Friday, August 31, 2012

Hilman Latief on Islamic Charities

By Karel A. Steenbrink, August 30, 2012

Today, 29 August 2012, we celebrated the doctoral examination of Hilman Latief in Utrecht. The cover of his dissertation shows PKO Muhammadiyah (Penolong Kesengsaraan Oemoem)  or charity organization of Muhammadiyah at a rice distribution, probably in the 1920s or 1930s.

This is a very rich dissertation: many facts, especially from the last 15 years, suggestions for various interpretations, personal observations. The book has a large number of organizations: Muhammadiyah, Nahdlatul Ulama, Persis, DDII as the older ones, but many recent developments. After the introductory and more general chapters, chapter 4 concentrates on health centres for poor people, many institutions while Muhammadiyah Hospitals and clinics still are the leading ones. Chapter 5 is on activists  defending women's rights. Chapter 6 is the result of fieldwork in Nias, where some muballigh or da'i from outside the island have settled and concentrate on activities in mosques and small prayer houses, instructing children how to pray. Chapter 7 is on the attention given by Indonesian Muslims to international affairs, like war in Afghanistan, occupation of Palestine. Chapter 8 has some general conclusions.

 One conclusion was challenged by Birgitte Meyer at the oral examination. On p. 312-3 it is stated that traditionally zakat is given from person to person. Nowadays even rich people donate some 5-10.000 Rupiah to poor people who line up by hundreds. When charity is given through organizations and not through individual benefactors directly it is neutral: not an imbalance between giver and receiver. 'It is within this context that charitable associations, in the form of collective action, can diminish this psychological dimension.'  This sentence is not absolutely clear, but it wants to explain that people will feel easier and free to apply here. This is what happened in the Dutch system when in the 1960s poor people received the right for government allowances. The same is, however, not the case with Muslim organizations. Latief even gave a nice example of Muslim charities that distributed rice to people, but women had to use the veil at the process of application. Some of these women immediately after receiving their share, took of the veil! Also here there is not true reciprocity between giver and receiver!

I concentrated on chapter 6 in my questions. The majority of people in Nias are Protestant, some 25% are Catholic and few are Muslim. This was the reason for sending Muslim missionaries to the island. It was not a competition between various organizations, but I had the idea that here the 'giver' took the decisions, not the Muslims of Nias themselves. A first preacher was some Qaimuddin , probably born about 1970 in Flores. In the 1980s he was in Bangil for the pesantren or Muslim school of PERSIS. He had a career as preacher in many places: 1. in Ampah (Central Kalimantan); 2. Raha (Sulawesi Tenggara), with a local foundation for one year; 3. with asistance of PERSIS he helped muallaf in Flores for 2 years and 3 years financed by a Quwaiti foundation. 4. Then he was in Buleleng, North Bali with a Muhammadiyah organization; 5. Again in Flores he was involved in politics and even received a seat in the local parliament for PBB, a Muslim party during the 1999 elections, but he did not take his seat, rather moved to 6. a freelance position in Jakarta and finally 7. to Nias for a proghramme of AAP, Al Azhar Peduli. (Latief 235-7)

These preachers only receive a low salary, stay often in a room attached to a local masjid. Their education is not fit for development work, because their education concentrates on Arabic and Quranic Studies. They like Islamic Banking, but another informant for Latief was a member of the Catholic Credit Union in Nias, because there was no money for things other than dakwah or direct preaching.  On page 252 the charity is defined as "Progress in this region means the ability to provide local people with wider access to education, particularly Islamic education." In fact often not much more than chanting the Qur'an.

Retrieved from:

Islamic Charities and Social Activism: Welfare, Dakwah and Politics in Indonesia


This study examines how the notions of benevolent acts, welfare issues and social justice are conceived by Indonesian Muslims, and investigates the multiplicity of roles played by Islamic charitable associations in carrying out social welfare activities both in rural or urban areas.

By relating three main issues (welfare, dakwah and politics), this study discusses whether charity activism can generate social mobility among low income households as the targeted beneficiaries, and whether Islamic charitable associations are able to promote collective social change instead of simply strengthening middle class networks or serving certain religious denominations. In particular, this dissertation also attempts to answer the following questions: How do Muslims conceive religious charity in the context of the interplay between the state, society and the market; and what sorts of social, religious, and political justifications lie behind their social, religious and political activism? How do Islamic charitable associations approach the perceived problems (welfare, religious, and political issues) among Indonesian societies; and to what extent are they able (or not able) to provide viable ‘social security’ to the poor as a means of realising the public good in a pluralistic society?

