Indonesia’s Pancasila: A Guiding Framework for Egypt’s Constitution?


[This is the tenth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on Good Governance in Islam: Classical and Contemporary Approaches held in Herndon, VA. These notes have only been lightly edited and represent my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone. Names of participants (other than mine) in the general discussion have been omitted by request of the organizers.]

“Indonesia’s Pancasila: A Guiding Framework for Egypt’s Constitution? A Study of Maqasid ash-Sharia for State Governments” by Marybeth Acac

How can maqasid move from a theoretical construct to a guiding principle for new states? This may require major linguistic gymnastics. I conclude how Egypt can devise its own higher principles of governance. Sukarno aimed for Pancasila to transcend micro-disparities for a Muslim majority state through five principles: 1. Belief in the one and only God, 2. Just and civilized humanity, 3. Indonesian unity, 4. Democratic life by wisdom, 5. Social justice.

A transnational comparative approach that incorporates principles like maqasid ash-Sharia can be instructive. Why did early jurists develop the principle of maqasid in the first place? It was not present when the early institutions were established. It appears after the madhahab were established and disputes over usul al-fiqh began to confront limits. Three major developments: 1st stage around the time of al-Ghazali of initial formulation. 2nd al-Shatabi, system of classification. 3rd adaptation to modern world, time of ibn Ashur.

Factors that led to formulation of Pacasila include the need for unity, justice, and preservation of tradition after end of lengthy Dutch and brief Japanese colonization.  Islam emerged at the forefront of the debate. A national committee was formed and introduced Pancasila as a means of reconciling secularist and Islamist objectives. I juxtapose Sukarno’s objectives with Ash-Shatabi’s discussion of maqasid.

Indonesia is 86% Muslim, 6% Protestant, 3% Catholic, 2% Hindu, etc. Al-Ghazali conflates maqâsid with maslaha. Cribb argues the main reason Pancasila fell was that it was never a native Indonesian ideology, but a tool for the maintenance of political power. Suharto appropriated Pancasila as a tool against both Communists and Islamists.

Is Egypt ready for a maqasid based ideology? It is 90% Muslim, 9% Coptic, 1% (other) Christian. Pancasila began as one man’s ideology enforced by the state, while the Islamist movement in Egypt was an organic development. The discourse surrounding Sharia was not dominated by the state. By the 1970s the democratization of the discourse came at a high price, especially of conflict with the Coptic community. Four points of consensus emerged: 1. Shariah provides clear rules not to be abrogated by the state. 2. Shariah provides guidance on the aims of the law. 3. Debate over the law is healthy and should not be condemned. 4. Shariah provides a middle path for believers.

Although the Muslim Brotherhood has never dropped its call for application of Shariah, they have replaced the phrase with a call for “an Islamic reference.” The MB effort to explore the relation of article 2 of the Constitution and its relevance to daily life is not an idea to be overlooked. Holding the ideology of maqasid as a benchmark for good governance avoid facing a choice between secularism and theocracy. I do not advocate Sukarno’s Pancasila, but see in it as instructive starting point for interreligious cohabitation without explicit secularization or Islamization. The most important part is a clear articulation of Article 2 of the Constitution.

Discussant Mahmoud Ayoub

We have to put things in their historical and wider context. Pancasila came forth in the context of the Bandung conference including Tito and Nassar. Pancasila means five laws or principles. He meant it to be a more unifying set of principles than Islam which confronts multiple interpretations and local customs. The Christians opposed the first principle as designed to appeal to Muslims. He did not intend it to be a basis of law but a non-religious presentation of socialist ideology. Suharto used it as a kind of Indonesian religion, establishing schools and institutions for its study, an ideology that continues to be important to this day on some way or another. What is its relation to Islam? In this way it faces the same questions as Qaddafy’s “Third Universal Theory.” Your idea is intriguing, but why do Egyptians need the Pancasila to introduce the maqasid into their constitution? The Prophet said “Take care of the Copts for between them and us is a marriage” (a reference to Maryam the Copt who gave him his only certain male heir, who unfortunately did not survive).

Discussant Jamal Barzinji

The paper is an extremely stimulating and thought-provoking approach. Sukarno in 1945 was trying to compromise between the Japanese and the Islamists even as he became a leftist trying to get around both the Islamists and the allies. The emphasis on unity of Indonesia was prompted by his desire to keep control of Sumatra as well as Java. Must Islamists agree that they cannot accept an “Islamic state” (setting aside that the concept is undefined)? My problem with Pancasila is how it allowed, even facilitated, authoritarian rule.  Also you have not mentioned “guided” democracy which is not democracy at all.  I don’t understand point #2 of the Pancasila “humanity.” Indonesia was never poised to be a world power.


Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad: What we can lean from Pancasila is how to avoid its failures. Compatibility of democracy and Islam can be addressed in the maqasid. As Jamal says, we must specify how to minimize the risks of a decline into authoritarianism.

Pancasila was not well-intended. It was Sukarno’s attempt to make Indonesia communist.

Maqasid by nature is interpretation articulated in the statutory law for which Muslims have less respect than for Qur’an and Sunnah. We use Qur’an and Sunnah to escape from statutory law, and from rules of order.

To me the transition to democracy in Indonesia is the closest to what is happening in Egypt, rather than Pancasila. The FJP program explicitly calls for maqasid ash-Sharia, the problem is in the implementation.

Is it desirable for a political society to adopt a formal national ideology? Politics is not about identifying principles.

Acac: What I am hoping for is a new form of ethics injected into politics in some way. I started with the fiqh because I wanted to build a bridge between jurisprudence and politics. If the fuqaha could acknowledge higher objectives, why can’t the politicians?

Ahmad: The Declaration of Independence articulates higher objectives when it specifies “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

Leave a Reply