The predominance of conservative fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) in the country has led to a black and white approach in viewing matters facing society. As in the case of prostitution — like the recently closed Dolly red-light district in Surabaya — the practice of adultery is considered haram (forbidden according to Islam) so that it must be eradicated.
It is not necessarily so, though. Fiqh, which in terms of mu’amalah (human relationships) is more related to “worldly” science as great theologian al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE) put it, is more oriented toward maqashid al-shari’ah (objectives), and hence it pursues maslahah (the public interest or common good).
That said, the eradication of prostitution must also calculate the negative impacts of the move.In the legal maxim of fiqh, Islam adopts the principle of irtikab akhaff al-dararain (taking the lesser of two evils — just like in Christianity).
The application of the principle in the matter of prostitution is that society is facing two forms of mafsadah (damage): adultery is haram and will spread sexual disease.
The consideration controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS, which involves the lives of many people, is more important than the sin of adultery to justify the localization of prostitution could be seen as the lighter of the two risks.
This kind of argument is nothing new. Such a view has been offered by the late Sahal Mahfudz, as the chief patron of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, although it was not popular. Muslims in the country seem to be so moralistic and very eager to eradicate immorality.
Despite the fact that adultery is forbidden (in fact this belief is an interfaith dictum), there is one important teaching — aside from the aspect of fiqh — which is the mystical aspect or sufim, to not hate prostitutes.
Why? Because first, those who truly believe that the authority to accept charity is in God alone cannot determine whether their pious charity is accepted by God.
Second, the true believers cannot ensure their behavior in the future. Who knows, though hopefully not, the people who curse the sinner will be tested or even fall into the same sin. The Hindus call it karma.
Muslims could take several messages implicit in the sayings of the Prophet. Told in an authentic hadith (the sayings or customs of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions), there was a prostitute who went to heaven because of the sincerity of her heart to give a dog a drink, while she died of thirst.
Conversely, it is also told in another authentic hadith narrated by Bukhari there is a woman who goes to hell for confining a cat and letting it starve.
That hadith, besides giving a moral message about a sinner who still has a chance to be forgiven (and indeed God is al-Ghafur, the Oft-Forgiving), leaves an interesting symbol.
The prostitute and dog are equally often perceived, either in the world of humans or animals, as despicable. Prostitutes and dogs in many cultures have become the objects of cursing.But the dog became an intermediary for the prostitute to reach heaven.
Such stories about sinners and the pious vary in the Sufism tradition. It is said, for example, in Hilyah al-Awliya that Umar ibn al-Khatthab, a disciple of the Prophet, had his charity accepted by God because of the sparrows that he rescued from the children of Medina. Also told is the story of a rahib (monk), Barsisha, whose years of ascetic life and worship are turned down by God after being seduced by a woman.
Even that in the light of public interest (both religious and human rights arguments) prostitution in Dolly should be closed, the stories above cannot be separated from the feelings of those who truly believe in God.
~ published in the Jakarta Post, 29/06/2014