In order to engage with the above research questions, an empirical investigation through a series of fieldwork visits was conducted at various times between mid-2008 and early 2011 in such places as Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Banda Aceh, and Nias Island.

Since the 1980s, many Muslim countries, including Indonesia, have experienced an unprecedented development in civil society movements and increasing economic growth, changes which have affected the social and economic relations within society as a whole. The rise of an affluent Muslim middle class with a new spiritual and social awareness has been instrumental in shaping Islamic social and political activism in general, and has aided a proliferation of Islamic institutions, ranging from educational institutions to charitable associations. Moreover, after the fall of Soeharto, a range of Musim NGOs, including such charities as DD, RZI, DPU-DT, AAP, and BSMI (some of which were established in the 1990s) became more conspicuously present and expanded the range of their activities. Their expansion was supported by a general turn to religion and an increased interest in the modalities of Islamic almsgiving and benevolent acts. The associations established their reputation by efficiently running social services and successfully carrying out relief operations in Indonesia and abroad. Hence, Islamic charities become increasingly popular among Indonesian Muslims, and the types of Islamic social-welfare activities have been materialised in different forms, ranging from the relief of the poor in urban areas to supporting dakwah and political activities.

To draw a broader picture of Islamic charities and social activism in post-New Order Indonesia, this study investigates four types of charitable activities: health provision for the poor in urban slums; development projects that are oriented towards female teenager coming from low income households, dakwah activities in the outer islands, as well as aid for Palestinians.

The spawning of charitable clinics sponsored by Islamic charitable associations signifies Muslims’ efforts to translate the notion of benevolent acts into religiously-inspired good social practices. Health provision for the poor seems to have become an alternative strategy for Islamic charities to distributing aid to underprivileged groups, and at the same time, a means of promoting public welfare at the community level. Charitable clinics hint at the potential role that Islamic charitable associations might play in the relief of the poor, especially in the health sector. They have been active for years and play a pivotal role in stress reduction among poorer families, while at the same time attempting to bring the capital held by both individuals and private institutions down to the grassroots level. This study argues that while Islamic charitable institutions work with the grassroots and middle-class groups, Islamic institutions are not sufficiently critical of the state’s failure to provide social security, unlike some ‘secular’ or traditionalist Muslim NGOs. They speak little of the need for structural change by, for example, organising an advocacy movement for health reform. Some Islamic charitable associations have also attempted to address women issues. The severe problem of poverty, which has put women in an unfavourable position, as some of them become the victims of human trafficking, has stimulated Islamic charitable associations to provide development projects that are oriented towards women.

The objectives of the development projects for women are to prevent lower-skilled and poorly educated female teenagers from leaving to work as housemaids overseas, as well as to protect them from the harmful effects of human trafficking. Providing provisional job-oriented activities may also prevent disadvantaged teenagers and female school leavers from entering into early marriage in their villages. Nevertheless, this study finds that promoting gender equality, changing ‘patriarchal culture’, criticising government gender biased structural policies, or encouraging the authorities to provide a better and well-educated work force, are apparently not part of the Islamic charities’ main agendas, nor even their foremost objectives. Another case concerns the spread of dakwah activities in the outer island which are supported by Islamic charitable associations.

The operation of Islamic charitable associations in Nias Island, located on the western coast of Sumatra, has partly resulted in the spread of dakwah activities in this non-Muslim majority Island and the increase in number of madrasah and mushalla/mosque. In practice, there are two kinds of dakwah: dakwah among Muslims and dakwah among non-Muslims. The former, dakwah among Muslims, can mean the process of Islamisation in society, while the latter bears some resemblance to Christian missionary activities in non-Christian populations. Some Islamic charitable associations, such as AAP, DDII and AMCF landed in Nias shortly after the 2005 earthquake hit this region. The objectives of these charities are to support dakwah activities by sending young da’i (preachers) to assist the communities, including Muslim converts, in studying Islam, and to support the construction or reconstruction of the places of worship. This research suggests that Islamic charities and other faith-based charities are challenged how negotiate between serving the Muslim community through dakwah, and serving humanity at large through social welfare activities.

