, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Tue, 12/21/2004 8:28 AM | Opinion
Imam Cahyono, Jakarta
Following on Nahdlatul Ulama's (NU) 31st congress (Muktamar) in Boyolali, Central Java, Muhammadiyah will hold their 45th congress in Malang, East Java, on July 2005. Although they are quite different Islamic organizations, many of the crucial problems facing them are similar. In their respective congresses, these two giant Indonesian Muslim organizations can not absent themselves from discussion in relation to practical politics.
In fact, both NU and Muhammadiyah are not political organizations or parties, but separating them from politics is quite impossible. This happens because they are truly owned by the masses. Politics was, of course, very much part of the Boyolali congress. Besides debate about leadership, the Boyolali congress was also filled with discussion about the relationship between NU and the National Awakening Party (PKB). In the same manner, the next Muhammadiyah congress will also engage in dialogue over its relationship with the National Mandate Party (PAN) and ideas about a new alternative party.
It is important to note that one of the important results of the Boyolali congress was the decision to distance NU from ""practical politics"". Hasyim Muzadi, newly re-elected General Chairman of the NU Executive Board (PBNU), has had to sign a contract pledging that he will not involve NU in political activities. After signing the contract, he promised that he would not take an interest in legislative or executive government positions.
This means that NU will be run according to its Guiding Principles (Khittah) of 1926 that were written when the organization was founded. The organization will go back to being an exclusively religious body. With its 40 million followers, NU will mostly act as a social and religious organization. Actually, this very same policy was agreed to at NU's congress held in Situbondo in 1984, but it was not implemented consistently.
The collapse of the Soeharto-led New Order (Orde Baru) in 1998 caused Indonesia to enter -- as one scholar called it -- an era of political liberation and euphoria. The reformation era (reformasi) was used by Muhammadiyah for the first time to build a political party, PAN.
The fall of the Soeharto regime caused NU to change direction. The policy of staying out of politics as outlined in the Guiding Principles of 1926 was adjusted. Abdurrahman Wahid, better known as Gus Dur, and a number of elite Kiai (Islamic scholar) and NU politicians founded the PKB. Politics became a new field which captured the interest of many NU followers.
Under Gus Dur's leadership, NU tended to get dragged into politics. Hasyim Muzadi also took the organization in the direction of practical politics, accepting a nomination in the last general election to run as the vice presidential running mate of Megawati Soekarnoputri, leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
So, will he honor the contract? Taking a look at the long history of this organization, which was founded by Hasyim Asy'ari, anything could happen. The promises spelled out in the contract could quite easily be broken.
On the other hand, sections of Muhammadiyah have put forward the idea of establishing a new political party. The national meeting (Tanwir) III of Muhammadiyah was held in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, on Dec. 2-5, and recommended bringing this idea to Muhammadiyah's congress next year.
According to its supporters, there are many reasons to build an alternative party. First, there is no positive mutual relationship between Muhammadiyah and PAN. Second, the desire of Amien Rais to take a rest from his top position as Chairman of PAN means that Muhammadiyah cadre are no longer represented in this party. Muhammadiyah is disappointed because PAN is now dominated by non-Muhammadiyah cadres who have no roots in their organization. Hence, PAN no longer has an emotional attachment to Muhammadiyah. Third, PAN cannot claim a mandate from its supporters as a political channel of Muhammadiyah masses. In other words, PAN cannot accommodate people's aspirations. Certainly, PAN is not Muhammadiyah's party, but history has shown that the largest of constituent base of this party were Muhammadiyah masses.
The relationship between NU and Muhammadiyah with practical politics is important and needs to be criticized. Following the political liberation era, both NU and Muhammadiyah have been exploited as objects of manipulation and politicization for short-term political interests. These social-religious organizations have been used by elites to obtain political power. Of course, it is dangerous to democratic agendas.
NU and Muhammadiyah, as vital pillars of Indonesian civil society, must make a political disengagement that distances them from practical politics. It does not mean that they ignore politics. But it must be understood that these organizations should not get involved in -- and must keep their distance from -- day to day politics.
Thus, it is high time that NU makes a definitive return to its Guiding Principles of 1926. NU should not be tied to any particular political party. NU must keep an equal distance from all parties. It is time for the new chairman to run NU without getting involved in politics.
Also, it is time for Muhammadiyah to get back its true purpose as an organization. The fundamental character of Muhammadiyah since 1912, when it was founded by Ahmad Dahlan, is as a religious and social movement. Its main concerns and targets have been community development. From the era of Dutch colonialism to the period of national independence consisting of three subsequent regimes, namely the Old Order (Orde Lama), the New Order (Orde Baru) and the Order of Reformation (Reformasi), Muhammadiyah has firmly maintained the original vision of the organization and has consistently pursued this basic concern.
If Muhammadiyah wants to operate consistently as a religious and social movement, then it must not take the political path by establishing a political party. It could happen that its important social activities would be depreciated. Besides, politics gives rise to conflicts and short-term political interests.
In short, both NU and Muhammadiyah must return to being purely religious and social movements, promoting national integration, and providing tolerant, open-minded, pluralistic and moderate Islamic teachings. NU and Muhammadiyah, as Islamic NGOs, and as important elements of Indonesian civil society, must continue to make consistent efforts to embed the values of civil society and civic virtues by concentrating on the social and cultural aspects of politics rather than on the dimension of power politics. The Indonesian public requires their role in the dynamic processes of democratization and the empowerment of people in this country. So, NU and Muhammadiyah must be put back on track as religious and social organizations, not as Trojan horses for power elites.
The writer is a researcher at Al Maun Foundation, an activist of the Muhammadiyah Scholars Network (JIMM), and also lecturer at the Faculty of Da'wa and Communication, Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Jakarta. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.