Haedar Nashir Named New Muhammadiyah General Chairman

ONLY in a ten-minute election process involving 13 formators, Muhammadiyah successfully elected its new executive board general chairman Dr Haedar Nashir during its congress in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Thursday, August 6/15.

Haedar Nashir, born in Bandung, West Java, is currently a senior lecturer in the Muhammadiyah University, Yogyakarta, will lead one of the country’s major Muslim organizations for the period of 2015-2020, election committee chairman Dahlan Rais said in Makassar on Thursday evening.

Haedar Nashir replaces his predecessor Prof Din Syamsuddin who served as the Muhammadiyah general chairman for two periods.

During its 47th national congress, which began on August 3 to 7, Muhammadiyah has formulate a new agenda for the next five years as earlier expected by its two-term chairman, Din Syamsuddin.

Soon after being elected through the brief election, Nasir said he will try to build the Muhammadiyah as a dynamic organization in order to become more advanced and modern in the mission changes.

“In the next five years, we will build a dynamic Muhammadiyah to become brighter,” he pointed out.

According Nashir, Muhammadiyah also sees three major problems in the future life namely the virtue, nationality, and humanity.

Established in 1912, Muhammadiyah, the socioreligious organization in Indonesia, aims at adapting Islam to modern Indonesian life.

Establishment of the organization was chiefly inspired by an Egyptian reform movement, led by Muhammad Abduh, which had tried to bring the Muslim faith in harmony with modern rational thoughts.


Fri, 7 Aug 2015




Progressive Indonesia in ‘Islam Nusantara’ (Archipelagic Islam)

nu muh mukNasihin Masha
THIS week, two largest Islamic organizations in Indonesia held a congress simultaneously. The congress, that always be held in every five years, is not only to picked a new management, but also to formulate new programs for the next five years. Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), established in 1926, held the congress on Saturday (1/8,15), in Jombang, East Java. Muhammadiyah, established in 1912, held the congress on Monday (3/8/15), in Makassar, South Sulawesi.

As an Islamic boarding school-based organization, NU’s congress was held in boarding schools. While Muhammadiyah who grows its strength in educational and medical institutions, held the congress in university. If in the congress, NU has “Islam Nusantara” as tagline, then Muhammadiyah has “Progressive Indonesia/Islam.” Muhammadiyah’s tagline was born first, when they arranged the white book of the existence of Muhammadiyah in their second 100 years. The book was published in 2012. Muhammadiyah’s congress this year is the first congress held in the second century. Meanwhile, NU’s tagline was used as a theme of the congress.

In public, these two taglines is considered as if it is contested. However, it must be recognized that the phrase “Islam Nusantara” has strength, powerful magnitude, and is more contextual. The tagline is able to trigger public dicussion, even a bit controversial. Because of that, public considered Muhammadiyah’s tagline, “Progressive Indonesia/Islam,” to be more flat, but it is beyond Islam.

Actually, the two taglines were simply confirmation. NU has consecrated themselves as Aswaja – ahlussunnah wal jama’ah. A movement that is based on four mahzab – Shafi’i, Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki – and the theology based on the Asy’ariyah. In short, NU is Sunni, not Syiah. In the time when KH Hasyim Muzadi became the chairman of NU, this organization has a tagline “Islam rahmatan lil ‘Alamin.” It is considered as appropriate when the world condition, especially in Indonesia, was gripped by terrorism and inter-religion conflict. The tagline shows Islam is peaceful and sheltered. Now, when the world condition was teased by salafi and ISIS, NU presents “Islam Nusantara” –an Indonesian typical of Islam. Conflicts that happen in the Middle East and South Asia are conflicts among Sunnis. NU is also Sunni, so that it is necessary to do the differentiation with other Sunnis. Even we can draw a firmer line on Walisongo’s propaganda –nine of them symbolized the nine stars on NU’s logo – as a form of successful propaganda of Islam Nusantara. The new tagline has two dimensions: differentiation with other Sunni and against Salafi waves.

Muhammadiyah is known as a movement that modernizes the people. Modern means advanced. Firstly, it is the war against three problems of people: superstition, heresy, and churafat. To against the three problems, the founders of Muhammadiyah focused on education, health care, and helped orphans. Therefore Muhammadiyah is very prominent oneducational institutions, hospitals and clinics, and orphanages. Now, Muhammadiyah no longer focuses on it. Even in the last five years, they focus only on the Jihad Constitution. They fought for all the rules and regulations to be back to the 1945 Constitution. Jihad this time is toward the economic fields. In these second hundred years, their focus is no longer only on the citizens’ territory. The citizens are part of the nation, Muhammadiyah is part of Indonesia, and the organization is a ‘part’ of the country. Therefore, the citizens should contribute to finish ‘the mansion’. The citizens will be peaceful and prosperous if Indonesia is also advanced, and vice versa. However this does not mean that Muhammadiyah will join the politics of power. Muhammadiyah will enter the dimension of values, spiritual, moral, vision, and influence. The progress of a nation and a society is very close to the ethics and spirit.Sociology of development – mainly initiated by Max Weber – are very close with this matter.