The last case relates to the engagement of Islamic charitable associations and solidarity groups with relief projects in support of Palestinians. For many Islamic charitable associations and Muslim relief NGOs, the notion of Islamic solidarity remains an essential factor in their international exposure. The conflicts in such places as Palestine/Israel, Bosnia and Afghanistan have appealed to feelings of Muslim solidarity and given rise to solidarity movements among Muslims all over the world, including Indonesia. Alongside the involvement of Indonesian Muslim relief NGOs in providing assistance to victims of conflict, Muslim solidarity groups in Indonesia have also mobilised public sources, justifying this with ideas of protecting and helping their oppressed fellow Muslims in other parts of the world.

The extent to which Islamic charities are set up and operate in response to political crises in the international arena also signifies Muslim concerns about the meaning of justice (al-‘adala) and the concept of the unity of Islamic society (umma). From the overall discussion of Islamic charities and social activism in contemporary Indonesia, this study proposes the following main conclusions.

First, there have been contending views among Indonesian Muslims about how the perceived problems, such as welfare, poverty, and social injustice, should be resolved. Islamic charities, with their engagement with social enterprises in the communities, tend to confine their activities to short-term relief actions, and reluctantly penetrate the political sphere in order to empower the underprivileged to claim back their social, economic, and political rights, and to restore their self-reliance to reach their social and economic goals. Islamic charities flourishing in post New Order Indonesia have emerged as a new popular pattern of social activism, the vey antithesis, both discursively and practically, of development and advocacy NGOs at large, which primarily promote collective and structural change.

Second, earlier studies of Muslim charitable activities have noted that welfare associations are typically middle class institutions which sthrengthen middle class network and which are, in a sense, more meaningfull to the ‘givers’ than to the recipeints. Although observers have suggested that charity activism seems to have advanced middle-class interests ahead of those of the poor, or has become a tool for establishing patronage socially, economically and even politically, this does not mean that the poor are always alienated. As the religious views and political affiliations of the members of the Muslim middle classes vary greatly, ranging from ‘rightist Islamists’ to ‘leftist social activists’, the characteristics of Islamic charitable associations are also shaped by the dynamic interactions among their members. This, in turn, leads to the ability (or perhaps inability) to combine charitable acts with development-oriented projects, or even with activities that promote structural change.

Third, religious and cultural proximity remains essential to the formation of Islamic social enterprises and the types of beneficiaries. Most Islamic charities have originated from dakwah (religious dissemination) movements or from a wide range of politically-oriented Islamic solidarity groups. This origin has shaped not only the types of discourse and activities within Islamic charitable associations, but also has determined the categories of beneficiaries to be served. This research found that while under the framework of dakwah, Islamic charities have been able to reformulate notions of brotherhood, solidarity, mutual help, and even social justice, as a means of strengthening the welfare of the Islamic community, they still tend to restrict their work to narrowly defined deserving beneficiaries belonging to the same religion or even denomination within their religion. Therefore, Islamic charities are now challenged how to make their social services beneficial to a wider range of stakeholders in Indonesia, as a culturally and religiously diverse country.

Finally, the interplay between religion and politics has influenced the nature of Islamic charities in Indonesia and shaped the relations of Islamic charities among themselves and with others (non-Muslim charities or secular NGOs). This research suggests that sharing similar religious values and having similar identities do not always result in cooperation, partly because the fragmented political orientations have put the existing associations to compete with each other instead of establishing strategic partnerships for long-term welfare projects.

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Download the dissertation at:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Between Ritual and Reality, New Role for Islam

The Jakarta Globe, Ahmad Najib Burhani | August 15, 2012

During this month of Ramadan, people can see both the intensity of religiosity and the performance of piety. A lot of people fast for the whole month, recite the Koran every day and observe the tarawih prayer every night. Television and radio stations, malls and offices broadcast or organize programs with religious content.

However, anytime we witness the intensity of religiosity and performance of piety, we see gaps between piety and social solidarity — between rituals and social reality. Ramadan should be a month for reflection, social solidarity and refraining from worldly pleasure, but many people express their religiosity excessively to the point of disturbing other people.

In the morning, for instance, when the best time for sahur, the predawn meal, is 4 a.m., some Muslims try to wake people with loudspeakers from as early as 2 a.m. In the evening they also recite the Koran using loudspeakers until midnight. There are also stories of people throwing away their food just because they have to stop eating when they hear the call of imsak, the end of sahur. Then, in the morning, scavengers search dumpsters for their breakfast.

It is this discrepancy between religious practices and social phenomena that was the main concern of the late Moeslim Abdurrahman, the Islamic scholar who died last month. His thoughts and activities were discussed at the Abdurrahman Wahid Center at the University of Indonesia last week, and compared with two other prominent Muslim intellectuals, Nurcholish Madjid and Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid.

