Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Muhammadiyah's Experience in Promoting Civil Society on the Eve of the 21st Century

M. Amin Abdullah

Abdullah, M Amin. 2001. "Muhammadiyah's Experience in Promoting Civil Society on the Eve of the 21st Century." In Mitsuo Nakamura, Sharon Siddique, and Omar Farouk Bajunid. Islam & civil society in Southeast Asia. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. pp. 43-54.

In reviewing approaches in the study of civil society, Robert Hefner has discerned two patterns:

Some studies on civil society emphasize one of these two sets of variables [structural and cultural] as opposed to another. ... [S]ome adopt a strongly culturalist approach as if problems of democracy and civility were primarily matters of getting cultural discourse right. By contrast, other studies emphasize structural and organizational variables, as if civility and democracy were the natural product of a certain kind of organization. [Emphasis added.]

This chapter argues that the Muhammadiyah, as an Islamic social-religious organization in Indonesia, cannot be aptly explained by this binary and dichotomous approach. The most critical point in understanding civility and democracy concerns not one, but both, of these variables --not in isolation, but as a "socio-genetic" or dialectical interaction, and even as something interwoven between both sides.

There are various definitions of civil society. The essence of civil society, as once defined by Robert Hefner, emphasizes "material prosperity,... tolerance of dissenting viewpoints, limits on state power, the freedom to express their views and choosing their own way of life". Meanwhile, Peter Berger emphasizes the notion of pluralism rather than secularism. It should be noted beforehand, that the concept of civil society surfaced and suddenly became popular around the 1980s, and was inspired and provoked by the decline of almost all socialist regimes in Eastern Europe. It is rather difficult, actually, to directly relate this concept of civil society with the Muhammadiyah's existence. It is my belief, however, that the concept of civil society is not limited to the late eighties and nineties. In the case of Indonesian Muslims, this awareness came in the early twentieth century. It was exemplified by the establishment of such non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as the Muhammadiyah in 1912, the Nahdlatul Ulama in 1926, and many others around the same time. It is obvious, however, that the social and cultural context in Indonesia then was totally different from that which existed in 1980s in Eastern Europe, or even from that of France in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when the idea of civil society first emerged. Without going into a comparison, I would like to delineate the Muhammadiyah's experience as a modern Islamic movement in Southeast Asia in promoting and implementing those civic virtues in Indonesian society.

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