Thursday, August 13, 2015

Din Syamsuddin’s legacy: A more pluralist Muhammadiyah

Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta | Opinion | Tue, August 04 2015, 6:41 AM

When KH Ahmad Dahlan established Muhammadiyah in 1912, the Islamic organization had three main ambitions: to feed, school and heal its followers. It is because of this that Muhammadiyah now operates 7,227 kindergartens and elementary schools, 2,915 junior and senior secondary schools, 67 boarding schools, 172 higher education institutions, 457 hospitals, 454 orphanages and nursing homes.

This spirit of community service continues until now and has become one of Muhammadiyah’s main characteristics.

Every new leader of Muhammadiyah also has a special leadership style. AR Fachruddin is known for his introduction of Muhammadiyah ethics, tasawuf, or the development of an ascetic tradition. Amien Rais (1995-1998) is known to have introduced social tauhid (social awareness) and the engagement in national scale politics.

Ahmad Syafi’i Maarif (1998-2005) introduced cultural dakwah, or religious propagation embracing local culture in addition to Islamic thought development, the empowerment of Muhammadiyah’s youth wing and the provision of new social services for laborers, farmers and fishermen.

This week Muhammadiyah is holding its national congress and will replace its leader Din Syamsuddin (2005-2015). What is the legacy of Din’s leadership? Din has led Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s oldest modernist Islamic organization, for 10 years.

He was firstly elected with the broad support of “purist” elements within the organization in 2005.

But gradually, and particularly during the second term, just like any mindful leader who positions himself as a leader of everyone, Din embraced all wings of the organization, from “purist” to “progressive” elements, and acted wisely between them. Just recently he even invited scholars from both camps to exchange thoughts.

Din also encouraged Muhammadiyah members who wanted to have political careers to join as many different political parties as possible. But he has strictly forbidden members to have double positions in the organization and in political parties.

His leadership skill in embracing all elements within the organization and also encouraging members to disperse to many different political parties is a philosophy known as “allocative politics”. This philosophy entails allocating values within society and distributing them into the political process. In the case of Muhammadiyah, it means allocating Islamic principles and distributing them into the political process, as Din once explained.

Din also initiated “constitutional jihad” by proposing judicial reviews to cancel laws considered in violation of the 1945 Constitution or for not siding with the people.

At least four laws have been annulled thanks to Muhammadiyah’s prominent role among plaintiffs seeking judicial reviews. These cancelled laws consist of laws on oil and gas, hospitals, social organizations and the law on water.

Gradually and convincingly, Din positioned himself much more strongly as a global Muslim leader who promoted peace and inter-faith dialogue. During Din’s period, the internationalization of Muhammadiyah met its moment, following his revival of its foreign relations division.

Also the President of the Asian Conference of Religions of Peace, Din once said, “This is the time for nations who love peace and justice to rise up and work together to realize genuine peace and to stop tyranny and colonialism in its various forms.”

To realize his vision of a just and peaceful world, Din also established the independent Centre for Dialogue and Cooperation among Civilisations (CDCC) in 2007. The Center aims to strengthen dialogue and cooperation among religious groups and world civilizations in order to build peace.

Since 2007, in cooperation with Muhammadiyah and with the support from the Cheng Ho Multi Culture Trust led by Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew, the Center has conducted the World Peace Forum every other year.

It is also because of Din’s efforts that since 2009, Muhammadiyah has joined the International Contact Group (ICG), whose members consist of government and non-government elements. The government elements are from the UK, Japan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, while the non-government elements comprise of Coalition Resources, The Asia Foundation and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.

As a member of the ICG, Muhammadiyah has been active in attempts to mediate between conflicting parties in the southern Philippines. A dialogue involving the multiple stakeholders of Bangsamoro was held at the Muhammadiyah University of Surakarta in 2013.

In contributing to peace-building in southern Thailand, Muhammadiyah has helped to facilitate scholarships to Thai students to study at various Muhammadiyah universities. Muhammadiyah also invited the leaders of Muslim communities from Thailand to regularly join in the World Peace Forum in Indonesia.

Din encouraged the establishment of Muhammadiyah leadership branches outside of Indonesia, such as those found in Europe, Central Africa, the US and Asia. These branches are mostly filled by Indonesians who live there.

Muhammadiyah is also interested in ensuring peace in Africa. During his visit to Rome, Din led the Muhammadiyah delegation to initiate cooperation with the Catholic-oriented Sant’Egidio organization in a bid for national reconciliation in the Central African Republic. Later, a delegation of Muslims and Christians from the Central African Republic came to Jakarta to join in the Fifth World Peace Forum.

Din, as a leader of the Indonesia-Palestine Friendship Initiative, also conducted fundraising to support the independence of Palestine under a two-state solution.

Perhaps more importantly Din has constructed a global outlook for the Islamic organization. The scholar Mitsuo Nakamura notes that “the plurality in religion, culture and ethnicity as a basic social reality of the Indonesian state seems to be well accepted among Muhammadiyah circles today. Moreover, there are some arguments to recognize this reality as sunnatullah [God’s law].”

In his 2012 work, Nakamura noted that Muhammadiyah was becoming less antagonistic toward non-Islamic groups in local communities. Though warnings against active missionary work by certain Christian denominations were still heard, Nakamura said that, “generally speaking, an amiable relationship with other religious groups is sought from the Muhammadiyah side as well.”

Nakamura’s observation is important, proving that Din’s effort to promote pluralism has also been well accepted not only by religious leaders at the global level, but also at the grassroots level within his own organization. However, just like in any other religious organization, there are still elements of conservatism.

The next leader of Muhammadiyah should be able to carry on Din’s legacy in uniting and strengthening the organization’s potential and distributing this potential into the political process. This work will hopefully happen alongside efforts in soft diplomacy to advocate for world peace. Ten years is not enough time to build a strong foundation for this legacy. Hence, the new leader could continue Din’s work and lead Muhammadiyah to advance into the next century with much more confidence and achievements.

The writer is executive director of the Centre for Dialogue and Cooperation among Civilisations (CDCC). His PhD dissertation from the Universiteit van Amsterdam was on peace education in Maluku.
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