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Muhammadiyah in the Political Year

Muhammadiyah in the Political Year

By AHMAD NAJIB BURHANI 25 Januari 2019 · 14:06 IWST

Since the 1998 reform era, Muhammadiyah has always tried to maintain neutrality in politics.

During the leadership of Ahmad Syafii Maarif (1998-2005), with his slogan “keeping the same distance from all political parties”, it could be said that Muhammadiyah applied a policy of “passive neutrality”.

In the period of Din Syamsuddin’s leadership (2005-2015), Muhammadiyah changed from passive neutrality to active neutrality with the slogan “maintaining the same closeness with all political parties”. What is the politics of Muhammadiyah under the leadership of Haedar Nashir (2015-2020), especially in facing the presidential election on April 17, 2019?

Different from the previous periods, now there is no specific slogan to form Muhammadiyah’s relations with politics. The absence of certain slogans can have various interpretations. It is possible that Muhammadiyah chooses to be apolitical and it could also be a manifestation of confusion amid the acute political polarization, including within Muhammadiyah itself.

As Haedar Nashir has repeatedly emphasized that this time Muhammadiyah has chosen to become a “bridge” in dichotomous national politics. “If all mass organizations and Islamic institutions are included in the political sphere, there will be politicization in Indonesia,” he said.

In choosing to act as a bridge in national politics, which is often divided between kampret (microbat) and kecebong (tadpole) or “Islamists” and “Pancasila”, and bridging unbalanced relations between the minority and the majority – which frequently have to take steep and winding roads – an organization or a person must be prepared to get nothing in return and even be maligned by the two competing camps.

Defective candidates

Muhammadiyah realizes that when all sanity is lost in politics, there needs to be a group that wa tawashou bil haqqi wa tawashou bis shobr (exhorts others to practice truth and patience).

Each camp today seems to be blind to the weaknesses and shortcomings of its candidate. They try, borrowing a term from Avishai Margalit in his book, The Ethics of Memory (2000), to “forget” and “forgive” any wrongs or injustices perpetrated by its candidate.

One camp forgets all allegations of human rights (HAM) abuse leveled against its presidential candidate and presents its vice-presidential candidate with an aura of kesantrian (related to Islamic boarding school students) or even keulamaan (related to clerics). Meanwhile, the other side must tolerate “a bit of intolerance” by appointing several people with questionable track records concerning intolerance as a core part of their candidacy to fortify themselves against the use of identity issues.

They have even adopted elements of authoritarianism in their government in order to win the 2019 presidential election (Tom Power, 2018). Even though many of the supporters of the two camps know about these shortcomings and previously denounced them, they have chosen to be silent for now.

For the sake of akhaffud dararain (choosing the one who poses the least harm), they said.

Various Islamic organizations have chosen to enter the political arena. In fact, the offices of certain Islamic organizations have been turned into party offices or posts for the presidential campaign.

This has played a role in influencing the birth of polarization, leading to confrontation between Islamic groups, such as “NU vs the rest of Islam” or “Islam Nusantara vs other Islam”.

The dichotomy that is developing is no longer between Muslims and non-Muslims, but “traditional santri” vs “millennial santri” or “old santri” vs “new santri”. The first group is the santri and traditional Islamic boarding school alumni, the second group is alumni of halaqoh-halaqoh (group discussion) education on various campuses and an alumni movement against the candidacy of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama as the governor of Jakarta in December 2016.

If in the 1990s the new santri, who were considered as the alumni of state Islamic institutes (IAIN) or the State Islamic University (UIN), now they are no longer included in the category of new santri, but had become the old santri.

The NU-PNI-PKI Alliance of the past has often been mentioned on various social media platforms. Resistance to Islam Nusantara has also occurred in several regions, such as West Sumatra, North Sumatra and Banten. Some people are afraid that Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) will become part of the center of power, thereby preventing other Muslims from doing so, as happened in the case of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI).

Muhammadiyah’s tasks

Besides the aforementioned polarization, there are also different understandings of Pancasila and nationalism, between groups that want a sharia-based nation and those who do not, between Pancasila and the literal interpretation of its main principle, or “Pancasila with indivisible oneness”, and “Pancasila that is inclusive and pluralist “.

These various clashes and potential divisions in the community seem to be the reason that Muhammadiyah as an institution has chosen not to enter practical politics. “So that this nation has security assurances. If all religious institutions were to fight for political interests, the nation would become increasingly politicized,” is Muhammadiyah’s stance, as confirmed by Haedar Nashir.

The task of Muhammadiyah is to maintain the integrity and sovereignty of the nation and is it currently trying to act as a bridge that brings together various opposing groups.

The presidential election is a five-year political process that is part of the dynamics of our nation’s life. Do not let this process lead to a rift within the nation or hostility. This is the moral message that is often conveyed by Muhammadiyah.  (Ahmad Najib Burhani, Senior Researcher of LIPI)