RISING Women Ulama: Badriyah Fayumi Munji’s FULL SPEECH

16 March 2018 | By Zain Luke Ali

RISING Women Ulama: Women Leadership for Peace, Prosperity and Pluralism welcomes Badriyah Fayumi Munji – Steering Committee Chair of the 2017 Indonesian Women Scholars Congress, Chair of the Alimat equality movement and Islamic school Co-Director.

“I, Badriyah Fayumi, currently spend my days as steward to our pesantren, Mahasina Darul Qur’an wal Hadits, which is located in the ourskirts of Jakarta. Our pesantren aims to educate future ulama and leaders of high morals and a way of thinking that respects our nation. In our pesantren, the santri follow the official state curicula for secondary education which we combine with our specific pesantren programs over six years. We integrate the teachings of Islam with the ideals of our nation, aligning knowledge-morality-service, rationality and spirituality, tradition and modernity, global perspectives and local wisdom.

My life journey and the spaces to which I have given service have allowed me to be directly engaged with policy makers, religious dignitaries, community leaders, political figures, women’s rights activists, while at the same time being in touch with community at the grassroots and victims of violence. From these interactions I saw the multiple layers of barriers for women and vulnerable groups in accessing justice, from the structural and cultural barriers to the religious mindsets and behaviors that deny substantive justice for women. It is for this reason that the need arises for a space that could bring together women victims of violence and the activists with the ulama and the state in order to find effective structural and cultural solutions built on solid theological legitimacy.

My pesantren, KUPI and the other spaces of struggle that Allah has destined for me are part of my strive (ikhtiar) to manifest an Islam that is rahmatan lil alamin – meaning, Islam that is a blessing for all universe – which is an Islam that is gender just, peaceful, open, moderate, tolerant and cosmopolitan. Such idealism is alive in each field of service that I have undertaken, in the past and today, from the areas of education, social movement (Islamic and non-governmental organizations), religious preaching, journalism to that of the government bureaucracy, national parliament and state institutions.

This idealism about Islam is something that comes natural to me as the environment in which I was born, educated and raised is one that is imbued with the values of Islam and struggle for the people, nation and humanity. My primary and secondary education was a combination of the official curiculum of the state, Islamic schools and the pesantren in a compound of santri, in Kajen, Central Java. For my higher education, I attended the Islamic State University in Jakarta and the al-Azhar in Cairo. I have also engaged with women’s rights NGOs and the Nahdlatul Ulama, which is the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia. Nahdlautl Ulama holds strong the tradition of Islamic scholarship while committed to the ideals of nationhood. It stands for the middle way (tawassuth), tolerant (tasamuh) in its character, gives priority to balance (tawazun) and justice (i’tidal), and is open to the new.

In this context, the idea of KUPI became an oasis and an answer. KUPI was a meeting space for women ulama and the activists, for victims as well as the state. This space also validated the existence and role of women ulama which had so far been marginalized by history and an historiography unenlightened by gender justice. This meeting space also provided the opportunity to addresss real and massive problems faced by women whose resolution cannot be separated from the roles of religion and the state. In Indonesia, we are fortunate to have a large number of women who have the capacity to become ulama. Their numbers have increased in line with gender mainstreaming policies. They are spread out in pesantren, institutions of higher education, community prayer groups, and a multitude of Islamic organizations across the country. However, the views of Indonesia’s religious communities on issues related to women, such as child marriage, domestic violence, sexual violence, migrant workers and environmental degradation, commonly are not conducive to substantive justice for women. The authorities who produce fatwa – and the process and methodology they apply – have not placed women as subjects. The fatwa-producing organizations are mainly dominated by male ulama. This is a challenge. Thank be to God, Indonesia’s influential male ulamas have not questioned the authority of the fatwas produced by women ulama and, in fact, embraced KUPI with open arms. This is an opportunity.

In the midst of these challenges and opportunities, KUPI stands to provide the space and authority for women ulama to produce fatwa. KUPI places women as subject. KUPI applies a grounded methodology and a participatory process. As similarly applied in the Muslim world, the references we use for our fatwa are the Qur’an, Hadits and the opinions of ulama. Additionally, however, we also refer to our national constitution and to women’s lived realities. In KUPI’s view, the two latter references are necessary because, as human beings, women have specific life experiences and, as citizens, women’s equality is guaranteed by law. KUPI is thus under the umbrella of Islamic teachings and values as well as values for the nation, humanity and the universe. KUPI has applied these values in its three fatwas, namely on child marriage, sexual violence and environmental destruction, and in its recommendations. It is our methodology and values that distinguish KUPI’s fatwas from those by Islamic organizations in Indonesia. KUPI’s fatwas have no contradiction with Islamic scholarship and provide distinctiveness in terms of perspective, process and references.

KUPI is an intellectual, cultural, social and spiritual movement – one that stands on collective actions based on solidarity, self-reliance, sincerity and volunteerism. All of us involved in KUPI contribute with no expectations of self-gain. This is because we see KUPI as our call of faith and an historical inevitability. A call of faith because the prophetic mission is to be carried out by both male and female ulama. An historical inevitability because the history of civilization is built by men and women, even though the existence and role of women ulama have so far been distorted due to the biased historiographies of Indonesia and the Muslim world. Through KUPI – the first of such an event in Indonesia and the world – which was attended by 649 participants and observers from 13 countries, the role of women ulama is finally acknowledged and women’s crucial issues addressed.

KUPI’s fatwas have now become theological references used by women ulama in teaching Islam, by activists in supporting victims and in carrying out policy advocacy, as well as by policy makers at national and local levels who need theological references to ensure that gender just policies would be acceptable to religious communities. KUPI’s fatwas have also become a source of moral and spiritual strength for women victims in their struggle to survive and access justice. Also among academics, KUPI has been made into a subject matter for research and analysis.

Alhamdulilah, KUPI has elevated the term ‘women ulama’ into academic and public discourse, nationally, internationally and locally. This is possible because KUPI’s participants are influential figures in their respective communities. Of course, it is also because KUPI offers a specific methodology and perspective in its religious fatwa. Many have offered their collaboration and support, including this distinguished forum.

And now, the network originating from KUPI continues to move forward using their own resources in order to diseminate the outcomes of KUPI and to realize the aspiration of KUPI, which is to enhance the existence and role of women ulama in achieving substantive justice for women in accordance to the Islam that is rahmatan lil alamin and to values for our nation, humanity and the universe.”

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