The Jakarta Post | Sat, 07/03/2010 8:10 PM |
Muhammadiyah is convening for a six-day centennial conference in Yogyakarta to elect its leader for the next five-year period and outline a vision to begin its second century in the predominantly Muslim nation. The Jakarta Post's Sri Wahyuni presented reports on what has been and should be done by the country's biggest modernist organization.
Muhammadiyah is kicking off its centennial leadership congress in Yogyakarta this Saturday. It is a very special conference for Indonesia's largest modernist Muslim organization as it signifies 100 years of its existence in the country.
The six-day congress is also significant because the forum is mandated to prepare a set of progressive ideals that would guide the organization through its next 100 years.
Concerns, however, are circulating that the congress could be dominated by political maneuvering in the election of the next chairman, and intervention by political groups intent on securing seats on the body's board of executives.
Another concern is related to the strengthening dichotomy of beliefs among elite members of the organization involving progressive conservatives and liberal-radical thinkers. This dichotomy also received attention during the organization's congress in Malang, East Java, in 2005.
It is feared this dichotomy could lead to an internal conflict in which rival groups of different schools of thought could mutually block each other's efforts to achieve their respective goals.
However, high hopes remain that the centennial congress will be able to embrace the aspirations of all elements within the organization.
"I'm sure this still can be discussed within our organization," Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin said.
Moderate leaders of Muhammadiyah, including Din and Ahmad Syafii Maarif, said diversity was "typical" in a 30 million-strong organization.
"Don't be so quick to judge young activists as secular just because they have different ideas regarding democracy, pluralism and human rights," said Syafii, a former Muhammadiyah chairman.
Muhammadiyah has been dubbed a major modernist mass Muslim organization, but is considered to be less progressive compared to Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country's largest Muslim organization.
In Muhammadiyah, achievements and successes are principally judged by material and economic benefits, while movements to create or produce Islamic thinkers lack focus, despite that the organization runs hundreds of schools and universities in the country.
Most Indonesian progressive Islamic thinkers are produced by Islamic boarding schools (pesantren), most of which have ties with NU.
Rather than producing new Islamic thinkers, Muhammadiyah has focused on the paradigm of amar ma'ruf, nahi munkar (do good deeds and abandon bad ones) as well as promoting the prosperity of its followers through the establishment of hospitals, orphanages, cooperatives, schools and universities.
This has came at the expense of teaching Islamic traditions and Arabic, both essential for ulama (Islamic scholars) and kyai (Islamic teachers), according to progressive Muslim scholar Dawam Raharjo.
This issue should be prioritized in discussions during the conference, he said.
Some have said the congress will also have to deal with attempts by Middle East-based transnational movements that campaign for Islamic purification, conservatism and extremism in Indonesia to infiltrate the organization.
There has been a growing tendency among a minority group within Muhammadiyah toward salafism, or a movement to purify Islam by returning to older interpretations of the Koran and Sunnah.
"There is an inclination toward the legalization of sharia and transnational Islamic movements among some Muhammadiyah members that need to be blocked," Muslim scholar Azyumardi Azra said.
Established as an amar makruf nahi munkar preaching movement, Muhammadiyah has grown into a major organization with more than 8,000 branches in sub districts in the country. It has also expanded abroad with a number of special branches established in other countries.
Muhammadiyah was established by Ahmad Dahlan in Yogyakarta on Dzulhijjah 8, 1330 according to the Islamic calendar, or Nov. 18, 1912. It celebrated its centennial anniversary on Nov. 25, 2009, or Dzulhijjah 8, 1430. This is why the current 2010 congress is being touted as the organization's centennial congress.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is on a haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, is scheduled to officially open the congress via video conference from Medina.
Participants of the 3rd World Peace Forum, which Muhammadiyah co-organized in Yogyakarta, will also attend the opening ceremony, which will feature an ambitious dance and orchestral performance created by choreographer Didik Nini Thowok and composer Dwiki Dharmawan.
The congress organizing committee claims that the opening ceremony will be attended by some 600,000 followers of Muhammadiyah. The organization has set up 70 giant screens throughout the city in preparation.
"Praise be to God, preparations have been carried out well," Din Syamsuddin told The Jakarta Post.
One of the main agendas of the congress is the election of Muhammadiyah's next leader for the next five-year period. As the incumbent chairman, Din is among the strongest candidates to retain his top post in the organization.
Muhammadiyah has a unique and complicated way of electing its leaders. The process comprises a series of steps and procedures that do not directly elect the chairman.
Candidates are proposed during Muhammadiyah's tanwir meeting, the second-highest decision-making forum after the conference.
Unique to Muhammadiyah is its so-called collective collegiate leadership system, which makes the most crucial decisions affecting the organization.
Under the system, no single official decision is made without the approval of the 13 members of the organization's central board of executives. This also applies to the provincial, regency/municipal and subdistrict branches.
Leaders of the organization tend to avoid voting in decision-making. They instead prefer to rely on musyawarah (deliberations) to arrive at decisions.
This system sometimes requires multiple meetings be held to make a decision, even for small matters. In the 1980s, critics likened Muhammadiyah to a "big elephant", saying it was unresponsive to modern concerns.
"I think this is an advantage and disadvantage at the same time that has made Muhammadiyah survive the times," said South Korean Hyung-Jun Kim, who has been observing Muhammadiyah since 2004 and is currently on a sabbatical leave to conduct a research on the organization.