Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Muhammadiyah at the turn of its second century

Bachtiar Effendy , Jakarta | The Jakarta Post, Tue, 12/01/2009 1:25 PM | Headlines

One of the most striking features of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's second Cabinet is the absence of representatives from Indonesia's socio-religious organizations, such as Muhammadiyah and Nah-dlatul Ulama (NU). Even though rumors have spread that ethnic and regional representatives would be taken into account by the President in selecting his Cabinet ministers, none originated from these two organizations.

In the past, the general perception had been that the President should seriously consider accommodating appropriate figures from either Muhammadiyah or NU in their Cabinet. Tolchah Hassan, Said Agil Munawar, Maftuh Basyuni, Yahya Muhaimin, Malik Fajar, Bambang Sudibyo and Siti Fadilah Supari are regarded as representatives of these two organizations in post-Soeharto Cabinets.

The fact that nobody from Muhammadiyah or NU was included in the Cabinet has somehow startled many members of these two organizations. Some of them are even saddened by this very fact - and perhaps blame their respective leaders for not investing in Yudhoyono's political camp. That way, so the argument goes, Yudhoyono would have been obliged to accommodate Muhammadiyah and NU.

There is nothing wrong with such a way of thinking. It nonetheless reflects the common failure or inability of Muhammadiyah members in particular to understand the nature and history of the organization. Obviously Muhammadiyah - and NU for that matter - is much older than the Republic of Indonesia, which only proclaimed its independence in 1945.

Founded in Yogyakarta in 1912, or 1330 in the Islamic calendar, with Ahmad Dahlan as its primary architect, Muhammadiyah emphasizes socioeconomic and religious activities. Its main concern has been to improve the people's welfare - socially, culturally and economically. This was basically done by developing educational, healthcare and microeconomic institutions, as well as orphanages.

As it enters its second century, Muhammadiyah now runs 2,899 elementary schools, 1,706 junior high schools, 931 senior high schools, 467 universities and colleges, 71 hospitals, 300 orphanages and many others.

Other than that, Muhammadiyah has for so long contributed not only to the development of the country's well-being, but also mobilized its resources to get rid of the colonial forces.

Given this perspective, it is within the cultural tradition of Muhammadiyah to give what this organization can to the country, and not the other way around. Thus it is incumbent upon all Muhammadiyah members not to expect something in return from the Republic.

The fact that this present government has not accommodated Muhammadiyah in its Cabinet is not something of great concern. Muhammadiyah never expected something in return for what it offered, and will keep giving to society and the country.

This culture of a helping hand will not change when Muhammadiyah enters its second century. But the circumstances this organization is facing are changing. Indonesia in 2009 and beyond is definitely different from the archipelago in the 1920s. Because of that, Muhammadiyah needs to adjust itself, adapt to the existing situation, and adopt the necessary elements of this changing state.

The fact that Muhammadiyah's core business has to be maintained is something that does not need to be discussed. The more immediate concern that must be addressed is what Muhammadiyah will do in this globalized world where democracy, human rights and market capitalism are the necessary ingredients for our day-to-day dealings with reality. What will this organization do to meet the challenge that "the rest", as Fareed Zakaria has suggested, "is on the rise", that the emergence of the BRIC countries does not obviously include Indonesia?

Hoping that the state must pander to Muhammadiyah is clearly not an intelligent option. Perhaps what this organization should do is to rethink its socio-religious genesis and evaluate whether such an origin has any value on the general situation of Muhammadiyah's second century.

Unless this organization is willing to do so, it faces the potential of becoming an obsolete institution with no significant meaning for either society or the country at large.

The writer is dean of the School of Social and Political Sciences, UIN Jakarta.

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