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Sheikh Nawawī al-Bantanī: A Fighter for Moderate Islam in Indonesia


It would be fascinating to revisit the subject of "moderate Islām" in the present context. Especially in Indonesia, where radical religious fundamentalism, which later gave birth to extreme radical groups carrying out religious practices, keeps happening. One of the factors that contributed to the creation of this phenomenon was the fragmented nature of religious leaders and inadequate religious knowledge level. In Indonesia, those leaders are used by the community as a religious reference. Religious fanaticism can certainly threaten the integrity of this nation. Additionally, this extreme attitude toward religion does not align with Islamic principles. Because the Qur'ān explicitly states that Muslims are just, fair, and moderate people. This is why the Indonesian people require leaders or scholars who can teach Islamic values in a multicultural Indonesia while maintaining a moderate point of view. 

Sheikh Nawawī al-Bantanī is one of Indonesian scholars with moderate religious beliefs. Other scholars in Indonesia have been motivated by his ideas for a moderate and tolerant Islām. Sheikh Nawawī describes the concept of "wasaṭiyah" in his works. He used the word "wasaṭiyah" specifically to convey the idea of wasaṭiyah, and his definition of it may be found in his interpretation of "Tafsīr Marāh Labīd." Additionally, because the manner of interpretation is fiqh-style, the values of religious moderation are also evident in how religious law verses are interpreted. Through his work in the field of fiqh, specifically in the book "Kāshifah al-Sajā," he also defined the concept of "wasaṭiyah" by relating it directly to ideas of religious moderation. I will try to explain the concept and value of Sheikh Nawawī al-Bantanī's "wasaṭiyah", which is contained in his two books:

A). Tafsīr Marāh Labīd

Sheikh Nawawī's interpretation of the idea of moderation is derived from the Arabic word "wasaṭ," which has multiple connotations. In Sūrah al-Bāqarah verse 143, he interprets word “ummatan wasaṭa” as the chosen people, just and commendable people with a scientific and amaliah attitude. Meanwhile, in verse 238 of Sūrah al-Bāqarah, he interprets waṣhalati al-wusṭa as the main prayer (mid-salat). He also interpreted the meaning of "fawasaṭna" in verse 5 of Sūrah Al-'Ādiyāt, which is Arabic for "going through the middle." Another instance of his interpretation of the lafaẓ "wasaṭa" is found in the interpretation of Sūrah al-Māidah verse 89, where he interprets the word "awsaṭ," which is translated as "quantity," as the typical amount of food consumed (not much and not a little).

According to this explanation, Sheikh Nawawī's view of moderation is the best one for the Ummah. Moderation is defined as a fair and balanced attitude that avoids extreme and excessive attitudes and tends to the middle ground. Sheikh Nawawī employs the ijmālī approach in his concise explanation of these verses. In this instance, Imam Nawawī merely interprets or expresses the meaning of the words or verses in a brief and condensed manner without providing any in-depth explanation. According to the style of interpretation, he employs the interpretation of bil ma’thur by interpreting the Qur'ān by using the Qur'ān or quoting narrations in his interpretation. For instance, when he explains and provides an explanation for Sūrah al-Bāqarah verse 143 above, he does so by quoting a riwāyah. He just cited the riwāyah; no further explanation was provided. Sometimes, when quoting the riwāyah, he explains it succinctly, like in the case of the interpretation of verse 89 of Sūrah al-'Adiyāh above. This is one of the shortcomings of the interpretation of the Qur'anic passages that using the ijmālī technique. Despite using a narrative as support and presenting an explanation, the interpretation is nevertheless universal. So that the reader just receives a condensed and limited explanation.

Sheikh Nawawī's interpretation of the meaning of moderation is not only seen from his interpretation of the meaning of "wasaṭ" in the Qur'ān but can also be seen from his interpretation of verses that explain religious law. Because problems in the area of fiqh are explained in greater detail than other verses, the "fiqh" interpretation method is the predominant one used to interpret "Marāh Labīd." Therefore, it is also vital to look at how the religious law verses are interpreted in order to determine the attitudes or values of moderation in this interpretation. In Sūrah al-Māidah verse 6, for example, he described the ablution and tayammum procedures. In interpreting this verse, the values of "wasaṭiyah" are reflected in his tolerant attitude in the midst of various madhhabs, being careful in setting the law and not being fanatical about Madhhab. He does not, however, explain the wisdom of Sharia and the purpose of revelation, as he is caught up in the formalities of fiqh, as if fiqh has no purpose. 

B). Kāshifa al-Sajā

Sheikh Nawawī's moderate views and attitudes can also be found in his work in the field of fiqh, namely the book "Kāshifa al-Sajā". In this book of fiqh, there are many "wasaṭiyah" values of Sheikh Nawawī, one of which is being tolerant of differences of opinion. The tolerant attitude that he conveys in the view of fiqh is seen in his efforts to accept differences of opinion. Even though he adheres to the madhhab Shāfi'ī, Sheikh Nawawī is not a fanatic of that madhhab and embraces and respects the opinions of others. As his tolerance is demonstrated on page 5 of the book "Kāshifa al-Sajā" in the discussion of differing viewpoints on basmalah. According to Imām Mālik, Basmalah is not one of the verses of al-Fātihah or of every sūrah in the Qur'ān. However, Imām Shāfi'ī claimed that basmalah is one of the verses of the fātihah, and it is still debatable whether basmalah is a passage from a certain sūrah of the Qur'ān or not. While there is no disagreement among scholars over the basmalah in Sūrah al-Naml, since they all agree that the basmalah in Sūrah al-Naml is included in the Qur'ān. Another example of his moderate attitude may be seen on page 26 of this book, which outlines the differences between Ashariyah and al-Māturidiyah's opinions on the nature of "qaḍā" and "qadar."

It is abundantly obvious from his moderate attitudes that Sheikh Nawawī is a scholar who advocates the values of religious moderation; he does not exhibit excessive religiosity and is not obsessive or extreme. Excessive fanaticism for one religious perspective can lead a person to isolate himself from other perspectives. The instances of his moderate attitude, however, demonstrate that in practice, moderation in fiqh requires a deep understanding of fiqh, which does not prioritize sunnah matters and leaves things that are obligatory. Sheikh Nawawī's views reflect this kind of thinking. His fiqh viewpoint on tolerance is clear in his acceptance of other people's opinions. In the previous example, he does not address these discrepancies by surrendering the current ones. In other words, exercising moderation involves both accepting and compromising the opinions of others. Thus, his standing in creating a law is apparent. It's true that certain religious disagreements can be compromised, while others cannot. Dealing with disagreements, however, at least encourages a positive attitude toward the topics being discussed rather than an extreme one. Because the goal of religious moderation is to bring the two extreme sides of religion together.

Thus, Sheikh Nawawī is an Indonesian cleric who endorses religious moderation, and according to him, the definition of "wasaṭiya" is the just, fairest, or most balanced people. His efforts to accept disagreements with other Madhhabs, or religious ways of thinking, led to the development of his understanding of the concept of "wasaṭiyah" as a feature of Islamic teachings. The explanation of Sheikh Nawawī's beliefs, which represent the values of religious moderation outlined above, must be studied and socialized further so that it can serve as an inspiration and guide for a multicultural Indonesian society. 

Hairus Saleh
Hairus Saleh Akademisi jadi blogger. Blogger menjadi tempat untuk tuangkan berbagai gagasan dan pemikiran.

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