Jaringan Islam Liberal: Background & Activities

Jaringan Islam Liberal (JIL) is a loose forum for discussing and disseminating the concept of Islamic liberalism in Indonesia. One raison d’etre of its establishment is to counter the growing influence and activism of militant and radical Islam in Indonesia. The "official" description of JIL is "a community which is studying and bringing forth a discourse on Islamic vision that is tolerant, open and supportive for the strengthening of Indonesian democratization." It was started from several meetings and discussions among young Muslim intellectuals in ISAI (Institut Studi Arus Informasi/Institute for the Study of the Flow of Information), Jakarta, and then extended through discussion using a mailing list, islamliberal@yahoogroups.com in early 2001. The founders held the first discussion on February 21, 2001, in Teater Utan Kayu, Jakarta, on Akar-Akar Liberalisme Islam: Pengalaman Timur Tengah [The Roots of Islamic Liberalism: The Middle East Experience], presented by a young progressive scholar, Luthfie Assyaukanie. That meeting was followed by other discussions, either in the form of face-to-face meetings or through the mailing list. Since mid 2001, the "official" name of Jaringan Islam Liberal has been used on their website, http://www.islamlib.com/page.php, which displays their activities, articles, discussions, and relevant sources for the dissemination of liberal Islam. Their place of meeting and secretariat is in Teater Utan Kayu, Jakarta, a complex owned by Goenawan Mohamad, a leading journalist and author, and used for arts performances and by non-governmental organizations.

Participants in the early process of the establishment of JIL are diverse in their background. Most of them are middle class, young intellectuals, but there are also politicians and prominent authors. Several key figures in the early phase included Ahmad Sahal, Budhy Munawar-Rachman, Goenawan Mohamad, Hamid Basyaib, Luthfie Assyaukanie, Rizal Mallarangeng, Denny J. A., Ihsan Ali-Fauzi, A.E. Priyono, Samsurizal Panggabean, Ulil Abshar Abdalla, Saiful Mujani and Hadimulyo. Other important figures who became source persons in the establishment of JIL included more senior Islamic scholars such as Nurcholish Madjid, Azyumardi Azra and Komaruddin Hidayat. Assyaukanie is the first coordinator of JIL who arranged discussions and maintained offline and online discussions through a mailing list. Since its first meeting, the participants and those who are interested in joining JIL are increasing. As an open forum without rigid organization, JIL does not have a membership system. Therefore, there is no data on the number of members. The current coordinator of JIL is Ulil Abshar Abdalla, the head of NU’s human resources think-tank, Lakpesdam-NU.

In the process of the establishment of JIL, support from Goenawan Mohamad, a distinguished author and publisher, was very significant. He not only provided a meeting place, secretarial support and temporary funding through ISAI, but his involvement also attracted the interest of many young intellectuals from his circle at Tempo weekly magazine and the Korantempo daily newspaper as well as ISAI. He is also a relatively neutral figure for either modernist or traditionalist Islam in Indonesia.

Since its inception, JIL has conducted many regular activities concerning public education. With the assistance from funding agencies such as The Asia Foundation, JIL is able to voice liberal, tolerant aspirations and interpretations of Islam in Indonesia. Activities and programs of JIL include, first, syndication of liberal Islam writers. This is the most important program done by JIL. This program is intended to collect writings from authors who defend pluralism and inclusivism and disseminate them to local mass media which have difficulties in finding good writings and writers on those issues. This syndication provides selected articles, interviews, and sources every week for local newspapers. Second, talk-shows in the news office of Radio 68H, Jakarta. The talk-show, which interviews those who promote pluralism and an inclusive understanding of religion, is broadcast through 40 radio stations in the Namlapanha radio network across Indonesia. This program is the most effective effort to disseminate liberal Islam. Third, publication of books on liberal Islam, pluralism, and inclusivism in religion. Fourth, publication of booklets or leaflets which contain a short article, interview, or abstract from books on controversial issues in religion. Fifth, the website, www.islamlib.com, which displays information and relevant writings on liberal Islam. Sixth, public service advertisements on television which contain messages for religious toleration and peaceful co-existence among different religious followers and pluralism in Islam. Seventh, discussion of Islam. With cooperation from other institutions, JIL arranges discussions on Islam with distinguished speakers from all over the world. Eighth, road-show discussions to disseminate the idea of liberal Islam which are held on campuses in Indonesia with the cooperation of student organizations.

These activities reflect the mission of JIL which is described as follows: First, to develop liberal interpretations of Islam which correspond to their principles and to disseminate them to the public. Second, to provide a medium for dialogue that is open and free from the pressure of conservatism. JIL believes that only through the availability of this kind of dialogue, can the development of Islamic thinking and action move in a good direction. Third, to create a just and humane socio-political structure. For JIL, democracy is the best system for that purpose.

For the proponents of JIL, using liberal Islam in the name of their forum is intended to make a clear point. Liberal Islam represents an Islam that emphasizes individual freedom in accordance with the Muta’zilah (or Mu’tazilite) doctrine of human freedom and liberation of socio-political structure from oppressive and undemocratic domination. The adjective "liberal" for the activists in JIL has two meanings: "being liberal" and "liberating." They use this adjective because they do not believe in Islam as such, Islam without an adjective, since in reality Islam has many different interpretations. Therefore, liberal Islam is another variant of Islam and an alternative to literal Islam, Islamic fundamentalism, radical Islam, and many others.

Nico Harjanto 2003


Is There a Rainbow in Islam? (from Latitudes Magazines)

Islam and Liberalism in Contemporary Indonesia: The Political Ideas of Jaringan Islam Liberal (The Liberal Islam Network)


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