Muhammadiyah has been perceived as an example of a success blend of Islam and modernity in Indonesia. By adopting modern ethics of discipline, equality, and hardworking, this organization has become a rich and independent Islamic movement. Quantitatively, the number of Muhammadiyah’s educational and health institutions is only surpassed by the ones owned by Indonesian government. It has 177 colleges and university; thousands of higher, middle, and elementary schools; and hundreds of hospitals and other health institutions. Social, educational, and economic success of certain organization, however, does not necessarily indicate that it also embraces democratic value and religious tolerance. In the recent political dynamics, for instance, some members of Muhammadiyah have inclined to support Islamist groups or defended Islamist activists. This can be seen from their participation in the Aksi Bela Islam (Defending Islam Action), their defense of and protection for Ustadz Bachtiar Nasir, and their opposition to the ruling of the Constitutional Court on Penghayat Kepercayaan (Believers of Faith).
This paper, therefore, intends to explain Muhammadiyah’s position in the context of development, democracy, and religious tolerance in Indonesia. This paper, firstly, overviews the historically undisputed concern of Muhammadiyah on social services and then, secondly, it moves to discern its cultural transformation since the Congress in Aceh 1995, and based on that, thirdly, it analyses its responses on religious issues that occurred in 2017: The banning of the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), the recurrent controversy on PKI (Indonesian Communist Party), and the ruling of the Constitutional Court on Penghayat Kepercayaan.
This paper argues that Muhammadiyah’s social position has been consistently guided by its long-held theology of Al-Ma’un (kindness) which has inspired its tremendous social and economic achievements. Muhammadiyah’s stand on religious issues, however, was often steered by Islamist imagery of the domination of Islam in Indonesia which has certain impacts on it position on democracy and tolerance towards religious minorities. It is the hegemony of the theology of Al-Ma’un that has been able to neutralize Muhammadiyah from Islamist inclination and fundamentalist tendency. It brings the members of Muhammadiyah to be more realistic in seeing the world and distancing themselves from utopic vision of caliphate or the dream of sharia as the Messiah that will solve every problem or the temptation to create an Islamic state.