100th Centenary Muktamar of Muhamadiyah in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Indonesia has two over-riding Muslim organizations guiding its huge Muslim population. Muhammadiyah, with over 30 million members, is Number Two, founded by Achmad Dahlan a hundred years ago. Nahdlatul Ulama (“NU”), which had the late President Gus Dur’s allegiance, has a slightly bigger membership.

There are quite noticeable differences in the styles of these two mammoth groups, although both are securely within the boundaries of what is permissible in Muslim culture. Muhammadiyah, for example, favors a mathematical calculation of the “new moon” that starts the month of Ramadan, while NU favors actual moonsighting.

Some Muhammadiyah “fajr” prayer calls omit “Prayer is better than sleep”, whereas the NU mosques always include this. NU still uses the big drum before that actual call-to-prayer, which was a tradition started because the human voice before electronics did not carry far enough in jungle areas, whereas it carried quite far without electronics in desert areas.

Therefore, far from being some sort of innovation, the big drum serves in jungle areas to insure that the believers further away wake up and are well alerted to respond to the call. These are all small differences in two important and viable “sub-cultures” of the Islamic Ummah in Indonesia. To paraphrase Plato’s “Republic”, “The state and its organizations arise to fulfill human needs”.

We may say that Muhammadiyah considers itself more modern, while NU tries to retain the valuable traditional aspects of our Islamic practices. However, a major difficulty has emerged from the present instructions from Din Syamsuddin, present Head of Muhammadiyah. He has taken the well-known “liberal Indonesian Muslim” position that, 1) attempts to legalize the Shari’ah must be resisted, and 2) transnational Islamic organizations must be forbidden.

We have not yet heard why Muhammadiyah wishes to take these positions, other than to please the secular powers-that-be, such as the USA. The background issue, according to this writer, is simply that Muslims have not yet been able to formulate a model of multi-cultural pluralism that is consistent with Islamic teachings. Therefore, the secular model that dominates the globalized world today becomes the “default” model.

Din Syamsuddin, like the late Nurcholis Madjid before him, must be aware that many Muslim communities, such as Malaysia, are struggling mightily to find co-existence between secular universalism and Islamic law. Malaysia has been busy establishing a “two-track” system, in order to accommodate their 40% non-Muslim citizenry.

Nevertheless, President Sukarno, formulator of the present-day Indonesian state ideology “Pancasila”, originally allowed Shari’ah law to be applied to the Muslims as stated in the original preamble to the 1945 constitution. But then, reference to Shari’ah was rejected by a vociferous non-Muslim element that had been crucial to the success of Indonesian independence “Merdeka”.

As usually occurs when Islamic models or cultures weaken in their resolve, what computer-culture calls a “default screen” from the secular world takes its place. That is why gays and cross-dressers have been licensed to have their own organization in Malaysia, and are also ubiquitous in the big cities of Indonesia, even though clearly proscribed by both Qur’an and Hadith.

That is why certain members of the Malaysian parliament occasionally cry for the abolishment of any public call-for-prayer, as in all western countries (where they sometimes even consider the call as a form of “sound pollution”!).

We call upon our Islamic scholars to come forth on several issues, in which the weakness of our stand has so encouraged the Christians to encroach upon our Muslim communities. We desperately need a unanimous clarification on issues related to terrorism, especially the issue of the use of public suicide, and now we also need a clearly-stated model of Islamic approach to these issues.

Muhammadiyah and NU have both failed us in the urgent need to Islamize this concept of the nation-state. This failure has given many Muslims, as well as westerners, the mistaken notion that western liberal humanism is in fact what everyone in this entire world really wants and should have. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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