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The future challenges for Indonesian Islam

    Hilman Latief

    The Jakarta Post

    The muktamar (congress) of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah have
    drawn widespread attention from the public, including foreign observers
    and researchers, partly because the country's largest Islamic
    organizations have in recent times represented Indonesia's most
    important civil society organizations whose members and sympathizers
    have participated in shaping the moderate pattern of Indonesian Islam
    over decades.

    Despite the fact that the two embrace different
    types of religious expression and practices, notably in daily rituals,
    they have shared a common concern about the presence of Islam in public

    For example, Muhammadiyah and NU have rigorously supported
    democracy, social justice and welfare in Indonesian society through
    various religiously inspired social, economic and educational programs
    throughout the country.

    It is interesting to note that while the
    elites of Muhammadiyah and NU have a very close relationship and have
    been able to exchange views concerning strategic issues, their followers
    at the grassroots level are still burdened by differences in practicing
    Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) and political orientation as well as in
    how to build mutual understanding.

    Efforts to define and promote Indonesian Islam have highlighted the almost simultaneous congresses.

    has scrupulously studied and eventually put forward Islam
    Berkemajuan (Progressive Islam) as its tagline, while NU has
    identified itself as the guardians of Islam Nusantara (Islam of
    the Indonesian Archipelago).

    Activists of the two organizations
    have published several books that underpin these self-identifications
    several months prior to the congresses.

    In short, both
    Muhammadiyah and NU have attempted to convince the public about what
    Indonesian Islam should be like into the future.

    As the election
    of leaders who will guide the two organizations in the next five years
    is part of the main agenda of the congresses, whoever assumes the top
    executive post of Muhammadiyah and NU will influence the dynamics of the
    Muslim groups in facing and responding to future challenges either in
    the domestic or international realm.

    So far Din Syamsuddin and
    Said Aqil Siradj, the chairmen of Muhammadiyah and NU, respectively,
    have been successful in defining the organizations as the pillars of
    Indonesian civil society.

    Muhammadiyah and NU, in some ways,
    remain on the right track by not being involved too much in
    political dynamics, although some individual figures of the
    organizations openly expressed their political aspirations in last
    years elections.

    Of course Muhammadiyah and NU have different
    experience and roles pertaining to the relationship between
    organizations and political parties.

    Being a neutral
    Islamic civil society organization is a wise road to take because not
    all their supporters and sympathizers would like to be politicized or
    mobilized for political reasons.

    I do agree that the two
    organizations can play their political roles by participating in
    any communal initiative to foster peoples welfare and public good.

    the second term of Dins leadership, Muhammadiyah has been exposed
    internationally thanks to the groups engagement in various peace
    forums, such as conflict resolution in Mindanao in South Philippines and
    Pattani in South Thailand. Din is also internationally renowned as a
    Muslim leader who consistently promotes interfaith dialogue.

    With a different style, NU under Aqil Siradj has persistently championed moderate Islam in Indonesia.

    the decline in intellectual discourse among NU activists compared
    with the same period two decades ago due to massive involvement of  NU
    figures in practical politics, there are still some activists who are
    relentlessly exploring the horizon and the cultural richness of
    Indonesian Islam.

    Of course, the leaders change every five
    years, but the two congresses must generate lasting, influential and
    genuine ideas that will help Muhammadiyah and NU increase their
    contribution to the nation.

    The future path and pattern of Muhammadiyah and NU should not be personified by their leaders.

    Indonesian Muslims are bracing for tougher challenges.

    home, welfare issues like poverty, social disparity and economic
    injustice; interreligious issues like intolerance, radicalism and
    majority-minority relations; public matters like corruption, political
    clientele-ism, natural disasters, will continue and will require both
    Muhammadiyah and NU to take the lead in addressing them.

    Indonesian Muslims cannot escape from the enormous impacts of global
    economic crises, wars and conflicts as well as the fight against

    Only if Muhammadiyah and NU come up with strategic
    plans and decisive formulas to answer those challenges, guide the new
    leaders and inspire their members, can the two organizations define the
    future of Indonesia Islam.

    writer is head of research, publication and community development at
    Muhammadiyah University of Yogyakarta, and member of the cadre division
    of the central board of Muhammadiyah. This is a personal view.