Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Revisiting the key concept of Muhammadiyah

The Jakarta Post, Friday, July 01, 2005

Hilman Latief, Michigan

In addition to leadership issues, the 45th Muhammadiyah Congress in Malang early next month will probably be enlivened by a debate about Muhammadiyah's concept of tajdid (rejuvenating or revitalizing Islam) and ijtihad (independent reasoning). Known as a reformist organization, Muhammadiyah is expected by both "insiders" and "outsiders" to be able to produce some agendas that will be socially more worthy and intellectually more valuable in the Indonesian context.

For nearly one century, Muhammadiyah have been participating in the building this nation. This year, the Muhammadiyah Congress has selected as its theme Jelang Satu Abad Muhammadiyah: Tajdid Gerakan untuk Pencerahan Peradaban (Welcoming Muhammadiyah's 100th anniversary: A Tajdid movement for the Enlightenment of Civilization.
Why is tajdid still necessary? For Muhammadiyah, it is a conceptual key that has led the organization to become more dynamic and contextual. To be sure, this concept is not the exclusive property of Muhammadiyah. Rather, it originates from puritan, "modernist" Muslim thinkers such as Ibn Taimiyyah (d. 1328), Ibnu Abdul Wahab (d. 1205), and al-Afghani (d. 1897).

Muhammadiyah's work from its establishment up to the present time is a good example of how the process of Islamic revitalization has taken place through collective action. Muhammadiyah has set up several organizational divisions that run various programs dealing with religious and social welfare. As regards the Muhammadiyah work model, Prof. Amin Abdullah called it "faith in action."

However, times are changing. The needs of the Indonesian ummah (Muslim community) are also changing and becoming more complicated. At the same time, it is clear that the early idealism of Muhammadiyah has in recent years become institutionalized and even, perhaps, bureaucratized.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Muhammadiyah's actions sometimes disappoint. In line with the need of the ummah and in order to satisfy contextual demands, Muhammadiyah needs to reinterpret its concept of tajdid, to redefine the functions of its institutions, and to revitalize its commitment as the country's second largest Muslim organization. Muhammadiyah needs to be more responsive to the problems this nation faces.

Tajdid should not be restricted merely to the theological and philosophical aspects. Rather, it must also extensively address the social and cultural problems faced by our society. Poverty, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, social conflict, and collective corruption all clearly need Muhammadiyah's involvement.

Poverty, certainly, is not a new subject for Muhammadiyah. Ahmad Dahlan, the founder of Muhammadiyah, was very much concerned with the poor and orphans. For that reason, hundreds of orphanages have been established across the country. However, as the cost of education and healthcare increase, Muhammadiyah will need to prove its commitment to the needy by offering cheaper education and health services.

While scholars often seen and categorize Muhammadiyah as representing middle-class or urban Indonesian Muslims, this does not mean that the issue of poverty in this country is not relevant to the organization as Dahlan himself, as well as the other founders of Muhammadiyah, paid great attention to the problem.

At a time when acts of terrorism are regularly perpetrated in Indonesia, Muhammadiyah, Nahdlatul Ulama (the country's largest Muslim organization), and other socio-religious organizations must formulate clear visions and policies to prevent radicalism taking root, to promote dialogue, and to preserve and promote unity and harmony in Indonesian society.
Another crucial issue is corruption. Muhammadiyah needs to initiate from within the creation of a clean and modern organizational and administrative system. Professionalism in the management of all institutions belonging to Muhammadiyah, such as schools, universities, hospitals, clinics, orphanages and other charitable institutions, is essential if Muhammadiyah wants to serve as an example to other organizations in terms of preventing systemic and collective corruption.

Even though Muhammadiyah's ideology has long been regarded as personifying the ideology of "puritanism" in terms of religio-political expression, it remains moderate and tolerant. Yet, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that both Islamic liberalism and conservatism present challenges for the organization. While Muhammadiyah does not agree with "radical secularization," neither does it condone violence and vandalism perpetrated in the name of Islam.

Therefore, when tensions arise between the liberals and conservatives among Indonesian Muslims in general, and Muhammadiyah members in particular, Muhammadiyah needs to steer a wise course. During the next Muhammadiyah congress, it will be essential to construct a synergic coming together of liberal and conservative tendencies within Muhammadiyah.

The future of Muhammadiyah very much depends on the leaders elected during the congress. Intellectual maturity and social sensitivity will be required in order to successfully foster the progressive dimensions of Muhammadiyah's tajdid so that the organization becomes more worthy in the social and religious senses, and more in tune with the real needs of this nation. The country needs Muhammadiyah leaders who care about the needs of the ummah, are concerned with pluralism in Indonesian society, recognize that Indonesia is a democratic country, and, above all, are free from corruption.

It will be hard to find figures who have the same capabilities or charisma as the outgoing chairman A. Syafii Maarif, or A.R. Fakhruddin or Amien Rais. A. Malik Fadjar, M. Dien Syamsuddin, M. Amin Abdullah, Rosyad Saleh and Haedar Nashir are among the leading candidates to take over at this time. Whoever wins, the nation is waiting for a more concrete contribution from the organization in overcoming the country's prolonged crisis.

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