Thursday, November 26, 2009

Muhammadiyah braces for second wave of reform after 100 years

The Jakarta Post, Thu, 11/26/2009 1:28 PM | Headlines

In conjunction with the centennial celebration of Muhammadiyah, The Jakarta Post's Sri Wahyuni spoke with chairman Din Syamsuddin on Wednesday about various issues related to one of Indonesia's largest Islamic organizations. The following is an excerpt from that interview.

Question: How do you see the significance of the centennial for Muhammadiyah?

Answer: Being 100 years old for an organization like Muhammadiyah is indeed very meaningful because age has shown a cycle of changes. Entering the second century of its existence, therefore, offers momentum for the organization in the future, to look back but step forward.

What challenges do you see ahead?

One of the biggest internal challenges could be the saturation caused by our 100-year existence. As the 100 years were used to develop initial thoughts, stagnancy could emerge at both the levels of thought and action.

Unless self-adjustment to external global change occurs successfully, the internal wheel of the organization could become stagnant. Thank God, Muhammadiyah does not experience this kind of stagnancy very seriously.

What self-adjustment does Muhammadiyah need now?

Self-adjustment is something that must happen in Muhammadiyah because continuity and change are the basic characters of the organization. Self-adjustment must be conducted by holding onto our fundamental values, while at the same time considering the demand for a paradigm change, which in turn will also cause a change in strategy and approach.

Of course this is not an easy task, especially with regard to the huge development that Muhammadiyah has made, making it big and less flexible. There was criticism in the 1980s that Muhammadiyah was like a big elephant, which could not move very easily and was less responsive, despite globalization. Again, thank God, the condition is not that critical, but we admit that such a phenomenon is happening in the organization.

The self-adjustment we need now is how to anticipate these speeding dynamics so they will not negatively impact on our achievements over the last 100 years. As such, the self-adjustment will take the form of a demand for revitalization.

In this case we don't need new extreme breakthroughs, but more focus on how to revive the old vitality that has been there since our establishment. Then when the organization is considered ready, we need breakthroughs to direct the trends to make them go according to plan.

Muhammadiyah was formed with the spirit of reform. We call it the first wave of tajdid (reform movement). Now we have to start the second wave of tajdid, which actually needed to start 15 to 20 years ago. But we have just started it now and we will need some 15 to 20 years to make Muhammadiyah really ready for the second wave of tajdid.

What kind of breakthroughs do you need?

We have to think about it collectively especially because Muhammadiyah also requires collective work. Unless there is a change in the leadership structure in the organization, these breakthrough have to be decided collectively.

Actually if we want it to happen quickly, we could restore the leadership to a central figure, like during the time of Ahmad Dahlan, the founding father. The figure is given the mandate and authority to lead and make decisions. Collective leadership is good, but also bad in terms of slowing the decision-making process.

My point is that we need a breakthrough. Like in the first wave, Muhammadiyah has to come up with pioneering and alternative ideas, has to have the courage to go against the stream and perform differently from the negative stream that it wants to reform, then come up with problem solving action and have the courage to take risks.

The problem is, when these ideas are discussed collectively they can be weakened and may require some compromises. The implementation, similarly, will not be as easy as during the old days, during the Ahmad Dahlan era.

In the second wave, what we need is the creation of action programs with the same basic values and ethos. Only the output will be different.

For example, when we reread the Al Ma'un verses from the Koran, what we come up with today may not be orphanages like in the old days, but maybe a comprehensive social security system or social safety net.

We expect the upcoming congress will come up with a so-called reflective, yet prospective and centennial manifesto that we will use as the key focus for our future.

What role has Muhammadiyah been playing at the international level?

Muhammadiyah indeed is not just a national, but also a international phenomenon, as shown by the special branches we have in 18 countries. We also have organizations using the same name, "ism" and symbol in the four neighboring countries of Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia, although structurally they have no relations to Muhammadiyah.

Over the last few years, Muhammadiyah has also gone global through involvements in a number of international forums including the world peace forum and the UN decade for inter-religious and interfaith dialogue, whose resolution draft is to be finalized next month and will be declared in Melbourne, Australia. Muhammadiyah was also asked to be a member of the International Consultative Group (ICG) between the Morro Islamic Liberalization Front (MILF) and the Philippine government.

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