Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Discussion with Abdul Mukti, Muhammadiyah

Abdul Mukti

Mukti Abdul Mu’ti is a senior lecturer at The State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN) Walisongo Semarang. Mu’ti obtained his Masters degree in Education from Flinders University of South Australia and Ph.D in islamic education from The State Islamic University Syarif Hidayatullah, Jakarta. His major research is education and religious pluralism. Apart from his position as a lecturer, Mu’ti also serves as executive director of Centre for Dialogue and Cooperation among Civilisations (CDCC), Jakarta.

As an academic, Mu’ti has participated in numerous national and international conferences. He presented his paper on islam, education, terrorism and other themes related to religious pluralism. Mu’ti contributed his articles in many books including Pendidikan dan Hak Azasi Manusia (2008), Muhammadiyah Progresif: Manifesto Pemikiran Kaum Muda Muhammadiyah (2007), Muhammadiyah dan Politik Islam Inklusif (2006), Paradigma Pendidikan Islam (2001), Pendidikan Islam, Demokratisasi dan Masyarakat Madani (1999), His book, Deformalisasi Islam, published in 2004. This year, 2009, Mu’ti published two books: Kristen Muhammadiyah: Konvergensi Muslim dan Kristen Dalam Pendidikan (June, 2009) and Inkulturasi Islam (September, 2009).

Mu’ti is an activist of Muhammadiyah, a modern islamic movement in Indonesia that firstly established in 1912. He firstly joined Muhammadiyah University Student Association in 1988. In 1998 Mu’ti elected as chairman of Muhammadiyah Youth, Central Java. From 2002-2006, Mu’ti serves as chairman of National Board Muhammadiyah Youth. Since 2005, Mu’ti has been appointed as secretary of Council of Primary and Secondary Education, Central Board Muhammadiyah. Besides his position in Muhammadiyah, Mu’ti also actively involves in Indonesian Muslim Intellectual Association (ICMI) and Religious Counter Terrorism Ministry of Religious Affairs (TPT) whereby he serves as vice secretary. At international level, Mu’ti is one of the members of Indonesia-United Kingdom Islamic Advisory Group (IUIAG) formed by the Indonesia and United Kingdom government. The advisory group that has been inaugurated since January 2007 is aimed at developing strong engagement among people of the two nations, promoting pluralism and peaceful Islam through programs on education, youth and religion.

Discussion with Abdul Mukti, Muhammadiya

November 30, 2009

Background note: This discussion took place as part of preparations for a consultation on faith and development in Southeast Asia, held in Phnom Penh Cambodia December 14-15 2009. The consultation was an endeavor of the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD), the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, with support from the Luce Foundation, and the University of Cambodia. Its aim was to take stock of the wide range of ongoing work by different organizations that are, in varying ways, inspired by religious faith, but more important, to explore the policy implications that emerge from their interactions with development organizations.

Abdul Mukti is Youth Director of Muhammadiyah (Indonesia) and a leader in education and youth programming. In this interview he outlines the history and current work of Muhammadiyah, its philosophy and approach, and the major agenda of issues that it sees for Indonesia, with a focus on education and youth.

What was your path to your present position, and how have you been inspired to do the work you are doing?

I have been doing social development work for a long time. I was chairman of Muhammadiyah Youth of Central Java from 1998 to 2002, and then I moved to Jakarta to become the national chairman of Muhammadiyah Youth, 2002-2008. I was extensively involved with social programming through Muhammadiyah Youth as well as cooperation with other organizations in Indonesia. I now hold the position of secretary of the education council for Muhammadiyah, and as well as secretary of the Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center (MDMC). I also recently joined the Indonesian Humanitarian Forum. Through the forum, Muhammadiyah and other organizations can share their experience and work together on humanitarian and social programs, also sharing their faiths. It is our belief that according to Islam, which is my religion, through social work we can contribute for the sake of humanity and for the benefit of people in general.

Although we have differences with people from other faiths, regardless of our differences on theological principles, we share universal humanitarian values. In addition, common ground found through work with youth enables us to unlock our differences. This is what we have done so far working in Indonesia with international agencies and other faith inspired agencies.

Can you give us a brief overview of Muhammadiyah and the work you do with them?

