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What can we hope from Muhammadiyah?
The Jakarta Post | Wed, 07/21/2010 4:49 PM | Opinion
Muhammadiyah has just finished its national congress and Prof. Din Syamsuddin has been reelected to chair the organization for the first five years of its second century.
Some have commented that the result was expected, which means there were no surprises in this historic moment.
Since it developed from modernist-reformist interpretations of Islam, Muhammadiyah has had much success in programs dedicated to educating and improving the welfare of people in this country.
More recently it has also served to provide moral support in Indonesia’s fight against corruption, and has acted as an umbrella for other civil society organizations to monitor state policies.
What is likely to happen, then, given that Muhammadiyah has become overloaded with the expectations, hopes, wishes and beliefs put on the shoulders of every leader and member of this organization.
It is thus a bit unfair to put pressure on Muhammadiyah, particularly its newly elected leaders, when most parts of this country are running in different directions.
There are many questions as to whether Muhammadiyah can change in a positive direction to become more active in working either to serve society as a whole or to act as a sparring partner for government.
If we look back at the establishment of Muhammadiyah, during the Dutch and Japanese colonial periods, it was likely an accommodative and pragmatic organization that tendentiously did cooperate with the rulers in order to survive and achieve its main aims.
This organizational style had continued when it dealt with the repressive Soeharto regime of the mid 1980s.
The eventual decision to accept Pancasila as the sole ideology of Indonesia was clearly made to keep the organization alive.
While some Muhammadiyah leaders seem very critical of government policies, the organization as a whole will follow them.
Thousands of schools, and hundreds of hospitals and orphanages all need a lot of funding that is expected to come from government, which means Muhammadiyah cannot act independently as a civil society organization.
The programmatic success shown by Muhammadiyah over the past few decades can be interpreted as a result of lucrative pseudo-political lobbying carried out by its leaders to gain more funding and support from government.
However, as was seen in the 2004 and 2009 general elections, Mu-hammadiyah’s political role has declined after the remarkable contributions it made during the reformation era.
It seems it is out of favor with the current regime, as was seen in decisions to give traditional government positions, including that of the education minister, to the figures outside Muhammadiyah.
In terms of keeping a distance from politics and being ready to articulate criticism of the government, Muhammadiyah’s new role seems to have been reluctantly embraced, but while some of its leaders and youths have begun to campaign independently there is a dependency of Muhammadiyah on the state.
Because of its size and internal and external complexities, what kinds of changes can we expect
from this Islamic reformist organization?
The institutionalization of Muhammadiyah from a modernist movement into a bureaucratic organization, which was somehow adopted from imitating state structures, has had a profound impact on its internal dynamics and flexibility to handle the current social problems.
The writer is Phd student in sociology at the University of Essex, and the secretary of the Muhammadiyah special branch in the UK.
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