NU and Muhammadiyah are two main machines of the Islamic people, and also for the Indonesia. Those machines are driven. A nice car is not going to be nice if the driver is not good. Leadership recruitment process becomes so important. In this context, the electoral system of Muhammadiyah leaders is more developed. Besides collegial leadership, the process was also lengthy. Congress is just the beginning. A year before the congress, the Tanwir annual meeting be held with 200 delegates. Each delegate proposes three names. The names were then selected by the committee according to administrative requirements. At the Tanwir meeting, the participants select 39 names from the names that qualify. That selected names were brought to the congress to choose 13 names. Then the next 13 names is going to choose the chairman, that will be approved by the congress. This system has been running since 1937, when KH Mas Mansur was elected. It is difficult to play with power or money. Long and tired process will minimize the manipulative elections. However, there is an always strong candidate. This time there are two names: Haedar Nashir and Abdul Mu’ti, they were chairman and secretary of the editorial team of white book of Progressive Indonesia.

This year, NU tried to implement a new system for the election, namely Ahlul Halli Wal Aqdi (Ahwa). Musytasyar and Syuriah already have 39 names. The names were submitted to the NU branches. In congressregistration, the NU branches will pick nine names. The nine names will be Ahwa members. The Ahwa will choose Rais Aam Syuriah andcandidates of Tanfidziah chairman. However, the Tanfidziah chairman still will be chosen with one man one vote system. This system is potentially followed by money politics and fund raising. Sometimes, the focus of the congress is only in the election, not in formulation of the programs. There are three names that compete in Tanfidziah: KH Said Aqil Siradj, KH Asad Said Ali, and KH Salahuddin Wahid. Syuriah is as the higher institution, while Tanfidziah is as the executor of the policy.

Hopefully, NU and Muhammadiyah congress will create a visionary and responsive leader. A leader who not looks only at his members or a leader who sees anything a point of view.

Anyone who will lead these two religious organizations need to pay attention to the following norms. Sometimes, big can mean fat. That means inaction. Ination sometimes be limp. It can also mean great reliability. Indonesia is a country that is in a progress. Indonesia is also still so fragile. In that situation there is always sharp and volatile dynamics. The people need a quick and powerful response. We expects NU and Muhammadiyah greatness, just like an aircraft: strong, central, accommodating.

Congratulation for the congress! Indonesia is in your hands, as you should be in our hearts.


Wed, 5 Aug 2015

nu muh muk kha khh


Muhammadiyah grants scholarships to 1,419 Thailand students

Muh muk din

MUHAMMADIYAH as one of the major Muslim Organizations in Indonesia provided scholarships to 1,419 students of Thailand, general chairman of Muhammadiyah executive board Din Syamsuddin stated.

“Thousands of Thai Muslim university students have studied in a number of Muhammadiyah higher learning institutes in Java Island,” Din said here on Wednesday on the sidelines of attending Muhammadiyah 47th National Congress.

The scholarships were awarded to young Muslims from four provinces in Thailand in effort to gain knowledge in Indonesia which later will be applied in their country, he added.

“They study in Indonesia do not only relate to religious knowledge but also study at the faculty of agriculture, economics, technology, management and several other faculties,” he explained.

Muhammadiyah is holding its 47th National Congress here from August 3 through August 7.

At the congress, a new agenda for the next five years will be formulated, and a new leader to replace two-time chairman, Din Syamsuddin, will be elected.

muh muk logo


Muhammadiyah plans a ‘National Car’

Solar-powered car 'Suryawangsa 2' and 'Giwangkara' manufactured by Gondanglegi Vocational Secondary School (SMK) of Muhammadiyah in Malang, East Java, and SMK Haurgeulis of  Muhammadiyah in  Indramayu, West Java,  The second car was launched at the Muhammadiyah HQ in Jakarta last December  Photo: CNN Indonesia / Lalu Rahadian)

Solar-powered car ‘Suryawangsa 2’ and ‘Giwangkara’ manufactured by Gondanglegi Vocational Secondary School (SMK) of Muhammadiyah in Malang, East Java, and SMK Haurgeulis of Muhammadiyah in Indramayu, West Java, The second car was launched at the Muhammadiyah HQ in Jakarta last December Photo: CNN Indonesia / Lalu Rahadian)

Randi Fabi and Klara Virencia

FED up with capitalists plundering Indonesia’s riches, members of the country’s second-largest Islamic group have drawn up plans to launch a “people’s power” movement.

