Umar Bin Hafiz:
In its reporting, the western media tends to refer Hadramaut as the birthplace of Osama bin Laden, the man who was branded a terrorist by the First World. Indeed, Hadramaut is where Osama's father originated before he moved to Saudi Arabia. The arid land which covers one third of Yemen is also often referred to as the ideological birthplace of the Al-Qaeda, the organization created by Osama.
Away from radical issues, Hadramaut is actually a place that is known for its strong Sufi tradition, which prioritizes on relations with the Creator. Tarim, a town in Hadramaut, is a place of learning and where a number Sufi schools can be found, among them the well-known Darul Mustafa. It is here that many Indonesians come to deepen their knowledge of religion.
On the association of his country with Al-Qaeda, Habib Umar bin Hafiz stressed that Osama, who was born in Saudi Arabia, never lived in Yemen. "His ideas have nothing to do with our place," he told The New York Times, in an interview. However, a few years ago, the Al-Qaeda did set up a base in Yemen, from where they launched their terrorist activities.
Umar is the founder and principal guru of Darul Mustafa. He is known for his strong belief that Islam is a religion of peace. He often goes on tours, including to the United States and Europe, to pass on his message of peace. The widespread influence of Umar and his activities including in Indonesia has earned him a place among the list of 500 most influential Islamic leaders, according to the Georgetown University in the US.
He is one of the signatories of the open letter A Common Word between Us and You, addressed to the Pope in Rome. This was the first interfaith peace dialogue ever initiated, which was followed by a number of meetings between leaders of these two faiths. He is also a signatory of the Amman Treaty, which urges the faithful to refrain from attacking other faiths.
Last week, Umar left for Yemen after spending a week in Indonesia. Because of his busy schedule and the infamous Jakarta traffic jams, the interview with Tempo was held at Soekarno-Hatta airport, prior to his departure. He was accompanied by Jindan bin Novel, one of his students who translated for Umar. Excerpts of the interview:
What is the objective of your visit to Indonesia?
I am here at the invitation of my students over here. I also came to Indonesia to meet the ulama at the council of Al-Muwasalah baynal Ulama Almuslimin (a communication forum he set up).
Besides visiting Indonesia and other Asian countries, you also went to Europe and the US, where you gave speeches at campuses. What was the theme of your speeches?
I bring Islam's message of peace wherever I am, that Islam is a religion that is far from violent.
What pushed you to do all that?
Actually, this is the responsibility of everyone, as the Qur'an says, "It has come upon you, the book and the prophet with bright rays, and that is Allah pointing to many roads leading to peace."
Is that also the reason why you signed the book, A Common Word between Us and You?
Yes. When a Muslim practices Allah's teachings, he will get a bigger benefit, not just for Muslims but also for non-Muslims. The Islamic community should be able to live side by side with followers of other religions.
Yet, conflicts between different religious groups keep on happening. In a number of cases, a group of Muslims played a role in triggering the conflict.
This is because many truths in Allah's teachings are absent in the minds of Muslims. They are not getting the right directions the importance of peace and hence they become negligent. Many don't practice it. Yet, the road to peace is the path towards goodness for all humankind, which will also bring good to everything around men, like the environment, things and animals.
What do you say when some people say Islam is a religion that teaches terrorism?
That's just prejudice.
Can you clarify?
These charges come from a group of Muslims whose actions are not according to the teachings of the Prophet.What teaching is that?
One example tells of how Umar bin Khattab upheld the principle taught by the Prophet. When he was a khalifah and appointed Amr bin Ash as the governor of Egypt, Umar asked Amr to govern with fairness and honor the people's rights, even though they come from a different religion.
The word habib attached to the front of his name is a sign he has Islamic blue blood. If his family tree were traced, it would point to Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. The tradition of honoring the descendants of the Prophet, including the reputation for Umar's spiritualism, has spread his reputation to many countries, including Indonesia.
At the moment, 400 Indonesians study at Darul Mustafa. Many habibs with big followers in Indonesia, like Munzir al-Musawa and Jindan bin Novel, once studied under Umar. They often hold prayer sessions attended by thousands. Not surprisingly, Umar's arrival in Indonesia was greeted enthusiastically by the followers of those habibs.
On Monday last week, Umar gave a public lecture at Paramadina University in Jakarta. The campus led by Anies Baswedan was packed with people, most wearing the Muslim garb. They were followers of habibs who were eager to listen the lecture. Umar arrived with much fanfare, preceded by a police escort.
In front of students and his followers, in addition to emphasizing the importance of prayers, Umar once again stressed that Islam must initiate peace. At the end of the lecture, he conveyed his impression of Muslims in Indonesia, whom he said love peace, are soft-spoken and are ethical.
Was this praise or a reproach? The fact is that conflicts between people of different faiths happen often in Indonesia. The torching of Shia homes in Madura, the attack on Ahmadiyah followers, are but a few instances of violence shattering the precept of religious harmony. To Umar, any form of violence against sects or other faiths only brings misery.
How do you view the conflict between sects of Islam?
This happens because one person's passion is so strong, he neglects what is taught by Allah. To these people, personal views and their understanding of something is seen as a blessing from Allah, hence they insist they are always on the right.
In Indonesia, one group was condemned and then was violently attacked.
At no time can a Muslim hurt another Muslim for whatever reason, especially by excommunicating him from Islam or accusing him of being a kafir. This is the biggest sin of all.
But it seems so easy for one group to call another group kafir?
In the words of the Prophet, as recorded by Bukhari, it is said that if a person accuses another fellow Muslim of being kafir, the charges can turn back on the accuser. So he himself is the actual kafir.
This has made people stay away from Islam, while you keep saying Islam is a religion of peace, serenity and non-violence.
Yes, the Prophet forbids action which cause people to turn away from Islam and its followers. He has given many simple examples to illustrate this.Such as?
When we have the chance of leading prayers but we lengthen reading the scripture, people will be reluctant to pray with us again. The Prophet forbids this. So what about curses, acts of violence and accusations of being kafir? In the hadith shahih, it is said that cursing another Muslim is godless and attacking another Muslim is irreligious. How can conflicts between sects be prevented?
Everyone should know that negative opinion and behavior against groups considered to be different do not help. In fact, such action only brings disadvantage.
What is your message to those who often commit violence towards people of different faith?
On Judgment Day, Allah will not ask a person about another person's sin, but about his own sins and mistakes. What we do on this earth is what we must account for in due time.
Umar bin Muhammad bin Salim bin Hafiz
Place & Date of Birth:
Tarim, Hadramaut, May 27, 1963
Informal studies under religious leaders
Teacher and Preacher since 1978
Rector of Darul Mustafa since 1994By Adek Media RozaTempoNo. 16/13, December 11, 2012