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Discourse: Muhammadiyah and modernizing Islam

  • Haeril Halim

    The Jakarta Post

| Mon, August 3, 2015 | 04:33 pm
Discourse: Muhammadiyah and modernizing Islam

Din Syamsuddin - JP/Seto Wardhana

Outgoing Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin has emphasized that the new leadership of the organization to be selected during its 47th national congress in Makassar on Aug. 3 to 8 must continue Muhammadiyah'€™s vision of Islam Berkemajuan (Progressive Islam). Din talked to The Jakarta Post'€™s Haeril Halim about the concept and what the organization has achieved in the past decade. Here are the excerpts of the interview.

Question: What has Muhammadiyah achieved under your 10-year leadership?

Answer: Muhammadiyah has a strategic vision until the year 2025. Every five years, we meet at a national congress to align periodic programs with the 2025 vision.

According to observers, there are some things that can be seen as good progress in the past 10 years. We have shifted attention from quantitative to qualitative approaches in the services we provide, such as building high-quality schools in a number of regions that have produced students with outstanding achievements at the national and international level.

Muhammadiyah has also strengthened its humanitarian role with the establishment of the Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center [MDMC] in 2005, an agency that actively helps regions in times of disaster. The organization, which establishes cooperation with other institutions from other religious groups, has also reached out to other countries to take part in humanitarian work, including the Philippines, Palestine and Nepal.

In addition, in the last three years, we have stepped up efforts to apply the amar maruf nahi mungkar [doing what is right and rejecting what is wrong] principle by focusing on fixing around 115 regulations [we deem] unconstitutional that could make the country stray from its primary goals. For example, correcting oil and gas as well as natural resource regulations. We call it a constitutional jihad.

We have also developed good relationships with other religious groups through interfaith dialogues at the domestic and international level.

What roles should the upcoming new leadership of Muhammadiyah take on in society?

It should continue the efforts of the previous leadership and should also focus on creating strategic partnerships with other groups.

How do you view today'€™s Indonesia, especially under President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo'€™s administration?

Muhammadiyah is responsible for contributing to efforts to create a better future for the country. We are aware that we are not involved in practical politics, but we could do what we call shaping political ethics for future leaders of the country through education. This is what we call '€œallocative politics'€.

Our stance is firm when we think the government commits a wrongdoing. The country is currently facing distortion and deviation from its national goals, so we want to correct all things that are broken through a political movement, but it in this case it should be understood as a '€œbehavioral'€ approach, not practical politics.

It is best to focus on the country'€™s economy and law enforcement. Muhammadiyah always pushes for better law enforcement in the country.

The economy is the prime engine of the development of a country. Muhammadiyah is aware of the importance of human resources. That is why we encourage a qualitative approach in the education sector.

What is Islam Berkemajuan?

Since its establishment, Muhammadiyah has campaigned for '€œIslam Berkemajuan'€ [Progressive Islam], a concept initiated by Muhammadiyah'€™s founder, KH Ahmad Dahlan. Progressive Islam pushes for advancement as emphasized in many of verses of the Koran. This concept is important especially when we want to open our eyes to see empirical facts that Muslims at certain levels have yet to make meaningful progress.

This concept goes beyond time and space as well as religions. It is not specifically made by Muhammadiyah for Muslims in Indonesia only but for all people in the world regardless of any attributions.

This concept also strengthens cultural ties to deepen our tolerance of others by emphasizing that Islam is a moderate religion. We could say that Islam Berkemajuan is the vision of modern Islam and moderate Islam.

Its implementation can be seen in the establishment of a disaster management unit that helps people regardless of their religion. The humanitarian agency has helped the victims of flooding in Wasior in Papua and victims of natural disasters in Maumere in Flores. We all know the two places have a Christian-majority population. The MDMC also works with Christian organizations in the regions.

Many say that condemnation is not enough to protect beleaguered minority groups like the Ahmadiyah and Shia from violent attacks in the future, what concrete actions does Muhammadiyah want to take to help minority groups?

Extremism and intolerance occurs in all religions, not just in Islam. We can see that the supporters of violent acts are a minority in terms of numbers and the majority disagrees with their acts. This means the percentage of tolerant people is far greater than that of campaigners of violence.

The fact that violence in the name of religion still occurs should be our concern. Any violent act must be rejected. In addition to campaigning to reject violence in the name of religion, Muhammadiyah is also stepping up efforts to remind its followers not to be influenced to commit violent acts.

The government must be present to uphold the law and we always push the government to do so. This is not about a minority versus majority issue because the point is Muhammadiyah always stands up for whoever is attacked.

The government should embrace all elements in society, including NGOs to establish tolerance among religious people in the country.

What challenges does Muhammadiyah face ahead?

Any challenge the nation faces is a challenge that Muhammadiyah faces too. The world is damaged due to a number of issues revolving around such things as energy, food and the environment. The most imminent challenge is the ASEAN Economic Community, which will impact Indonesia.

How has Muhammadiyah contributed economically to the country?

Muhammadiyah is known as an organization that consists of people from the middle class, including traders and entrepreneurs across Indonesia. They are a vocal part of the economy. Muhammadiyah followers have made great contributions, especially in helping the growth of the populist economy. We are aware that economically, Muhammadiyah followers are not as strong as the growing
conglomerations.

We will not give up just because we cannot compete with the conglomerations in building the economy. We have started to establish micro finance institutions as investment bodies. There are around 350 micro finance institutions as of today in addition to 14,000 schools, 192 universities, 400 health institutions and social agencies such as orphanages and senior citizens'€™ houses owned by Muhammadiyah.

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