The Jakarta Post | Sat, 07/03/2010 8:11 PM | Opinion
Muhammadiyah, which has an estimated 28 million members nationwide, will hold its 46th national congress from July 3-8. The congress participants, who are scheduled to talk to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono through a video conference from Medina on the opening day, are celebrating the organization's centenary.
The organization will discuss the daunting issues facing the organization, as well as elect a new chairman. However, it does not elect its chairman directly, but rather elects a 13-member executive board that then selects the chairman to a five-year term.
Muhammadiyah was founded in Islamic calender year Hijri year 1330, or Nov. 18, 1912 by Ahmad Dahlan in Yogyakarta as a socio-religious movement.
Compared to the country's other path-finding organizations such as Serikat Islam and Budi Utomo, Muhammadiyah remains in existence and acts together with other social movements in their attempts to develop Indonesia.
Muhammadiyah survives to this very day since it committed to doing things out of the box, undertaking historical experiments and breakthroughs regardless of place and time.
It appeared to emphasize reasoning skills while many Muslims were being trapped in myth and superstition. By the time Muslim organizations were exposed to social vulnerability, Muhammadiyah introduced a rational management system. As personality cults befell Muslims, Muhammadiyah emphasized the importance of tajdid (renewal).
Such a dynamic experience has the Muhammadiyah regarded as a movement based on modern principles. People will easily find hospitals, schools, universities and banks developed and maintained by Muhammadiyah at the moment anywhere.
The Muhammadiyah's centennial celebration, however, must not make its participants proud of its doings of the past or its current accomplishment. Muhammadiyah members and executives still have tons of works ahead regarding three major challenges.
First, regenerating the organization's leaders. Muhammadiyah's move has been especially recorded in the history of the country as Amien Rais, the chairman of Muhammadiyah from 1995-1998, brought forth the issue of the country's leader succession during the Soeharto regime.
The organization is seen by many as early laying of the ground for Indonesia's authoritarian leader transition.
Therefore, Amien Rais's decision to withdraw his candidacy from going for the party chairmanship election is highly appreciated. Amien's running for the top post not simply causes the organization's leader rejuvenation to come unstuck, but also indicates how he has broken his own struggle for the country's leader succession since the early 1990s.
In terms of leadership, the Muhammadiyah should break new ground as it provides the opportunity for young people to become its chairman and members of its executive boards. Despite the long road ahead, young executives have much energy leaping forward with productive insight and quickly learning from mistakes.
Unfortunately, seen from candidates on the ground, anyone wishing for the expectation might be on the verge of tears.
Old players such as Din Syamsuddin and Malik Fadjar decided to take part in the election of the chairman instead of paving the way for young and fresh candidates to grab the party chairmanship.
Such a trend risks preserving the status-quo or conservative elements in the organization. The generation gap, if it exists, is further likely to become even greater within the Muhammadiyah.
The upcoming congress might cope with the issue by creating a political breakthrough in the organization's chairmanship election, for instance, lowering the age limit of the candidates to less than 50.
Second, broadening intellectual bases. The congress is supposed to engineer any effort to give birth to new intellectual leaders from within the organization.
Yet, Muhammadiyah trades on the old intellectual figures, among others A. Syafii Maarif, Amin Abdullah, Abdul Munir Mulkhan, Moeslim Abdurrahman. The Muhammadiyah's young intellectuals are seen as not breaking cover and heading down the road.
The small number of the organization's young intellectuals is closely associated with its member development system accentuating activism-oriented and a normative approach rather than cerebral and studious tradition.
The former approach has greatly contributed to produce partisan leaders, who are prone to short-term political achievement rather than intellectual individuals with high acceptability and strong statesmanship.
In addition, partisan leaders definitely make the Muhammadiyah subject to political machinations.
Any efforts to revitalize the Muhammadiyah's intellectual power broke the ice following the emergence of Muhammadiyah Young Intellectual Network (JIMM), which is presided over by young intellectuals with Western-oriented thought.
JIMM needs to apply religious moderation as a panacea to the rise of radicalism and liberalism of Muhammadiyah members.
Rather than becoming engaged in the endless polemic with the organization's top figures, JIMM would be better off providing the space for dialogue and the sharing of ideas among Muhammadiyah members connected by a collective interest. Its failure to do so is believed to narrow its intellectual base within the Muhammadiyah since it only touches a small percent of its intended audiences and gains few members.
Third, restoring the spirit of entrepreneurship. The Muhammadiyah activists tend to be politicians rather than entrepreneurs figuring out Muslims' economic problems.
In 1916, the Muhammadiyah made up of 46 percent businessmen. But now, the the percentage almost reaches less than 3 percent.
It is really hard to seek Muhammadiyah's great businesspeople or millionaires at the moment, mostly found are small and medium-scaled businesspeople at best.
In fact, the organization has tons of resources, such as Baitul Tamwil Muhammadiyah. Unfortunately, it is considered as running at a far slower pace with less impact to the prosperity of organization members.
Modern management is central to the business survival. SuryaMart, a famous supermarket organized by the Muhammadiyah, proved to increase its members welfare by distributing products of the organization's entrepreneurs. Muslims' economic empowerment would be no problem as this sort of business network is widely scattered across the archipelago.
Consequently, the congress is necessary to initiate economic empowerment programs for the sake of setting up its economic independence and building strong political bargaining power.
The Muhammadiyah is one of Indonesian Muslims' most valuable asset. Its failure in implementing changes translates to Muslims' failure to survive in this ever-changing globalized world.
The writer is a lecturer at Andalas University, Padang. He graduated from the University of Canberra, Australia.