Artists and Instant Piety
What can be said about the current phenomenon of artists embarking on the religion wagon or hijrah: is it a religious awakening in the entertainment world, or merely using religion as a marketing tool? Changing religion from something spiritual to a tempting commodity?
The term hijrah is complicated. In Arabic, it means a physical change from one location to another. It is a popular world in the realm of Islam because the prophet Mohammad moved from his birth place Mecca to Medina as a part of his strategic struggle. This definition has remained unchanged in Arabic. However, in Indonesia, ‘hijrah’ has developed into a change of attitude towards being more religious, from a casual to a restrictive practice of religious laws. People who have done ‘hijrah’ usually change their appearance: donning beards and wearing three-quarter pants for men, and long hijabs (headscarves) or even niqabs (face veils) for women.
In general, the move of many artists towards ‘hijrah’ cannot be separated from the rising religious conservatism, a phenomenon which has spread globally in the past decade. Artists are under the loop because they are public figures. They move from the spotlight of the entertainment world to the spiritual religious realm: quite an extreme transition.
The artists doing ‘hijrah’ and the surge of conservatism are indeed inseparable. Conservatism gives rise to new demands: preaching by artists, models wearing trendy Muslim fashion, halal (acceptable according to Islamic law) products which need to be promoted by famous personalities. There is, however, an ambivalence here: the world these entertainers supposedly leave behind is their profession and source of income.
Religious conservatism as the source of ‘hijrah’ can be viewed from different sides. The mushrooming of prayer groups in offices, wearing Muslim clothing, and the surge of haj pilgrimage and umrah (minor haj) pilgrims is seen as a rise in worship: piety in the most literal sense. Worship, the ritual of devotion to God, is believed to be a source of virtue, leading to more patience, social sensitivity, and the desire to do good for one’s society.
On the other hand, conservatism can be worrisome, and could lead to intolerance. In some cases, rigidly religious people can evolve into science deniers, often called the ‘flat earthers’. Conservatism which results in holding on to the ‘pure’ doctrine—stemming from time frames and practices from centuries ago—could be manifested into a longing to integrate religious rules into state law. In Indonesia, the latter can be seen in the growing calls for Sharia (Islamic) law.
With this in mind, any religiously conservative person—including artists—could become both a blessing and a source for worry. They could become an example for piety, but also disseminators of rigid ideas.
The law has to take action if this conservatism is practiced badly and go against the country’s laws. Those who promote violence and disseminate hate must be given sanctions. Piety gone awry, like refusing to pay taxes in the belief that it is against religious laws, must be reprimanded. Caution is needed towards backers of a Sharia nation.
Activists promoting tolerance and religious leaders should intensify discussions to promote religion as a multi-dimensional institution. At schools, religion must be taught in tandem with other virtues: ethics, art, philosophy, and local wisdom.
Hijrah is ultimately a personal journey, something which should not be final. It is a process, a never-ending journey. The history of Islam is proof of this: take the continuous search of Ibrahim. This prophet, seen as the father of monotheism, embarked on the most extreme of searches: to look for God in the sun and stars.
This kind of hijrah should not be seen as a process of ‘reborn’, in which the past is erased, or even a source of hostility. Hijrah should also not be an escape: fleeing from a supposedly abject past and paying for it with instant piety. By avoiding these stumbling blocks, religious banality could be avoided, and religion can be accepted as something more than a mere regulator of halal and haram (forbidden by Islamic law).