On top of their list: build a national car.

If realized, the Muhammadiyah group’s ambition would revive a project launched by autocratic leader Suharto’s son, Tommy, in 1996 but halted during the Asian financial crisis just two years later. As yet, though, its plans for the car are sketchy.

A century-old Islamic group in the country which has the largest number of Muslims in the world, Muhammadiyah is known mainly for its ubiquitous schools and hospitals. But it also has ambitions to break into tourism, food and the fishing sectors.

The group’s push to become a force in the economic and corporate spheres has been spurred by the success of its so-called “constitutional jihad”, which has dealt legal blows to private participation in the energy and water sectors and now threatens to reverse the convertibility of the currency.

Muhammadiyah, which has some 30 million followers, believes it has a mission to protect Southeast Asia’s largest economy from globalization and capitalistic policies that favor foreign investors over Indonesians. But its campaign could derail President Joko Widodo’s already stumbling efforts to attract desperately needed investment from abroad.

“Muhammadiyah is now in the middle of a struggle between a capitalist economic system and a socialist economic system,” said Syafrudin Anhar, head of the group’s economic committee.

“The world will not reach peace and prosperity through political intrigue, but rather through economic balance.”

Indonesia’s largest Islamic group, Nahdlatul Ulama, also funds schools and hospitals, but is not overtly political.

Muhammadiyah, thee years ago, challenged parts of the oil and gas law, saying they violated a constitutional tenet that all land, water and natural resources must be controlled by the state. Its victories in that case became the opening salvo in what became known as a “constitutional jihad”.

The group now has 115 laws in its sights, including legislation on foreign exchange, investment and the power sector, and also plans to challenge Widodo’s decision to scrap fuel subsidies, his boldest policy step so far.

“We are not against foreign investors as long as there are clear limitations on foreign involvement in economic sectors,” Anhar said.

Anhar and a small group of mainly Muhammadiyah economic professors gathered this month for a three-day conference in the town of Palembang to draft an economic battle plan for the next five years.

Once finalised, the blueprint will be submitted for approval at the group’s national congress in August.

The plan is to consolidate small Muhammadiyah businesses into industry-specific companies that will receive initial funding through a network of micro-financing cooperatives.

Muhammadiyah sees opportunities to cash in on the growing demand for halal food and halal tourism in Indonesia.

As for the national car, its vocational schools have already built several proto-types of a model called the Esemka, which was used by Widodo as his official vehicle when he was mayor of the city of Surakarta or Solo.

One proto-type can run on solar energy, said Bambang Setiadji, professor at Solo’s Muhammadiyah University (UMS).

“To establish such an industry, it is not that difficult,” he said. “UMS has given birth to many automotive industry engineers whose quality competes with those of China’s.”

The group hopes to get Widodo’s backing to start mass production of the Esemka this year under a partnership between an Indonesian and a Chinese company that would aim to source up to 80 percent of its components from Indonesia.

“We want our own companies and to make products for the middle and lower class,” said Nadrattuzaman Hosen of the group’s economic council. “The difference will be that our profits will not go to the rich overseas, but will remain at home and go to our people.”

(Additional reporting by Klara Virencia in JAKARTA; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

The Rector of University of Muhammadiyah Malang (UMM) Dr. Muhadjir Effendy, M.AP launched electric car of 'UMM Sport' in front of Student Center (SC) in November 2012. The car participated in IEMC (Indonesia Energy Marathon Challenger) contest at Kenjeran circuit, Surabaya.

The Rector of University of Muhammadiyah Malang (UMM) Dr. Muhadjir Effendy, M.AP launched electric car of ‘UMM Sport’ in front of Student Center (SC) in November 2012. The car participated in IEMC (Indonesia Energy Marathon Challenger) contest at Kenjeran circuit, Surabaya.


RI never meant to be an Islamic nation: NU


THE chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest Muslim organization, Said Aqil Siradj, has said that Indonesia was founded on values of peace and tolerance, and not exclusively on Islamic teachings.

During his speech at the National Resilience Institute’s (Lemhanas) golden anniversary on Wednesday, Said emphasized the role of religious figures in maintaining harmony in the country and how democracy and nationalistic values had kept the country together.

