Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The inevitable political callings of Muhammadiyah

Pramono U. Tanthowi, Jakarta | Opinion | Thu, August 06 2015, 6:39 AM

Ahead of the 47th Muhammadiyah congress, currently underway in Makassar, many discussions were held within the organization. Several focused on how this movement will increase its influence in Indonesia in its second century, including in politics.

 In the course of a century after its establishment in 1912, Muhammadiyah has been playing significant roles in politics and society alike.

The fall of the New Order saw considerable changes in the political system and in the relationship between the state and Muslim organizations. Muhammadiyah and other Muslim organizations appeared to benefit much from the new political freedom, but what has the role of Muhammadiyah been in a democratized Indonesia? Has the organization become just a means to achieve political ends? Or has it contributed positively to deepen social support for substantive democracy? And how should it combine its political activism and its commitment to stay away from practical politics? These are among some daunting questions within Muhammadiyah circles.

Amid new political freedoms, Muhammadiyah activists used different approaches. One group proposed it was now time for Muhammadiyah to exert its political significance, either by forming a political party or by joining existing ones. One result was the establishment of the National Mandate Party (PAN), under Amien Rais, the founders of which include non-practicing Muslims and non-Muslims.

This camp contended that a political party is necessary for Muhammadiyah activists to achieve political gains, since political parties play a crucial role in nominating candidates for elective offices, government positions, informing and sustaining governments, and in policy making.

Without being involved in party politics, they argued, Muhammadiyah could not secure much patronage and resources from the government and would be left behind in the political race. Others became involved in party politics in ways which they perceived did not risk Muhammadiyah’s image as an independent social religious organization. Hajriyanto Y. Thohari, along with others, joined Golkar.

Another camp urged Muhammadiyah to remain focused on its traditional commitment to religious propagation, social welfare and education programs. This camp contended that Muhammadiyah’s long involvement in practical politics prevented sufficient attention to their religious and social functions, which they considered the real tasks of the organization — spiritual guidance and education of the Muslim community.

 The ideas of eschewing party politics were largely prompted by the political impasse during the 1960s and 1980s, when the authoritarian state manipulated political aspirations of Islamic groups including that of Muhammadiyah. They concluded that political parties were highly susceptible to state control, and therefore, no longer effective at pursuing their political interests.

Thus they wanted Muhammadiyah removed, not depoliticized, from the vulnerable and seemingly pointless arena of party politics to the more salient civic realm of broad social action. A third camp of activists pushed for Muhammadiyah’s broader political role in Indonesia’s democratic transition. In a society where religion is important in public life, as in Indonesia, they said the role of religion and of religious institutions such as Muhammadiyah were neither confined to the religious realm nor party politics.

Therefore, during roughly the past 15 years the political role of Muhammadiyah in democratization has been remarkable, although complementary, as democratization requires many other conditions.

Some of its initiatives cannot be only attributed to charismatic leadership but also to its strategic orientation and practical activism. The first role was its maneuvers to limit state authoritarianism.

Despite the coercive control of the regime, since the early 1990s Muhammadiyah not only provided a large number of students and supporters in mass protests, but its leaders, such as Amien, along with non-practicing Muslim and non-Muslim leaders, were especially crucial in mobilizing peaceful rallies demanding democratization.

This role was consistently sustained by the Muhammadiyah leadership in the following years.Despite good rapport between the organization and the state, leaders Syafi’i Maarif and Din Syamsuddin have maintained Muhammadiyah’s independence. They continued to resist policies which they thought violated public interest such as the drafting and passing of the law on mass organization, law on national security and others.

The second role was that Muhammadiyah provided channels for articulation, aggregation and representation of people’s interests — all functions of political parties, which were instead preoccupied with their own interests. The most glaring example of this was the issuance of laws detrimental to national economic sovereignty, such as the Oil and Gas Law, the Water Resource Law, the Electricity Law and others. Against this injustice, Muhammadiyah spearheaded judicial review requests; fortunately the Constitutional Court granted most parts of the petitions.

A third role was Muhammadiyah’s promotion of the rule of law. Since the early 2000s Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) joined the anti-corruption campaign. As a social-religious organization, it systematically addressed corruption issues by emphasizing moral persuasion and developing theological interpretations based on the Koran and the Prophet’s sayings or hadith.

When commissioners of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and its supporters were criminalized, Muhammadiyah activists were among the most vocal critics. Even more striking was when Buya Syafi’i as chairman of the President’s advisors on the KPK problem called for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to fire Comr. Gen. Budi Waseso, the National Police’s chief of detectives, accusing him of being behind the ongoing attack on the KPK.

Muhammadiyah’s last, but not least, political role is its promotion of a pluralistic and tolerant Indonesian society. Many studies affirm that Muhammadiyah and NU are significant obstacles to further growth of extreme Islamism. Not only are its leaders of tolerant and pluralistic views, its membership largely seems immune to Islamism’s allure.

Muhammadiyah also continues to assert its nationalistic stance that the form of the Indonesian state based on Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution is unquestionably final. It is true that Muhammadiyah has grown from the same soil as Indonesian Islamism, which has an ultimate aspiration of becoming an Islamic state. But its roots run deeper combined with its modernist approach and enormously successful entrenching of political moderation in Indonesia.

These initiatives provide obvious examples of how religious organizations such as Muhammadiyah play roles in transition from an authoritarian state into a more democratic system without pushing for a theocratic state. In so doing, Muhammadiyah has not relinquished its nature as a social and religious organization.

Rather, it has transformed its spiritual and ethical vigor into political and social activism. Such initiatives inevitably remain the political callings of Muhammadiyah. Insya Allah, God willing.

The writer is the secretary of Muhammadiyah’s research and development council.
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Pramono U. Tanthowi, Jakarta | Opinion | Thu, August 06 2015, 6:39 AM - See more at:
Pramono U. Tanthowi, Jakarta | Opinion | Thu, August 06 2015, 6:39 AM - See more at:
Pramono U. Tanthowi, Jakarta | Opinion | Thu, August 06 2015, 6:39 AM - See more at:

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