, such as the 2010 fatwa against gossip shows. 

Infotainment programs are not as worrying as hoaxes and lies. That time we worked on our own, and it was more of an appeal than a ban. Now we're working with many parties so there is a synergy with the police to take action, the communications ministry (Kominfo) to block (hoaxes and lies), and MUI to raise awareness.

Do the social media fatwa and the information and electronic transaction law reinforce each other? 

Yes, and the fatwa subsequently can be transformed into a formal regulation, for example via the ministerial regulation, so the fatwa becomes ilzam tanfidzi, or bound by a regulation. Like the Syariah banking fatwa which was enforced by the government through a regulation, and the 2001 pornography fatwa which later became the pornography law in 2008. Although the contents are not exactly the same, they carry the same spirit. Hence, any deviation from our fatwa become a violation of the law.

Are the effects of the social media fatwa already felt?

They (the hoaxes and slanders) seem to have subsided as the Kominfo can shut down sites. If there are protests, we will deal with them.

Including the tweets by Tengku Zulkarnian, MUI's deputy secretary-general, which often irk many people?

(Smiles) We've discussed that. The way he interacts on social media needs to be corrected. When I scold him he obeys, but sometimes he goes back to his old ways, (laughing)

Do you have a social media account?

No. My cell phone serves only two purposes: to make and receive phone calls. I don't even do text messages.

What is the percentage of people's compliance with the MUI's directives?

I don't have the numbers. But in general, the compliance rate is quite high. Whenever there are problems, the general public asks the MUI for guidance. It's normal if there are some people who don't comply. The Qur'an came from Allah but many still disobey it. We only try to make sure that our fatwas are not exploited for disruptive activities, such as sweeping raids carried out in shopping centers after the fatwa against non-Muslim attributes was issued last December.

Didn't the MUI's decree about the religious blasphemy by Basuki Tjahaja Purnama also cause public unrest?

It wasn't the fatwa that caused the unrest, but Ahok (Basuki's nickname)'s statement. The fatwa came about in order to contain potential anarchistic movements. We issued it to verify that there had been an insult, and that the matter be handed over to law enforcement authorities.

What did Ahok insult: religion, the Qur'an or ulamas?

The Qur'an and ulamas. The Qur'an, because in his speech, Ahok said "they would lie using the Al-Maidah verse." How can the Qur'an be used as a tool to lie? Because ulamas are the ones who interpret the verse, it meant that ulamas lied using the Al-Maidah verse.

It took six months to issue the social media fatwa. How did MUI rule the religious blasphemy fatwa in just 11 days?

For speech like that it's not difficult, and it doesn't take that much time. Eleven days is more than sufficient.

Ahok argued that he couldn't possibly insult Islam because most of his constituents are Muslims.

Well, in Islam, we judge people's utterances not his motive. Only Allah can judges one's heart and intention. Prophet Muhammad SAW forbade us to accuse others as hypocrites. He asked, "Have you opened his chest?" That's the testimony I gave as a witness at the court hearing last February.

Were there any protests at the court?

Yes, from the defense lawyer. Ahok also made a strong closing statement.

Did Ahok and his lawyer apologize?

They did apologize and I forgave them. That's what matters. We can meet at any other time.

Is their allegation related to your conversation with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono?

Yes.

Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine



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