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Hijrah and the Commitment to Fight Oppression


What differs today’s Islamic Hijrah New Year with those of the previous? This question might lead to many answers as it means personal for different people and groups. However, for progressive Muslims in Indonesia, there is one common highlight of the previous year that brings a different emphasis: The new year of 1440 Hijriah is a challenging year to straighten the bends and plunder against the meaning of the most fundamental word in it, which is the ‘Hijrah’ itself.

Only recently Emha Ainun Najib, a prominent preacher in Indonesia, degraded the word ‘Hijrah’ in his sermon by using it to legitimise eviction of people’s land in Kulon Progo for the sake of the development of New Yogyakarta International Airport (NYIA). He arbitrarily defines ‘Hijrah’ as an available road for the oppressed to celebrate the oppression against themselves. Practically speaking, Emha asks the people of Kulon Prugo to sincerely accept the expropriation perpetrated by the state and corporation on behalf of their life and land so they will “granted blessings of fortunes and victory at God’s side.”

The interpretation by Emha on the word “Hijrah” is no doubt reckless. Nonetheless, despite this deprave example of interpretation, he is not alone. Today we can easily see how the word “Hijrah” was bent and uprooted from its historical meaning. Hanan Attaki, a propagator famous among today’s youths, for example, devalued the meaning of “Hijrah” only a mere individual matter. Hijrah for him is just about how someone lives a more Islamic life to gain prosperity in the world. That the challenge of Islam and its adherents is not about the manifested injustice in the structural gap, the appropriation of land and living space, oligarchy and oligopoly, etc., but merely as a lifestyle.

In a glimpse, the meaning of “Hijrah” by Hanan is similar to Nurcholish Madjid or Cak Nur (although it seems funny because both used different attribution on it, that Hanan is “puritan” and Cak Nur “liberal”). In his writing, Etos Hijrah, Cak Nur stripped the meaning of “Hijrah” as a mere ritual to gain welfare (in his words, “plenty of easiness, fortune and relieve or freedom”) while undermining the aspect of resistance against oppression. What differs is his explanation on a more comprehensive meaning of “Hijrah” by placing it within the context of Muslim community, albeit the liberal and ahistorical prescription (Cak Nur mentioned “Hijrah” as a mode of Prophet Muhammad in establishing civil and egalitarian society – with no explanation of preconditions needed to achieve it).

In Quran, the word “ ” هاجرor its derivative with “Hijrah” meaning appears in at least seven verses. Among this refers to women whom the Prophet was allowed to marry (Q Al-Ahzab: 50). Another one is for Anshar[1] people who open their arms and sacrificed their belongings for the sake of their new brothers and sisters, having Hijrah from Mecca (Q Al-Hasyr: 9). The other five tell those who did Hijrah, its virtue and God’s endowment befall upon them. Here we can broaden the meaning of Hijrah beyond its legitimation over a mere individual religious act and liberal interpretation of Islam, let alone for personal interest.

From the last five verses, we can extract at least three formula of its meaning. First, Hijrah, both mention in Quran or in its empirical events, is not ahistorical. Instead, it is a historical moment where the Muhajirin[2] seek refuge based on their experience of oppression (Q An-Nahl: 41, 110), forcedly evicted from their houses, and were subjected to ill-treatment due to their stronghold of conviction (Q Ali Imran: 195). Second, Hijrah is not an end to itself. In fact, in the Quran, God embedded Hijrah with jihad (Q Al-Baqarah: 128), which during the Prophet Muhammad period, it also manifested in war. It corresponds to the context of ‘Hijrah’ in the history of Islam manifested through the epic Hijrah of the Muhajirin.

Daod S. Casewit (1998), an Islamic scholar from the United States, explains the context of Hijrah through its first period when Prophet Muhammad sent his companions to seek protection from King Negas (najashi in Arabic) in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). In his explanation, Casewit adduces the first Hijrah as a statement in Islam that suffering (including oppression) cannot be put an end to without resistance (1998, 110). It has to be fought. Thus, Islam teaches that our idealised values such as justice, equality, welfare, are not given and exist in a vacuum, but as a matter of social struggle in a particular social condition.

Another lesson that Casewit highlights from the first Hijrah are the shifting paradigm of Muslims towards social bond that had entrenched in the Arab jahili that is the bond of clans and kinship. The companions’ struggle to find support outside of this traditional social bond, according to Casewit, has proven that Hijrah “is not a mere escape from the unbearable condition” but a move beyond family ties and clans to a bond of brotherhood among the oppressed (1998, 111). Here is the historical basis for the meaning of Hijrah. Thus, it is impossible to carry out Hijrah without unity, without solidarity among those who bear the same burden.

