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Islam and Modernity: Nurcholish Madjid's Interpretation of Civil Society, Pluralism, Secularization, and Democracy

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Debates on the applicability of the "modern" Western concepts of civil society, pluralism, secularization and democracy, together with Islam, significantly developed since the 1970s in Indonesia, in particular since the emergence of Nurcholish Madjid (hereafter Madjid). By the end of the 1980s, the Paramadina Foundation, which was established in 1986 by Madjid, among others, increasingly attracted higher middle-class individuals who claimed to adopt a progressive and open approach to Islam. Through Paramadina, Madjid, among others, developed his own idea of civil society. He is one of the most obvious champions of "neo-modernism" in Indonesia, as these ideas of both "modernism" and "traditionalism" are combined when they are relevant and suitable for society. The question addressed here is how Madjid interprets the concepts of civil society, pluralism, secularization and democracy as his main discourses? In other words, how does Madjid define and pave the way for Islamic development in Indonesia? What approaches does he use? While the concepts developed in Paramadina are basically inclusivism, pluralism, integralism, tolerance and democracy, on the way to achieving masyarakat madani (the Indonesian translation of civil society as adopted by Madjid), it seems that Madjid falls short of promoting local and global human values, international relations and communication. In fact, he adopts a cultural and nationalistic approach within the framework of Indonesian nationalism, which could lead to cultural crystallisation, particularism, localism and, eventually, atavism. These factors, however, if given a humanistic and global flavour — as set forward by the communication approach to human development — could indeed contribute to the emancipation of local citizens, from a parochial and centralized nationalism adhered to today by many Indonesian leaders. Thus, thinking globally and acting locally could be a liberating force for all.


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