Muhammadiyah is an Islamic civil society movement established in 1912 In Yogyakarta. Muhammadiyah now is considered one of the largest Islamic movements in Indonesia. International communities classify Muhammadiyah as an Islamic modernist movement. We have international partnerships with many international organizations, and also with governments at the national and international level.

In my present position, I am working as a volunteer as Secretary for Council of Primary and Secondary Education. I manage primary and secondary education, and in total we manage more than 12, 000 schools with more than one million students. Related to education, Muhammadiyah also runs programs in social and health services for the Indonesian people. We have more than 500 health service programs, including hospitals, clinics, and orphanages.

I also work currently with the Muhammadiyah disaster management center. This is a relatively new institution within Muhammadiyah that provides assistance for any kind of disaster. This center has already been in operation for three or four years starting after the tsunami in Aceh. I am working as secretary of this institution to manage volunteers, medical doctors, and search and rescue, among other services. The center has a strong focus on children, providing them with education and awareness about natural disasters.

Can you speak more about your work in education with Muhammadiyah, especially given the size and reach of your school system?

Education programs in Muhammadiyah are self-funded. The education programs, both the beginning stages and the creativity behind its design and organization, began at the grass roots level. Our students pay a very minimum fee. As part of our education in Indonesia, Muhammadiyah has its own curriculum that combines both religious and national curriculum, and also what we call the institutional curriculum. It is a curriculum that is specifically taught within Muhammadiyah Schools throughout the nation. With the national curriculum, Muhammadiyah’s schools are exactly similar to other schools in Indonesia. For the religious subjects, although Muhammadiyah is an Islamic institution, schools are open to students of all faiths, not only Muslims. In the eastern part of Indonesia, where the majority of the population is Christian, schools are open for Christian students. In some of our schools, the majority of students is Christian and receives a Christian education taught by Christian teachers. The students are free to practice Christian worship in the schools. This indicates the commitment of Muhammadiyah towards tolerance and pluralism in Indonesia.

Is there a contradiction for Muhammadiyah, and Islamic organization to teach and allow Christian worship in your schools?

No. There is no significant contradiction or tension between Muhammadiyah and the rest of the society. This is because the subject of Christian religion taught in Muhammadiyah schools in the Christian majority areas is based on and created by the Christian education authority. It is designed by the Christian Education Authority, and is taught by Christians. It is actually based on the National Education System act. It is in no way contradictory with the basically theology of Muhammadiyah to be tolerant and inclusive.

How do you see Youth as being instrumental for the continued development of Indonesian society?

We consider Indonesia a young country, meaning that the majority of Indonesians are between 15 and 40 years old. The position of youth is very relevant, not only because of their big numbers, but also because of their position as the future of the nation. The government is active in empowering the role of youth to respond to global challenges, and Muhammadiyah is very concerned with the education of Youth. Unless youth in Indonesia receive a good education to develop their potential, there will be growing problems facing today’s youth. A new institution at the national level has been created to identify the concerns facing Youth, and help to see that they are empowered moving forwards into the future.

How do you deal with the issue of corruption?

Corruption remains a serious problem in Indonesia. Despite the commitment to eradicate corruption, it is still very prevalent. We can see corruption not only in the government, but also in civil society and within Muhammadiyah itself. Muhammadiyah is working on government reform to develop a moral movement for anti-corruption. This is a theological construction and moral movement based on education that aims to increase awareness about the danger of corruption for the future of the nation. Until now, Muhammadiyah has been one of the most active organizations that coordinates civil society to join hands and has developed its own methodology to be a model for clean governance. Muhammadiyah also invites other institutions to develop similar systems to combat corruption and promote good governance.

How does Muhammadiyah see the challenges with gender in Indonesia?

Historically, Muhammadiyah has been one of the Islamic organizations that put gender issues in its movements, and we have given education to women since 1912. We also set up a special organization, named Aisyiah as the women’s wing of Muhammadiyah. Muhammadiyah, together with Aisyiah and other women organizations work very extensively for four major areas in relation to gender:

1) Domestic violence towards women
2) Mothers’ mortality during delivery
3) Women trafficking
4) Improving the status and representation of women in society and parliament.

A lot of work has been done in Indonesia on decentralization. How does Muhammadiyah operate in this context?

