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Muhammadiyah's Progressive Islam: Guideline or tagline?

    Muhammadiyah's Progressive Islam: Guideline or tagline?

    Ahmad Imam Mujadid Rais

    The Jakarta Post

    Jakarta / Mon, August 3, 2015 / 06:14 am

    Muhammadiyah, the country's second largest Muslim organization, will hold its 47th national congress (muktamar) in Makassar, South Sulawesi, this week. The congress will set up a new agenda for the next five years, including electing a new leader who will replace two-time chairman Din Syamsuddin.

    Muhammadiyah's challenges and plans include internal consolidation of leadership, bureaucratic improvement and dealing with external issues of globalization, poverty and lack of education, low quality of human resources and the upcoming integrated
    ASEAN economic community.

    In response to such challenges, Muhammadiyah's central board in the past years reformulated its movement through the notion of Islam berkemajuan, a hot topic among its members and activists.

    'Progressive Islam', a loose translation of Islam berkemajuan, is clearly a part of the efforts to cope with challenges among its followers and among Indonesian Muslims, challenges which include poverty, injustice and human resources.

    The translation itself is still problematic. Amin Abdullah, a former rector
    of the UIN Kalijaga, Yogyakarta, described in 2011 the slight differences between Islam berkemajuan, which emerged in the early 20th century, and Islam progresif as understood by academics. But let's just focus on the similarities.

    Since the establishment of Muhammadiyah in 1912, its founder Kyai Haji (revered cleric and haj) Ahmad Dahlan fully understood that Islam is compatible with the idea of being progressive, and that Islam encourages its followers to be the best and reach the highest quality of life in political, economic, social, cultural and religious terms.

    The idea of being progressive is deeply entrenched in Muhammadiyah's history. During the colonial period, shortly after Muhammadiyah's establishment, meetings held by Ahmad Dahlan with his students included proposals to build hospitals and orphanages.

    One student, the future cleric KH Syuja, had laughed, saying it was impossible at the time. He later acknowledged confidence in the plans: Dutch people who built hospitals and orphanages, he wrote, 'are ordinary people who also eat rice. If others can do it, I am sure we can do it too.' History has recorded the program as a brilliant achievement for a new-born Muslim organization at the time.

    The idea of fastabiqulkhairat (competition in goodness) also deeply inspired Muhammadiyah's activities. As a former chairman of Muhammadiyah, Buya (revered ulema) Syafii Maarif said, doing good deeds through the establishment of massive numbers of Muhammadiyah schools and clinics is not the main focus of the organization ' it is their quality and thus continued improvement.

    According to Muhammadiyah's manifesto at its 46th national congress of 2010 in Yogyakarta, Islam berkemajuan should sow the seeds of truth, goodness, peace, justice, welfare and prosperity.

    Islamupholds human dignity of both men and women without discrimination ' and inflames awareness against war, terrorism, violence, oppression, backwardness and all forms of destruction and degradation of life such as corruption, abuse of authority, crimes against humanity and exploitation of nature.

    Attempts to summarize the spirit of Islam berkemajuan based on the teachings of Ahmad Dahlan and the writings of his students and companions reveal five features of the concept.

    First is pure faith (tauhid), the central doctrine in Islamic teachings.
    Muslims committed to tauhid should have high social, intellectual and
    spiritual awareness. They should be optimists and hard working honest
    persons with no fear except of Allah. They should have the conviction
    that life is part of worshiping God.

    Secondly, he or she should have a deep understanding of the primary sources of Islam, the Koran and the Prophet's sayings or hadith.

    Third, there should be an institutionalization of charity aimed to solve problems based on the scripture and hadith. For instance, the establishment of hospitals and orphanages are part of the practice of surah Al-Ma'un. The establishment of Muhammadiyah itself is proof of faith as mentioned in surah Ali Imran: 104: to organize others to do good deeds, and prohibit
    them from committing sins.

    Fourth, focus on the present and future. Islam berkemajuan prefers to solve present problems and prepare for the future rather than praise the glories of past Islamic kingdoms. Thus, Muhammadiyah should be well-prepared to overcome current problems and benefit the most from today's developments. Globalization and an integrated ASEAN economic community, for example, provides benefits such as through trade, science and global citizenship, though with negative impacts such as trafficking in persons, drug abuse, conflict and insecurity.

    The rapid development of information and technology also provide tools for Muhammadiyah to contribute through innovations and creativity for Indonesia's development.

    Fifth is a focus on being moderate and cooperation-oriented. Amid the resurgence of sectarianism and violent extremism the spirit of Muhammadiyah in its early years were open-mindedness, moderation, tolerance and promotion of dialogue among different groups and beliefs.

    For example, in one gathering Ahmad Dahlan invited a leader of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) to explain the purpose of the party and their responses toward social and economic problems at that time. At Muhammadiyah's first hospital Ahmad Dahlan himself asked for the assistance of a Catholic physician, since the Muslim community at the time had no doctor.

    These examples show that openness and cooperation in social matters is a part of Islamic teaching apart from egalitarianism and self-confidence to promote ideas and beliefs.

    Overall, in its post-centennial era, Muhammadiyah must play a pivotal role to make
    Indonesian society more developed and prosperous. The spirit of Islam
    berkemajuan becomes a guideline for Muhammadiyah elements to be more
    proactive, responsive and provide solutions to current problems. To this
    end Muhammadiyah needs a modern and responsive management, led by
    strong and capable leaders, comprising a self-confident chairman and
    solid collegiality among its 13 leaders 'along with a strong vision
    for the future. Otherwise, the notion of its progressive Islam will be a
    mere tagline rather than concrete action.

    ... the spirit of Muhammadiyah in its early years were open-mindedness, moderation, tolerance and promotion of dialogue ...

    Theauthor is a secretary at LAZIS Muhammadiyah, the organization's alms
    body, and a researcher at the Maarif Institute for Cultural and
    Humanitarian Studies. He graduated with a Masters of International
    Relations from the University of Melbourne, Australia.