Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Islamo-Iberian Caliphate: Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Fashion and a Gay Caliph

On January 2016 I visited the city of Cordoba in Southern Spain. That city left a very good impression in my heart. The narrow Arabian-style alleys, the orange trees along Guadalquivir River, the majestic Puente de Romano next to Cathedral La Mezquita, magnificent Moorish carvings, statues of angel from Renaissance period and many more. Cordoba that was once the capital of Islamo-Iberian Caliphate in Spain preserved its history very well so that you can still see what did the Romans, the Visigoths, the Muslims and the Catholic Monarch of Spain leave for us. I fell in love to Cordoba immediately.

As you might probably aware from my old blog posts, I have some sort of obsession towards the Islamic civilization in Andalusia, or as I prefer to call it "the Islamo-Iberian" civilization. The reason behind this is not because I see this period of time as an era when Islam ruled the world, no. I ain't no megalomaniac. I have more civilized motives behind my obsession to Andalucia. Two periods in Common Era - Europe that fascinate me the most are the Islamo-Iberian era and the Renaissance. And I have reasons for that.

I am interested on the culture of harmony that was established by the Omayyad Caliphate in Spain. Local Spanish historian call it "La Convivencia" or the tradition of living together, when the Muslims, Christians and the Jews coexisted together under one culture. This type of peace was very fundamental for this specific time and in this geographical location. The result was, something that for a historian like me, a very fascinating period when scientific discoveries and artistic explorations reached the zenith. To save time, I could only mention two names to represent hundreds of secular scientists, theologians and artists who contributed to the pool of knowledge in Cordoba. They are Averroes or Ibn Rushd the Father of Analytical Thinking and Ibn Hazm the Father of Comparative Religious Studies. Without these two people, our world would never be the same. As the true heirs of knowledge, they expressed their ideas through writing and seminar and also provided opportunities for public debate to let them intellectually be challenged by other scholars. This type of learning help ideas to be explored and exchanged.

Of course, of course, some skeptics will attack my reasonings. I admit that there were several down moments when minority was persecuted by the Islamic monarch in Al-Andalus but nonetheless based on historical records, the tolerance that is performed by Islamo-Iberian Caliphate was considered as the best one in Europe, in that, note this, particular century. Obama even mentioned this in his visit to Cairo in 2009 by saying that "Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Al-Andalus and Cordoba during the Inquisition." (check the video here)

Just across the Alcazar of Cordoba. A beautiful and peaceful park with doves, orange and palm trees.
In a city where the Jewish quarter located near by the Grand Mosque and the Christians were free to walk to their churches, Cordoba offered not just the guarantee of freedom of religion but also the excellence of life in Dark Aged Europe. Among the Sephardim community (Jewish that was expelled from Spain) in Europe, the time when their ancestors lived in Cordoba is still commemorated as the golden age. Its true that the Jews and Christians must paid special tax (jizya) for their status as non-Muslims, however this practice did not stop them from enjoying the same public facilities as the Muslims. In a time of intolerance and hostility, Cordoba sprung out to be a nicer host for her Jewish and Christian people than other European city.

With clean running water for public use, street lights, paved road, water mills to buzz up agriculture productivity, public libraries, schools and hammam or Arab baths accessible for the inhabitants despite of their race and religion, Cordoba was truly a gem. High culture developed in this prosperous community. The three meal-course tradition was first brought by an African artisan named Ziryab the Blackbird from Baghdad who worked in the court of the Caliph. This tradition is still kept by modern Europeans. In its international politics, the Caliphate of Cordoba built good partnership not just to the Islamic world in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Abdur Rahman III the founder of the Caliphate also mingled with France, Germany and Constantinople by sending exotic diplomatic gifts to those kings. In short, it was a peaceful time and better to live here than the other rest of Europe.
Interior of the Great Mosque of Cordoba