Decentralization is really a revolutionary government system in Indonesia that has changed many aspects of leadership. Muhammadiyah already is a bottom up organization however, so there are not many challenges with relation to decentralization for the organization. Of course, decentralization has had an impact on the integrity of the nation, and also the welcoming of political identity, especially local identity. It has brought about local sentiment on the basis of religion, and Muhammadiyah understands this as we examine the impact of decentralization. Muhammadiyah accepts the importance of developing and maintaining pluralism, especially in relation to developing political identity.

Can you speak about Aceh, and Muhammadiyah’s view on the changes happening there, particularly the position of Sharia law??

I think for Muhammadiyah what is more important, is not the implementation of Sharia law in Aceh, but rather peace, coexistence, and greater prosperity for the Acehnese people in general. Muhammadiyah also of course respects the agreement between the central government and the Acehnese people on the implementation of Islamic law in Aceh. It is part of the solution for peaceful coexistence between central government and the Acehnese people. It is important that the Acehnese people maintain their traditions.

Are there any other organizations similar to Muhammadiyah in Indonesia or elsewhere?

There are some other Islamic organizations in Indonesia. The first I will mention is Nahdlatul Ulama. This organization was set up in 1926 and its members are primarily found at the grass roots level. This organization works for the empowerment of the poor. NU is also very active in education, especially in the area of Islamic boarding schools and Madrasas that are focused on religious education.

Are there differences in ideology (modernist vs. traditionalist) between Muhammadiyah and NU?

Originally many scholars categorized Muhammadiyah as modernist and NU as traditionalist. However, now the boundary between the modern and traditionalist has lessened and has almost closed. Even looking at our education, it is hard to differentiate. Traditional and modern now seems to have lost its relevance, especially after the development of education and the economy in Indonesia.

How has Muhammadiyah reacted to the economic crisis, and what are your views on microcredit?

The impact of the international economic crisis has not been very serious among Muhammadiyah members. Rather, it has had the most significant impact among the elite level of society; the group of people that run businesses with international connections. Muhammadiyah has limited international connections, and this was important in mitigating the effects of the crisis on the organization.

Apart from that, Muhammadiyah has developed a microeconomy and microcredit program, called Baitut Tamwil Muhammadiyah. This microeconomy has been one of the more influential economic movements among Muhammadiyah members. The program has been developed through a donation, and has been very successful at developing the prosperity and economy of the people it targets. The program adheres to the norms Islamic Finance.

What do you see at the role of religion and faith in the continued development of Indonesia?

I think Indonesia is a religious state, which has two meanings – 1) Set ideology, with explicit mentions to the importance of religion. The first pillar of the Pancasila states a belief in God, meaning religion is a source of inspiration and morality. 2) The people of Indonesia are very committed and devoted to practice their religion. They consider religion as an integral part of their lives. Religion, among Indonesians, has been a transcendent source of inspiration that has enabled them to work across boundaries and drives them to look after others. This is becoming the spirit, not only for rituals, but also for society, economy, cultural, politics, and all aspects of human life.

Does Muhammadiyah do any work internationally?

Yes – Muhammadiyah works with other organizations overseas. Now we have branches in about 18 different countries, including the USA. Having this network, Muhammadiyah already works well with international agencies from different countries. In relation to Southeast Asia, Muhammadiyah works with multicultural societies. For example, we have worked with the British council, USAID, AusAid, UNICEF, WHO, and other international agencies on humanitarian programs. For the promotion of peaceful coexistence in Southeast Asia, Muhammadiyah has been very active in working with the Thailand government to create peaceful coexistence in southern Thailand. We have also worked with the government of the Philippines to encourage peace in the southern part of their country. In addition, we have been important partners with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Indonesia dealing with the promotion interfaith dialogue. Muhammadiyah is a founder of regional interfaith dialogue, now in its 6th year of operation.

Faith is often a topic that is not on the official agenda of development organizations, yet it is a crucial factor that should be given ample consideration, especially in Asia. What, from your view, is missing on the development agenda with regards to faith, and what should be added?

In the Indonesian context, religion is important in inspiring people. In the future if we will consider development as part of the means to improve people’s prosperity, it is important to consider religion, especially how people understand religion themselves as part of development planning. Having a comprehensive understanding of religion seems to be very positive to support development programs and creating a better life for the people. That is part of our work as a religious organization. Helping others is part of religion. Integration of faith into life is important. People must work for the betterment of themselves and their surroundings in this life, and also do good looking towards the afterlife. These are important aspects to understand when looking at development policy.


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