From the abovementioned meaning of Hijrah, what can we gain and contextualise in our contemporary world? At least we find some lessons which of course are open to expansion based on the need for strategy and tactics for a social movement.

First, we live today in an era of brute and vulgar oppression. Thousands, even millions of people are a victim of the confiscation of land, homes, and environment on behalf of development. Widespread evictions, exploitation of labours through low and indecent wage, and environmental destruction perpetrated across the world. It is all disembogued not only to the incapable or oppressive leaders – so changing the president would not solve the problems. Instead, it is rooted in one system established overexploitation and deprivation. It is a system that puts none to its attention except profit accumulation. It is capitalism where we all live in it today. If Hijrah carried out by the Prophet Muhammad and his companions were to avoid oppression and fight it back, then the meaning of Hijrah today for us shall be a “renunciation against capitalism and a strive to establish an alternative system over it”.

Second, the Hijrah of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions was not a declaration of defeat and a waving a white flag. Instead, it was a movement to gain the force to resist oppression with a much stronger blow. It is a grave mistake to interpret Hijrah as a form of passive acceptance over oppression and a threat of expulsion, mainly as a campaign to affect people so that they would hand over and leave from their own homes on behalf of development. This campaign is, in Sayyidina Ali’s words as “kaleematu haqq yoraado beeha bathil’, a right concept but is subjected to and abused to falsehood.

Third, what we must fight today is not a particular person or a group, but a system that enables oppression. It was what the Prophet Muhammad and his companions did. They did not fight the infidels of Quraisy on their interest. If it were to be the underlying manoeuvre of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, then Fathu Mecca (the conquest of Mecca) would be a bloodbath of the beheaded infidels. On the opposite, it was the oppression, and the system sustained the injustice that they fought. They opposed the infidels of Quraisy due to their status quo over the exploitation which profited them.

Today we are facing an enemy of a pervading worldwide system named capitalism. It perpetuates exploitation regardless of ethnicity, religious, or race. To resist this kind of enemy, interpreting Hijrah as an individual struggle to conquer one’s desire is a disastrous endeavour. Therefore, the fight against global capitalism today shall be manifested through establishing a common resistance of Muslims beyond their tribes, ethnicities, and religion such as the Muhajirin in the past liberated their homes and returned there as the result of unity with the Anshar people.

In today’s broader geopolitical context, the bond of solidarity among the oppressed should be expanded beyond state’s territorial boundaries. We must firmly declare, “we did not cross the border, the border crossed us!” this is a proclaim of resistance towards the reality of the creation of modern state’s territories. According to The Guardian, 37,034 refugees had crossed the sea to reach Europe this year, in a total of 1,8 million refugees since 2014. OCHA also reported more than 700,000 of Rohingyas had fled Myanmar in 2017. Communities forcibly leave their home for a ‘brave new world’ to save their lives from war and violence has become a global crisis. Instead of asserting the demarcation between global South and global North, this act of crossing had shocked the ‘other’ global citizens on the imaginary lines of national sovereignty and human solidarity.

Thus, Hijrah as an inclusive and radical process in the practice of ‘human mobility’ – migration, urbanisation, etc. – must be understood in its plural sense within the context of current globalisation, geopolitics and transnational movement. Further, we must criticise the term ‘transnational Islam’ which is ahistorical and ignorantly embedded as a ‘threat of terrorism against nationalism’. Hijrah, as endogenous in Islam, must possess a transnational character as a call for Muslims to stand up and answer the crisis infected the Islamic movements globally. To welcome the Islamic new year marked by Hijrah means solidarity toward human oppression separated by territories as a people’s manoeuvre that affects the ramification of physical and ideological struggle. We can see this example from the Immigrant Rights Movement in the United States as a national movement to fight negative stereotype against Latinos and Arabs, and Gaza Freedom Flotilla as an international movement to fight Israel’s blockade against Palestine.

[1] The word “Anshar”, etymologically ”The Helpers”, were the inhabitants who took The Prophet Muhammad and his companions as a family when they emigrated from Mecca.

[2] The word “Muhajirin”, etymologically means “The Emigrants”, were the companions of The Prophet Muhammad who emigrated with him from Mecca to Medina.

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