Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Muhammadiyah’s commitment to religious moderation

Abdul Mu’ti, Jakarta | Opinion | Wed, August 12 2015, 6:34 AM
Opinion News

The just concluded 47th congress of Muhammadiyah in Makassar raised four important issues concerning the promotion of religious moderation and peaceful coexistence in Indonesia. Muhammadiyah has openly declared its endorsement of Pancasila as the state ideology.

According to Muhammadiyah, a state based on Pancasila is an ideal model for Indonesia. Furthermore, Muhammadiyah has stated that Indonesia as home to all Indonesians is a product of dar al-‘ahd (national consensus) and dar al-syahadah (land of dedication). Muhammadiyah addresses religious issues as a responsibility and commitment to maintaining the plurality and betterment of the nation.

The first issue discussed in the congress was the presence of takfiri groups. These groups believe that there is one single true Islam, which is their Islam. They discredit others as being totally wrong and enemies of Islam. They allow the use of violence as a means to defend and spread Islam.

These groups remain small in number, but annoying. Data shows how these extremist groups have been involved in various acts of violence in many cities.

Takfiri is not a new reality of Islam. Historically, takfiri could be referred to as the Khawarij (rebels). Nevertheless, there is no theological or political linkage between takfiri groups and the Khawarij. Contemporary takfiri is a product of the modern world and its complexities. Its movement spreads through the Internet, social media, books and Islamic organizations — which is unsurprising, since a certain proportion of takfiri proponents are Muslim middle class; working as professionals with a high degree of education and good economy.

The second issue is building Sunni-Shia dialogue. Shiite communities have existed since the early development of Islam in Indonesia. Some historians argue that Islam in Indonesia was brought here by Gujarati (Indian) and Persian (Iranian) merchants. Thus the obvious influence of Sufism and Shiite traditions formed a unique character of Indonesian Islam.

The pronunciation of Arabic-derived words in Indonesian has more of a Persian than Arab influence. The Shiite influence is also apparent in the pilgrimage to the tombs of the wali (saints).

Although the tradition was taught by Prophet Muhammad and Indonesian Muslims are predominantly Sunni-Syafii, the ritual shares similarities with Shiite traditions.

The accommodation of Shiite traditions by Sunni adherents has played a pivotal role in maintaining peaceful coexistence and religious harmony in Indonesia. Therefore, it is intriguing that the anti-Shia movement is on the rise and Shiite communities have endured theological, social, political and physical violence.

Muhammadiyah points out that one aspect contributing to the increase is protracted sectarian political tension between Sunni and Shiite factions in the Middle East, especially that of Yemen and Syria. Another aspect is the publication of a book by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and fatwas by local ulema councils, which consider Shia heretical. On the other hand, Shiite groups in Indonesia are also deemed provocative because of their negative attitude toward Sunni doctrines and prominent leaders. Dialogue is therefore important to reduce tension and prevent violence.

Besides the two intra-Muslim issues, Muhammadiyah also takes into account the development of religious extremism, which challenges Indonesia’s generally peaceful religious life. Seeds of religious intolerance grow from Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism, etc.

The roots and expression of extremism vary beyond the theological but mainly come from insecurities, be they economic, political, cultural, psychological or religious.

Extremist groups believe that they come under threat. The expression of extremism in the forms of fundamentalism, terrorism, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and the like is a way to conserve identities. This is the reason that extremist groups are very conservative. Extremism is a world view to struggle against persistent attacks by secularism and liberalism on religious teachings, values and morality. Deprived, marginalized and excluded groups tend to be more extreme religiously and culturally.

The fourth issue related to religious moderation is the protection of minority groups. The terms majority and minority are problematic because of their very nature.

First of all, they have a definition problem. The terms majority and minority are relative depending on when and where. A religion that is the majority in one particular place could be a minority in another place. Islam is a majority religion in Java but a minority in Bali, East Nusa Tenggara and Papua. The Christian community is a minority in Jakarta yet the majority in Papua. Hindu Bali means Bali is home to indigenous Hindus, distinctive from the rest of Hinduism.

The second is a theological problem. Religion is a very private-basic human right. People follow their spiritual inclination toward a religion.

Quantifying religion contradicts human rights. Being used in a procedural power oriented democracy system, the terms majority and minority have potentially been misused by the majority to suppress, neglect and annihilate the minority’s rights and existence. Regarding religion, the terms majority and minority no longer seem appropriate.

Within the next five years or so, Muhammadiyah has to work hard to promote religious moderation. The organization has work to do to manage internal plurality. With modern-Salafi ideology, loose theological Muhammadiyah members could become militant supporters of both takfiri and extremist groups.

Such a potential might be real because of the fact that grassroots Muhammadiyah preachers and religious teaching circles are currently mostly managed by the so-called puritan groups.

Intellectually, Muhammadiyah faces an internal intellectual gap between the elite of the organization and the lower level in district, subdistrict and community layers. Muhammadiyah needs to pursue immediate strategic policy and actions to strengthen moderation and a moderate culture.

There is no doubt of Muhammadiyah’s commitment and contribution to peace, religious tolerance and pluralism at the national and international arena.

The challenges of Muhammadiyah to build religious moderation, however, come more from within its domestic religious affairs than external circumstances.

The writer is secretary-general of Muhammadiyah and lecturer at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Jakarta. The views expressed are his own.

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 Paper Edition | Page: 6
Paper Edition | Page: 6
Paper Edition | Page: 6

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