Being advanced in science and technology doesn't mean that Cordoba was left from being stylish. Just like Paris or Milan nowadays, it was the pinnacle of fashion industry. People in Cordoba has been recorded to use shampoo, toothpaste, perfume and deodorant since the 9th century. People walked on the streets of Cordoba with their finest gowns and fashionable turbans, smelled with oriental fragrance that came as far as Egypt and Persia. Thanks to Ziryab the Blackbird who not just introduced the art of fine dining but also grooming and fashion. As quoted from The Daily Beagle:
An extension of this was Ziryab’s insistence that men be clean-shaven. In an age where, to western eyes, the beard forms part of the image of the pious Muslim this sounds like a very radical change for the musician to make. Grooming wasnt limited to the beard though, hairstyles became a vital part of the fashion and everyone was eager to copy Ziryab’s hairstyles. Ziryab is also credited with establishing the first hair removal clinic in Western Europe. In Muslim Spain excess body hair was a social sin for both men and women.
Ziryab did not limit him self to cuisine, cleanliness and grooming. Fashion was, for the first time, altered into something recognisable to us in the modern era. Ziryab introduced winter and summer fashions as well as dress for the “half-seasons” (the seasons between seasons) with set dates for when one should switch. Under his regime fashion industry became a huge part of Spain’s appeal introducing coloured striped fabrics and translucent coats both of which can still be found in Morocco today.
Ziryab made Cordoba stylish with his innovation. He introduced fashion for all seasons. His signature was: "wear bright colors of wool, cotton and linen fabrics in spring; white for summer; and wear darker colors and cloaks trimmed with rabbit fur, lamb or weasel for fall and winter" (for real, gurl! check). Before he came to Spain, the only season-related fashion statement that Europe knew was the change of summer to winter garments. Finally, probably the coolest thing he ever done, was opening an Institute of Beauty in Cordoba which focused on the creation of cosmetic for both genders and to teach people to beautify themselves. With the coming of Ziryab, the face of Islam in Cordoba was far from the creepy terrorists that we know today. Islam in Cordoba was the clean-shaved, good-smelled and fashionable one.

The Great Mosque from the outside
Another surprise that I unearthed from Cordoba was the fact that a gay caliph ruled over the Islamo-Iberian peninsula, once upon a time. Yes, an homosexual man named Abu'l As al-Muntasir bi'llah Al Hakam ibn Abdur Rahman III or best known as Al Hakam II held the office as the 16th Caliph of Islamo Iberian Caliphate. This blue eyed man with reddish hair is praised in both the Islamic and European sources as the man of Golden Age. He established peace treaties with Christian kingdoms on the north and sponsored the building of great library of Cordoba to rival Baitul Hikmah in Baghdad. He was a big fan of science, he created a special department consist of Jewish and Christian translators to translate books from Greek and Latin. He employed a woman mathematician named Lubna of Cordoba as private secretary and sponsored Abul Qasim (Abulcasis) the royal surgeon to conduct his monumental surgical experiments. Oh, he is also remembered as the Caliph who finished the Medina Azahara project, a fairytale-like city-sized palace on the suburb of Cordoba. Medina Azahara was the capital of the Caliphate and praised by many other European ambassadors who visited the place as magical. In short, he was like the Abbasid's Harun Al Rashid of Omayyad Spain.
The statue of Al Hakam II in Cordoba

Interesting information about this young and brilliant Caliph isn't just stop there. He was described by both Arab and Western sources as openly and exclusively gay during his youth. He chose men as his sexual partners and established an all-male harem. When he became the Caliph, the caliphate advisory counsels began to worry. An heir must be produced by him in order to secure the kingdom. A solution was then agreed: a Basque girl named Subh was married to the Caliph when he was 46 year-old. Subh had to cut her hair short, dressed up like a ghulam or young boy and changed her name to "Jafar" in order to seduce Al Hakam. This witty idea is proven to be a success. A son was born from this union, Hisham the dauphin. He'd be the next Caliph, while Subh enjoyed an affair with Almanzor, the old vizier of Al Hakam.  (Don't trust me? Read this and this)