As a student of Kang Moeslim, I have long been fascinated by his way of thinking. With his so-called Islam Transformatif, Kang Moeslim tried to transform Islamic doctrines and teachings so they could be used to emancipate and empower the mustad’afin, oppressed or marginalized people.

Different from Nurcholish “Cak Nur” Madjid, who emphasized “Islamic reform” in all his endeavors, Kang Moeslim’s main concern was “social reform” since he believed our real problem was related to social injustice. Also different from Cak Nur and Gus Dur, the subjects of his thoughts and activities were neither members of the urban middle class nor santri and pesantren, but the impoverished and marginalized, such as farmers, lower-class workers, beggars and prostitutes.

Back to the problem of discrepancies between piety and social injustice, the question is how to transform religion and make it useful to alleviate poverty, social subordination and discrimination, instead of creating social problems — as sometimes seen during Ramadan. Beginning in the 1980s, Kang Moeslim proposed three interrelated methods for dealing with this issue: ta’wil (hermeneutics, or text interpretation), the use of critical theories and new social movements.

The idea of using hermeneutics in social transformation is to produce new meanings for religious doctrines so they can be used to help the poor or to otherwise give preferential treatment to those who have been discriminated against and persecuted.

In the context of zakat (alms giving), for instance, the poor and impoverished (faqir and miskin) are among those who have the right to receive zakat. However, in common practice, the definition of faqir and miskin is often limited to those who embrace Islam, excluding non-Muslims. With this understanding, people are reluctant to distribute zakat to the Ahmadis in Transito, West Nusa Tenggara, although they are obviously among the poorest people. Ahmadis are not considered Muslims by many since they have some distinctive beliefs, such as the belief that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is a prophet and the messiah.

With the use of critical theories, the discourse about the poor can deconstructed. In many cases, becoming a prostitute is not an individual choice. It is connected, for instance, with the failure of the government to provide good jobs for its people. Therefore, the sin and blame should not be given only to the prostitute, but should be shared with the government and even the institutions of religion.

Another example: if someone becomes poor, it is not necessarily because of laziness. Some impoverished people spend more than 16 hours a day doing whatever kind of work they can find just to get food for that day. They become poor because of capitalism, globalization and structural hegemony.

Then there are new social movements. This involves, for instance, creating “organic Muslim clerics,” a modified term from Antonio Gramsci’s “organic intellectual.” The role of an imam or ustadz and ulama should move from just teaching and preaching spirituality into a more emancipating role such as becoming mediators of social transformation.

It is more imperative now than ever to rejuvenate the social struggle promoted by Kang Moeslim. Excessiveness in expressing religiosity and incoherence between religious teachings and social realities are the real problems in contemporary Indonesia. It is through transformative Islam that the discrepancies between theory and practice, between ritual and social solidarity, can be minimized, if not alleviated completely.

Ahmad Najib Burhani is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Teologi Al-Ma`un Muhammadiyah (1)

REPUBLIKA.CO.ID, Selasa, 07 Agustus 2012, 19:37 WIB

oleh: Ahmad Syafii Maarif

Majelis Tarjih Pimpinan Pusat Muhammadiyah kabarnya sedang menyusun secara mendasar dan artikulatif Teologi al-Ma’un, suatu teologi pemihakan kepada kaum miskin, telantar, tertindas, terpinggirkan, dan kepada anak yatim yang jumlahnya cukup masif di Indonesia sampai sekarang ini. Saya menyambut dengan penuh kegembiraan upaya tarjih ini, karena Mu hammadiyah memang belum pernah menulis sebuah risalah yang komprehensif tentang kaitan antara doktrin tauhid dan pembelaan terhadap golongan tertindas dan lemah ini, baik secara sosial ekonomi maupun dari sisi iman dan pendidikan.

Kiai Haji Ahmad Dahlan (1868-1923), pendiri Muhammadiyah pada 8 Dzulhijjah 1330/18 November 1912, pernah membuat murid-muridnya bertanya-tanya keheranan saat memberi pelajaran tafsir. Ketika menafsirkan surah al-Ma’un (Alquran surah 107) secara berulang-ulang tanpa diteruskan dengan surah surah lain, Dahlan sebenarnya sedang menguji kepekaan batin para muridnya dalam memahami Alquran, apakah sekadar untuk dibaca atau langsung diamalkan.

