Sunday, November 22, 2009

Muhammadiyah intellectuals need meaningful dialog

The Jakarta Post, 20 July 2005

Hilman Latief, Jakarta

The emergence of the Muhammadiyah Young Intellectual Network (JIMM) generated a heated debate among Muhammadiyah members before, during and after the recent Muhammadiyah congress in Malang. A number of congress participants accused JIMM of deviating from the spirit of Islam and of being involved in liberal movements that allegedly originate from "non-Islamic views".

This is not too surprising, because since two years ago the tension between the "left camp" (liberal) and the "right camp" (conservative) of has become more and more serious. This tension also has been generated by the fact that dialog as a suitable medium to reconcile such religious differences has often been neglected.

On the one hand, JIMM and other progressive Muhammadiyah members have attempted to find "a new model" of Muhammadiyah by adopting and appreciating new courses concerning civil society, civil pluralism, liberal hermeneutics and conflict resolution. On the other hand, the majority of Muhammadiyah members have striven to keep Muhammadiyah in the "old pattern".
The questions are: how far have Muhammadiyah and JIMM tried to understand each other? How many forums have so far been offered by Muhammadiyah to let JIMM speak up? Metaphorically and factually, JIMM is Muhammadiyah's own child.

It comprises young Muhammadiyah activists, for the most part university students, who are aware of the need for a new style of Muhammadiyah movement in terms of Indonesia's pluralistic society.

In October 2003, along with other activists, I was invited by JIMM to present a paper and share my opinions concerning hermeneutics, one of the topics discussed at the first JIMM forum in Bogor.

During our gathering, we talked about multiculturalism, civil society, social analysis, new social movements, social research, globalization and anti-globalization, hegemony and anti-hegemony, poverty, feminism, empowerment, etc.

These topics are very common among NGOs. By dealing with such topics in the forum, it seems the young members of Muhammadiyah, who call themselves intellectuals, was trying to focus their involvement in Muhammadiyah.

However, the efforts and expectations of these young people to be involved in Muhammadiyah have been perceived in the opposite way by their "parents". Interestingly, the Muhammadiyah members who do not agree with the existence of JIMM fail "to catch the mustard". They are simply concerned with the "intrinsic religious ideas" raised by JIMM such as hermeneutics or religious pluralism, but do not grasp the main idea JIMM is dealing with: a new social movement.

If it is true that Muhammadiyah senior members care about their organization and young generation -- who will become their successors -- they must guide them, not by accusing the youths of deviating from Islam or from Muhammadiyah's mission, but by offering forums for dialog with the intention of reconciling the idealism of JIMM and Muhammadiyah.

It is disappointing to see how some prominent Muhammadiyah members have accused JIMM activists of being "secular-liberal", while at the same time the young activists have called the older members "fundamentalist-Taliban".

It is necessary for JIMM and Muhammadiyah to realize how unfavorable this situation is. JIMM members have the kind of potential Muhammadiyah must preserve. Muhammadiyah activists have sincerely devoted themselves to the organization.

Indeed, the intrinsic religious issues embraced by JIMM, to some degree, intersect with the ideas held by the Liberal Islam Network (JIL) from Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). Many Muhammadiyah members and activists from other Muslim organizations who are supposedly anti-liberal Islam seem to put JIL and JIMM in the same mold. They concentrate more on the term "liberal" rather then the core ideas of JIMM. Therefore, it is not surprising that many Muhammadiyah activists, along with other conservative Muslims, are accusing JIMM of being secular-liberal and Western agents.

As a new entity within Muhammadiyah, JIMM is still in the process of maturing. Muhammadiyah members cannot expect instant results from JIMM's intellectual exercises.
But we also have to be aware that many organizations that have the same ideology as Muhammadiyah, which is the ideology of Puritanism, have come rapidly into existence. That means there is a lot of empty space in society left by Muhammadiyah that is going to be filled by such organizations.

Moreover, we must also realize that Muhammadiyah cannot solve and will not be able to handle all problems faced by the nation without involving other entities. Therefore, the ideology of openness and progressiveness, as introduced by Ahmad Dahlan and other founding fathers of Muhammadiyah, should be re-articulated.

Nevertheless, some important messages also must be addressed to JIMM members. Without reducing their idealism, the current negative response from Muhammadiyah must be seen as a critique indicating that JIMM needs to discover a new strategy in articulating its idealism.
The intellectual discourse within JIMM must be ready to be transformed to the level of action. The progressiveness of JIMM activists, if they really want to be called progressive, must also be proved with concrete actions.

Above all, formal or informal support from Muhammadiyah is still needed by these young people. Therefore, in order to fill the gap between JIMM and Muhammadiyah, a sincere and frank dialog must immediately be organized.

The writer is a lecturer at the School of Islamic Studies at Muhammadiyah University in Yogyakarta. He is an alumnus of the Pesantren Muhammadiyah, Darul Arqam, Garut. Currently, he is pursuing an advanced degree at Western Michigan University. He can be reached at

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