According to several sources, it seems like the practice of homosexuality was not just for the Cordoban highborns and autocrats, it was also common within the society itself (click here). Cordoba was quiet secular not just on term of science but also on term of accepting sexual orientation. Some contemporary Christian's records described how Cordoba was disgustingly filled with "libertines" who supported the practice of same-sex relationship. As quoted from Louis Compton in an article entitled "Male Love and Islamic Law in Arab Spain":
Popular attitudes appear much less hostile than in Christendom, and European visitors to Muslim lands were repeatedly shocked by the relaxed tolerance of Arabs, Turks, and Persians who seemed to find nothing unnatural in relations between men and boys.
Ibn Hazm, a polymath who wrote about the psychology of love also recorded the homosexuality phenomenon in Islamo-Iberia. In his book he mentioned the love story of a government official named Ibn Quzman and Aslam, the brother of the prime minister. Ibn Hazm makes no distinction between the love for slave women and free, so he makes no distinction between the love of women and the love of men, morally or socially. To him all love is psychologically one and the same. Many cases of same-sex relationships in Islamo-Iberian are still well preserved in poems and fragments by poets and scholars of that century. This fact is often neglected even by Muslim historians themselves. They would praise the Islamo-Iberian civilization as the golden age of Islam only as limited as science development and religious tolerance. Accepting the reality that there was a gay caliph or openness in the society in regard to same-sex relationship are impossible for them.

The ruins of Medina Azahara
Islam in the ancient Andalucia was indeed very tolerant. Compare to the current condition that we witness nowadays, it seems like we need to step back to the 9th century to learn about accepting differences and being open to ideas. May the golden age return not in the form of silly ambition to ruin other country to reinstate caliphate. Let's be more substantive. May the golden age return to us in the form of quality development and self improvement. Knowledge is powerful and hate would not lead us anywhere, after al. 

Peace from Berkel,
05 January 2017

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Negeri Rendang dan Soto Ayam

Sebagai seorang pelajar asing yang telah bermukim di Belanda selama tiga tahun, saya selalu mencoba menampilkan diri sebagai duta Indonesia yang baik. Tidak hanya dengan rajin mengikuti latihan talempong dan tari tradisional yang diinisiasi oleh kalangan Indonesianis dan keturunan campuran Indo-Belanda, membuat acara diskusi dengan Persatuan Pelajar Indonesia (PPI) juga merupakan upaya yang kami lakukan agar Indonesia tidak menjadi wajah yang asing di kota Leiden ini. Di luar negeri, Indonesia memang dinilai dari bagaimana warganya menampilkan diri mereka di hadapan dunia. Sebagai pelajar peran kami pun dituntut lebih, tidak hanya merepresentasikan orang Indonesia kami juga merupakan delegasi kaum terdidik bangsa yang dipercaya untuk menuntut ilmu di sini.
Latihan talempong di Voorschoten setiap weekend

Diplomasi untuk mempromosikan kekayaan tanah air juga gencar saya jalankan lewat ringannya dentingan sendok dan garpu. Kawan-kawan saya yang asli Belanda maupun yang berasal dari negara lain kerap saya ajak untuk menikmati kuliner nusantara. Ragam bumbu-bumbu dapur yang dulunya dikejar-kejar oleh nenek moyang hingga berlayar ke Maluku itu ternyata masih dapat menyihir lidah mereka. Salah seorang kawan saya yang berasal dari Italia bahkan pernah membawa ibunya yang sedang berkunjung ke Belanda untuk makan di sebuah restoran Indonesia yang dulu saya rekomendasikan untuknya. Di akhir liburan tersebut, sang ibu kembali ke Milan sambil membawa cerita tentang rendang dan soto ayam, bukannya tentang keju atau stampot khas Belanda.  

