centenary of the Muhammadiyah, the second largest Indonesian Muslim mass organization

Published November 29th, 2009 - 12:00 GMT

The Muhammadiyah, the second largest Muslim mass organization in Indonesia was founded in November 1912 by Ahmad Dahlan, has pursued moderation and modernization. But political Islam and puritanical theology have gained influence alongside nationalist traditions, replicating global trends in contemporary Islam.


M Hilaly Basya, a lecturer in the Muhamadiyah university acknowledged) that earlier on it highlighted modern principles but later it focused more on Muslim purification. (The Jakarta Post 26.11.2009


He sees these trends linked to transnational influences such as Wahhabism. He sees Muhammadiyah as part of the salafist movement calling on Muslims to return to the Koran and the Sunnah (the Prophet´s traditions), noting Wahhabis are not tolerant of diversity and tend to try to purify Muslims away from local customs, culture and traditions.


He concludes “Muhammadiyah showed a more puritan face seeking to establish pure Islam, rather than a progressive face.”


So the conservative and progressive trends flow in different directions, while real rather than ritual support for Muslim mass organizations and religion, seem in decline.


So the conservative trend is a reaction to loss of influence, both in Indonesia and globally, while the progressive trend is trying to adapt to globalization.


When the Muhammdiah was founded it faced almost half a century of struggle against colonialism.


Muhammadiah trod the path to national liberation and the founding of the non-aligned movement when Marshall Tito, President Sukarno and Colonel Nasser of Egypt seized the leadership of the “third world” in Bandung in 1955.


In its second fifty years Muhammadiyah has been more influenced by the rise of the Arab and Muslim world, the struggle between Israel and Palestine, the resurgence of Wahhabism and evolution of a reforming and radical political Islam.


The Indonesian Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the Parti Islam Semalaysia (PAS), the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party (AP), Hamas in Palestine and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have all attracted support in elections. Political Islam is converging with mainstream politics in Muslim societies and getting into power.


But Hilaly Basya is clear Islamic political movements seeking an Islamic caliphate would destroy democracy and in the Indonesian case would break up the nation.


In this perspective the rise of the Sunni conservative radicals could split Islam politically and irretrievably into conservative and liberal wings, on similar lines to the Christian Protestant-Catholic divide, but with some Wahhabis moving to the liberal democratic modernizing camp.


Basya seeks clarification and assurances that Muhammadiyah will continue to consolidate Indonesian democracy.


In 1945 Muhammadiyah opposed writing shariah law into the Constitution.


In 1956 it backed social education rather than a political approach.


In 1998-9 it was part of the progressive coalition that helped end the Suharto regime and establish democracy, and set up the reformist National Mandate Party (PAN) led by the Muhammadiyah leader, Amien Rais.


In the latest elections the PAN fielded many actors and soap opera stars as candidates – so it is no threat to entertainment.


But both the Muhammadiyah and the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) (the largest mass Muslim organization in Indonesia) became too closely linked to political parties.


Muhammadiyah Chairman Din Syamsuddin admits that after a hundred years there could be stagnation in the movement without change.


But does it need a collective leadership or a strong individual leader like Ahmad Dahlan to lead reform?


The charismatic and pre-eminent leadership style of NU leader Abdurrahman Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur, who briefly rose to be President of Indonesia, almost tore the NU apart politically, spawning parties, controversy and splits.


Both Muhammadiyah and NU now face similar problems. Too much politics, like cigarettes, can be bad for y our health. Younger radicals are eating up grass roots supports in the mosques. And support seems to be falling as modernization advances, with respect for older and traditional religious leadership in decline.


This leaves both organizations claiming inflated membership figures while there are less activists, who are aging relative to the general population. The renaissance and reform advocated by Din Syamsuddin is overdue. He admits it should have started 10-15 years ago. Can they catch up, or is this decline permanent?


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