Baru para murid itu paham bahwa Alquran tidak saja menyangkut dimensi kognitif, tetapi sekaligus sebagai pedoman bagi aksi sosial. Mulailah para murid itu mencari orang-orang miskin dan anak yatim di sekitar Yogyakarta untuk disantuni dan diperhatikan. Maka, berdirinya Panti-Panti Asuhan dan Rumah Sakit PKU tahun 1923 adalah salah satu perwujudan dari aksi sosial ini.

Rumah sakit ini yang semula bernama PKOE (Penolong Kesengsaraan Oemoem) itu kini telah berkembang menjadi 500 unit, besar berupa rumah sakit dan kecil berupa klinik yang bertebaran di seluruh nusantara. Salah seorang mu rid itu bernama Muhammad Syudja, pengusul pendirian PKOE yang semula ditentang dan di lawan habis-habisan oleh para ulama dan umat Islam pada umumnya karena dinilai telah me niru praktik Belanda Kristen yang telah men dirikan rumah sakit.

Ahmad Dahlan adalah seorang liberal dalam arti tidak takut merayakan kebebasan dalam mencari hikmah dari manapun asalnya atau meniru pihak lain bagi kepentingan agama. Menghadapi perlawanan itu pemuda Syudja tidak surut selangkah pun. Bahkan, malah menjawab tantangan itu dengan ungkapan, ‘’ Hum rijal wa nahnu rijal’’ (mereka laki-laki, kita pun laki-laki). Dengan sikap tegas ini, Muhammadiyah telah melaksanakan sisi praksisme dari Teologi al-Ma’un.

Bayangkan oleh tuan dan puan, mendirikan rumah sakit saja ketika itu diharamkan. Apa yang kini sedang dirumuskan oleh Majelis Tarjih tentang teologi pembebasan itu, sekalipun harus menanti satu abad lebih dulu, harus kita beri penghargaan yang tinggi, karena kesadaran umat Islam tentang perlunya teologi keberpihakan kepada mereka yang tertindas tidak selalu tajam, padahal Alquran, khususnya surah-surah Makkiyah (wahyu yang turun pada periode Makkah) dengan sangat gamblang memberi isyarat keras untuk melangkah ke arah itu.

Surah al-Ma’un hanyalah salah satu di an tara surah-surah Makkiyah. Surah ini tidak tanggungtanggung mengatego rikan sebagai pendusta terhadap agama mereka yang ti dak peduli atas nasib anak yatim dan orang miskin. Rupanya Ahmad Dahlan telah menangkap isyarat Alquran itu sehingga kajian tafsirnya perlu diulang-ulang sampai para muridnya dong betul tentang apa tujuan pengu lang an itu.

Itulah sekelumit suasana beragama di kampung Ka uman, Yogyakarta, pada awal 1920-an. Saya rasa fenomena serupa dapat ditemukan di mana-mana di seluruh dunia Islam ketika itu. Agama itu tidak lebih dari seremoni dan ritual dalam format ibadah dalam makna yang sangat sempit. Adapun perlunya pembelaan kepada mereka yang tertindas dan terpinggirkan tidak dipandang sebagai bagian yang menyatu dengan keberagamaan seorang Muslim.

Jika demikian halnya, tidaklah mengheran kan benar mengapa ada umat Islam, seperti Tan Malaka, Haji Misbach, dan Alimin, menjadi Mar xis atau bahkan komunis karena di dalamnya di temukan doktrin-doktrin radikal revolusioner tentang pembebasan manusia dari ketertindasan itu. Saya berharap, Majelis Tarjih berhasil menyusun sebuah risalah yang lebih radikal dibandingkan dengan Teologi Pembebasan yang telah lama dikembangkan teolog Katolik di Amerika Latin.

Dengan cara ini umat Islam Indonesia akan menyadari dirinya sebagai pendusta jika anak yatim dan orang miskin dibiarkan berkeliaran seperti yang kita saksikan di mana-mana sekarang ini, baik di kota maupun di kawasan pedesaan. Apa yang telah ditangani Muhammadiyah bersama dengan banyak gerakan lain dan Kementerian Sosial dengan panti-panti sosialnya sama sekali belum mampu mengatasi masalah sosial yang akut dan berat ini.

Islam adalah agama yang proorang miskin, tetapi sekaligus antikemiskinan, karena kemiskinan itu harus bersifat sementara.

Redaktur: M Irwan Ariefyanto

Sumber: resonansi

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