Hidup di Negeri Kincir Angin ini sebagai seorang pendatang asal Indonesia tidaklah susah. Bahan makanan melimpah-ruah. Rekan sebangsa pun tersebar dimana-mana, mulai dari ujung kota Groningen hingga ke tepian Maastricht. Belanda sudah sedemikian familiarnya dengan Indonesia. Bagi Belanda, pendatang dari Indonesia terkenal ramah, baik dan rajin bekerja. Belanda yang notabene merupakan negara berlandaskan prinsip-prinsip tradisional Protestan juga telah terbiasa dengan kehadiran kaum pendatang dari negara-negera muslim. Selain muslim asal Indonesia, komunitas imigran muslim terbesar di Belanda berasal dari Maroko dan Turki. Tercatat migran muslim paling awal yang berasal dari Indonesia telah bermukim di Belanda sejak era penjajahan. Makam muslim tertua di Belanda ialah makam seorang budak asal Sulawesi bernama Le Pejou (La Beyu) alias Apollo yang dibawa oleh tuannya ke kota Zwolle pada tahun 1840.
Salah satu restoran Indonesia ternama di Den Haag
Kajian-kajian mengenai Islam sebagai agama yang dianut oleh mayoritas penduduk di Hindia Belanda bahkan mendapatkan porsi yang besar dalam bahasan-bahasan akademis di ruang-ruang kuliah Universitas Leiden pada abad ke-19. Snouck Hurgronje, salah seorang pengajar terkemuka hukum adat di Leiden dikenang sebagai salah seorang Islamolog termashyur yang banyak mengumpulkan bahan-bahan terkait perkembangan Islam di Nusantara pada zamannya. Bagi kalangan kaum terdidik, Islam bukanlah fenomena langka. Islam adalah bagian dari peradaban dunia internasional yang turut juga mempengaruhi perjalanan Belanda sebagai sebuah bangsa. Hari ini, walikota Rotterdam, kota dagang terbesar di Eropa Barat adalah seorang Belanda muslim keturunan Maroko. Bagaimana mungkin seorang muslim keturunan Timur Tengah terpilih menjadi walikota Rotterdam? Itu semua dapat terjadi karena di Belanda ini latar belakang ras atau pun agama tidak dijadikan tolak ukur dalam menilai keprofesionalitasan seseorang.

Meskipun pemerintah Belanda belum mengakui hari libur Islam sebagai bahagian dari hari libur nasional, akan tetapi karyawan maupun pelajar yang ingin merayakannya tidak pernah dilarang atau dipersulit untuk mendapatkan izin. Demikian pula halnya dengan ibadah lainnya seperti puasa. Kaum muslim bebas dalam melaksanakan ibadahnya tanpa halangan dari masyarakat Belanda. Tidak ada sama sekali catatan diskriminasi yang dirasakan oleh rekan-rekan pelajar Indonesia selama melaksanakan ibadah puasa di Belanda. Tempat ibadah pun juga banyak tersebar dimana-mana. Di Leiden sendiri ada tiga buah mesjid dimana dua di antaranya dilengkapi oleh kubah dan minaret. Saya belum pernah menyaksikan ada unjuk rasa yang dilakukan oleh warga Belanda di kota Leiden untuk menentang kehadiran mesjid-mesjid tersebut.
Perayaan Idul Adha di Moskee Alhijra, Leiden
Sebagai seorang pelajar muslim asal Indonesia, saya selalu senang untuk berbagi kisah tentang kebhinnekaan Indonesia. Biasanya teman-teman sekelas dan dosen-dosen saya tercengang ketika angka 17.000 muncul untuk menggambarkan jumlah pulau yang dimiliki oleh negara kita. Luas Belanda yang lebih kecil dari pada provinsi Jawa Timur ini tidak ada apa-apanya dibanding luas Indonesia. Mata mereka membelalak ketika saya berkisah bahwa di Indonesia kita punya lebih dari 300 bahasa daerah. Jumlah etnik grup, ragam flora dan fauna, bermacam-macam peninggalan peradaban kuno, keindahan alam pegunungan serta lautannya; singkat kata segala sesuatu yang saya ceritakan tentang Indonesia selalu berhasil membuat mereka berdecak kagum. Saya selalu tersenyum puas ketika di akhir kelas mereka hanya dapat terpana dan berimajinasi akan negeri seperti apakah itu Indonesia yang punya kekayaan tak terhingga ini. Indonesia bagaikan surga yang penuh misteri. Mungkin benar kata Alkitab bahwa Taman Eden itu letaknya ada di sebelah timur, tepatnya di sudut bumi yang bernama Indonesia.

