The Jakarta Post
The nation's second-largest modernist Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah, is from Aug. 3 to 7 holding its first post-centennial national congress since its establishment in 1912. With significant roles in improving health and economic empowerment in the country, in its second century Muhammadiyah should increase its role at the international level.
In April this year a study by the Pew Research Center reported that Islam was projected to have the fastest growth of all religions from 2010 to 2050, when it would be the world's second-largest religion with almost 30 percent of the world's population or 2.76 billion followers.
Meanwhile, by 2050 Christians would have an estimated 31.4 percent of the world's population with 2.92 billion devotees.
Nevertheless, Islamic extremism is a growing global trend, as seen by the spread of the Islamic State (IS) movement in Iraq and Syria and Boko Haram in Nigeria. Unresolved political tensions in the Middle East and North Africa show that the future of democracy in Muslim countries is unlikely to be stable in the years ahead.
This strengthens perceptions in the West that Islam and Muslims are not encouraging democracy.
Since 2005, Muhammadiyah has been led by the scholar Din Syamsuddin for two periods until 2015 and thus the congress will choose a new leader for the next five years. Din's legacy includes first, the success of internationalization of Muhammadiyah's religious propagation.
Second, its boldness in criticizing the government and evaluating its unfair policies.
Third, its capability to become a mediator in various conflicts of both national and international levels.
Fourth is the success in regeneration in its internal networks.
Fifth is the focus of the three pillars of Muhammadiyah in its second century: disaster management, philanthropy and economic empowerment.
A number of problems nonetheless have to be evaluated. First, the weakness of ideological commitment and organizational discipline.
Second, the weakness of Muhammadiyah movements at the grassroots levels.
Third, the lack of integration among its institutions, such as among its schools, universities and hospitals. These three problems have led to infiltrations among Muhammadiyah adherents. For instance, extremism, which encourages violence in the form of suicide bombs and terrorism on behalf of jihad.
Thus Muhammadiyah must focus on two main policies: strengthening internal networks and expanding the dakwah or propagation mission on the international level. In networking Muhammadiyah should concentrate on three agendas. First is the improvement of religious or Koran reading classes with references to the Koran and the Prophet's sayings or hadith, which many devotees seem to have neglected.
Second is the commitment of Muhammadiyah's elites to improving the organization from the national level to the grassroots. Third is the courage of its leaders to execute organizational discipline and to counter all sort of extremist values.
Meanwhile, expanding the dakwah should include providing scholarships for Muhammadiyah's activists and lecturers to study abroad.
Second is establishing special Muhammadiyah branches in numerous countries because of its abundant human resources overseas.
Third is the arrangement of dakwah tours to foreign countries during every Ramadhan.
Fourth is empowering Indonesian migrant workers, particularly in countries and regions with large numbers of these migrants such as Malaysia, Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, the Middle East and North Africa.
Fifth is the organization of international youth leadership exchanges.
Muhammadiyah definitely has been addressing distinctive past, present and future challenges. The three last leaders revealed different features as seen from Amien Rais, Syafi'i Ma'arif and Din Syamsuddin. Nonetheless, today's national and global developments leads to certain characteristics needed by the new leader of Muhammadiyah.
First, the leader should have an international vision, to disseminate Islam's peaceful teachings amid extremist movements. Second, the leader should be an intellectual ulema with sophisticated religious knowledge.
As one of the most influential Muslim organizations, Muhammadiyah needs a leader who can present the substance of Islam and provide enlightenment to social problems.
Third, the leader should have strong capability in organizational management. Muhammadiyah today has more than 12,000 village boards and nearly 4,000 sub-district boards, as well as abundant human and natural resources in education, health, the economy and community empowerment across the country. All these assets require a leader competent to overcome the various differences among them.
Fourth, the leader must have the ability to interpret the teachings of the founder, Ahmad Dahlan, to cope with challenges in Muhammadiyah's second century.
The notion of Islam berkemajuan (loosely: progressive Islam) has to be contextualized precisely in current circumstances.
The future of Muhammadiyah depends on its community or ummah ' thus congress participants have the responsibility to evaluate and create the policy, agenda and strategy of the organization.
The writer chairs the Muhammadiyah special branch of Germany and is researching political parties and good governance for his Phd in political science at the Technical University of Dortmund, Germany.
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