The Jakarta Post | Tue, 07/06/2010 3:52 PM | Opinion
Early in the morning, precisely after Ghana was defeated by Uruguay in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal, I switched the channel to French TV5. It was reporting how superstition is causing murders in Tanzania, especially in the rural part of the state. The victims are women, particularly ones accused as witches by the “witch-doctors” who weirdly are always men.
The story then reminded me of what Ahmad Dahlan (1868-1923) and his colleagues found in their time establishing Muhammadiyah as an Islamic social organization in Indonesian in 1912. They struggled to eradicate superstition, myths and heresy in the society — three diseases that kept Muslims from progressing toward a civilized-society and from gaining independence in the colonial era.
In most of Tanzania’s rural part, based on the above report, where patriarchy is absolute and women have no legacy rights, the male witch-doctors easily decided this and women should be killed with machetes or other mind-torturing tools for they have been suspected to cause bad fates for certain people. But peculiarly, the crazy “doctors” will tell the “candidates” they will be slaughtered after they get paid with an amount of which could be an eight-month income for a villager!
Muhammadiyah, up to present Indonesia, keeps fighting illiteracy, not only related to comprehending literal symbols but more on how to make people able to logically, rationally and empirically think before they make a decision. It is convinced that Indonesian society would not achieve happiness in both worlds (this world and hereafter) if it doesn’t have knowledge and science of any kind.
And that’s why in every corner of the country we’ll see a Muhammadiyah school, whatever its
However, these days, we see the possibilities that what is going on in Tanzania, and what was faced by the founding fathers of Muhammadiyah in their time, are and might be occurring in Indonesia. There is an idiocy that religious understanding on many things is based on “illiteracy” on how to achieve a sound-mind and portrait empathy.
In Tanzania, poverty, tradition and, unmistakably, religion, have caused and maintained social diseases.
The notions on “witchcraft” can be taken as a scapegoat, a resource to make a living, or even a medium to realize political purposes. The coming of religions, especially Islam and Christianity, is in fact strengthening the tradition. Beside the old mantras in their native language, for example, the witchcraft’s resource has then been enriched by the presence of new religious texts. A witch-doctor will use certain quotes as talisman from the Koran for Muslim patients and some excerpts from the Bible for Christians.
Here, therefore, religious teachings failed to enlighten the people since they otherwise tend to facilitate the existence of senseless traditions.
In Indonesia, Muhammadiyah with its historic educational and social activities should be back to the enlightenment mission. It’s ridiculous if one of the biggest Muslim organizations is then trapped to deal with things such as how a woman should dress or whether smoking is prohibited or allowed derived from Islamic doctrines.
There are several NGOs taking part in changing the false belief of the country Tanzanians on witchcraft despite the failure rate. And here, in Indonesia, Muhammadiyah should be coming up to counter the illogical movements from individuals or Muslim mass organizations such as the ones done by the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) or Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI).
What these groups are doing mostly reflect Islamic and social illiteracy in its broader meanings. Many of their political arguments, for example, are based on myths, prejudices and misunderstandings. And very unfortunately, what they are proposing seems to make sense to many Muslims.
Let me tell a story. On one occasion, I asked a Muslim radical I met a question about how he makes
a living since he appeared jobless but was able to provide his family needs. Confidently, proudly, he replied, “Allah bestows us with everything we need. If we do a jihad in His path, He will ease us with unpredictable miracles.”
What does this mean? It’s not quite different from the way a witch-doctor makes a living in Tanzania. He receives the money from a patient after he thinks he has done “something” and he then closes his eyes. The knowledge about where and how the money was made is not important. What is already in the hands is thought to be what he deserves. He does not care whether his patient may starve to death afterward for having no more money to buy food.
It’s not an easy thing to do by Muhammadiyah for sure. Things are sophisticatedly concatenated nowadays. A ghost, with the help of a TV station, can be arrested in a bottle and it affects the people’s understanding of a religion strongly. The ghost hunters use religious symbols and talismans. A corrupt official can do quick money laundry with the help of a religious figure through building a foundation with several socially acceptable activities and a great mosque. It is believed then that the sins are already forgiven and new corruption occurs with such legitimacy.
If Muhammadiyah really wants to do something for the Muslims, therefore, they have to return to their mission of eradicating the obstacles of developing a civilized and independent community. In this sense, its religiosity should be able to facilitate the enlightenment of the people instead of imprisoning them in renewed narrow-mindedness in understanding a religion.
Muhammadiyah should build and run new hospitals to defeat the image of destructive Islam represented by the suicide-bombers. Muhammadiyah should establish thousands more schools and universities to help the needy amid the ban of women to have equality propagated by hard-liners.
The writer is a teacher at Lazuardi-GIS Jakarta and was nurtured in a Muhammadiyah culture.