Di balik senyum puas itu, saya tidak pernah bercerita kepada mereka mengenai kasus-kasus intoleransi yang terjadi di tanah air. Saya seakan dilanda amnesia akut untuk menambahkan tentang betapa minoritas di Indonesia menderita oleh perlakuan semena-mena mereka yang menganggap dirinya mayoritas. Saya lupa bercerita mengenai orang-orang Papua yang hidup di bawah bayang-bayang militer dan jadi bahan bulan-bulanan dalam ejek-ejekan rasial suku-suku bangsa lainnya. Saya juga lupa bahwa ada banyak kasus pelanggaran HAM dari masa lalu yang tabu untuk diangkat-angkat kembali.

Saya lupa mengisahkan kepada teman-teman sekelas dan dosen-dosen saya mengenai kaum Syiah dan Ahmadiyah yang dibakar rumahnya dan diancam untuk dibunuh apabila tidak segera mengikuti Islam versi mayoritas yang telah diinstitusionalisasi oleh pemerintah. Saya juga khilaf tidak menceritakan kepada mereka bahwa ada banyak gereja yang tidak diberikan izin untuk berdiri sehingga banyak warga Indonesia penganut agama Kristen yang mengadakan kebaktian di mall-mall dan lapangan parkir. Belum lagi belakangan ini makin marak isu politik yang memanfaatkan fenomena penistaan agama. Saya lupa untuk bercerita bahwa di Indonesia amat mudah bagi orang untuk percaya berita hoax bahwa seorang ibu paruh baya yang menjual makanan di siang hari saat bulan puasa adalah istri dari seorang bandar judi merangkap mucikari. Saya lupa untuk menambahkan narasi-narasi di atas, mungkin karena waktu makan kami yang terlalu singkat atau karena di ruang kelas saya harus segera mengizinkan kelompok lainnya untuk presentasi.

Saya senang sekali menjadi pelajar Indonesia di Belanda. Indonesia di sini seperti sebuah negeri dongeng utopis yang jauh dari isu-isu disintegrasi. Indonesia benar-benar seperti Taman Eden dimana manusianya hidup rukun dan saling menghormati satu sama lain. Saya berharap semoga suatu hari nanti tidak ada orang Belanda yang memetik buah khuldi dan memakannya. Saya takut nanti setelah menelan buah kutukan itu mata mereka jadi terbuka lebar dan dapat melihat aib-aib yang seharusnya tidak ada di negeri surgawi. Biarlah Indonesiaku di Belanda ini hanya sebatas rendang dan soto ayam. Tidak ada kejelekan yang pernah muncul dari rendnag dan soto ayam.

18 Desember 2016

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017: The Hope is Still There

I have to admit that 2016 was not an easy year. It was very busy, hasty, required a lot of decision-making process which involved some heartbreaking situation. I struggled to finish my Master program until the half of the year. Starting from July to December, I pretty much lived like a hobo who moved from one settlement to another while thinking about what should I do next: applying for the orientation year for the international student to find a job in the Netherlands or go back to Indonesia? Several misunderstandings also occurred between me and my friends, all of them are settled by the end of the year, but still a broken mirror left cracks on its surface.

Amidst all these craziness, I however, still managed to escape. I traveled to 11 countries this year (Spain, Italy, Romania, Germany, France, Belgium, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Portugal). I visited places that I've been craving to see since I was a little child with the best traveling mates I could ask. Of course there were problems here and there, but I enjoyed the memories very well.

Some achievements from last year? Well, I won a photography competition, thanks to my trip to Seville. I won a music group acoustic competition in Rotterdam. My abstract for paper related to legal history got accepted for an international conference in Leiden and I received very wonderful appreciations from scholars who attended the seminar and watched my presentation.

I am grateful for 2016 regardless of its shitty-ness. Amidst war in Syria, Brexit, Trump became the elected president of USA, the future is still there to give us space for better living. Even in a hopeless and broken-hearted situation like this, I am still surrounded by them who truly love and supportive to me. After all, I could not make it by my own. Let's be positive. Although I personally have no fixed idea about what will happen to me and the world, my magic mantra for 2017 is: let it flow. Whatever will be, will be.

15:28, 1 January 2017
With much love from the cold Berkel