Said gave a speech titled “Peranan Ulama dalam Membentuk dan Membela NKRI” (The Role of Ulema in Shaping and Defending the Republic of Indonesia) in which he recalled the role of ulema or Muslim scholars during the struggle for the country’s Independence.

“Sukarno [Indonesia’s first president] invited members of NU to fight against invaders [colonizers]. [Nationalism] was part of their faith,” he said.

Said added that the NU’s ulema was at the forefront of defending the country’s ideology of Pancasila, which is based on democracy.

“Since [before Independence], members of NU declared that we were going to establish a darussalam [a peaceful country] instead of darul Islam [Islamic country],” he said, adding that the organization embraced the principle until now.

He also spoke of the danger of organizations that wanted to establish an Islamic state, which he said NU had long been fighting against.

“An organization that has the intention of establishing a religion-based state is a threat to Indonesia’s unity,” Said added.

Since the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) movement in Iraq and Syria, Indonesia, a country with the world’s largest Muslim population, has seen growing influence of the movement.

Hundreds of Indonesians have flocked to the war-torn countries to join the movement, including wives and children of extremists that had earlier joined the fight or relatives of members of local terrorist groups.

The government has started to engage in action to curb growing sympathy toward extremists in the country with the help of mainstream Muslim organizations, including NU and Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Muslim organization in the country.

The government has also claimed to be closely monitoring the Internet to stop the local campaigns of the group.

The institute’s anniversary coincides with National Awakening Day, which marks the emergence of Indonesian nationalism.

The institute, which is now under civilian management after restructuring in 2001, has been training Indonesian leaders since its establishment in 1965. The institute also has become a center for strategic studies, including food and political security, according to the institute.

The governor of the institute, Budi Susilo Soepandji, said the institute would continue to provide Indonesian leaders with training on leadership and nationalism, and continue to become a center for strategic studies.

“Lemhanas will continue the spirit of Sukarno when he established the institute. From the date of its establishment [May 20, which coincides with National Awakening day], we can actually tell what Lemhanas was established for,” he said.

The Jakarta Post
Thursday, 21 May 2015


NU, Muhammadiyah – Two Indonesian largest Muslim organizations support death penalty against drug dealers


The Nahdlatul Ulama or NU, the biggest Muslim organization in Indonesia, along with the second largest one, the Muhammadiyah, gives support to the government over the implementation of death penalty against drug dealers, senior members of the organizations said here on Wednesday.

The statement followed the visits of President Joko Widodo to the headquarters of the two organizations to request their opinions on the implementation of death penalty.

KH Said Aqil Siradj

KH Said Aqil Siradj

“The Nahdlatul Ulama supports the death penalty against dealers of drug,” Chairman of NU Aqil Siradj said at the NU headquarters, adding, “It is in line with the state constitution.”

Chairman of Muhammadiyah Malik Fajar also conveyed support to the punishment, saying, “Muhammadiyah fully supports the implementation of death penalty against drug dealers.”

Prof Dr HA Malik Fadjar

Prof Dr HA Malik Fadjar

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country, with Muslims accounting for the majority of its 238 million population, most of them are moderate.

The president said that he had already rejected dozens of petitions for exemption submitted by drug dealers who had been sentenced to death penalty by courts, and he already asked the attorney general’s office, police and other related institutions to strengthen efforts to enforce the anti-drug law.

Indonesia’s anti-narcotic agency has targeted to from the country from drug next year.

Xinhuanet, 24 Dec 2014


Islam and Democracy in Indonesia

islam democrac

Dr. Nikolaos van Dam

Dr. Nikolaos van Dam

Dr. Nikolaos van Dam

WHEN I was contemplating which thoughts I would like to share with you today, I posed myself the hypothetical question what we would think if a similar conference were to be held in Jakarta, for instance by the Muhammadiyah, one of the biggest Indonesian Muslim organizations, with as topic: “Are Christianity and democracy compatible?” Wouldn’t we be somewhat surprised if Indonesians would ask themselves whether Christianity and democracy are compatible, taking Europe as an example? We would probably react by thinking that it is so obvious that Christianity and democracy do go well together in Europe, that we do not need any academic discussion to prove it, let alone by non-European Muslim “outsiders”. Actually, we might in this case probably not even bring up the issue of religion, because we would think that it goes without saying that democracies are flourishing in the Western world, of which Europe is a part, irrespective of whether there are secular or religious inspired governments. But is it really that obvious if we look at European history? After all, didn’t we have the most ugly dictatorships in Europe in countries with populations that at the time could really be considered as having a majority of devote Christians? Aren’t the eras of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and General Franco in Spain clear examples that also Christianity (or being a Christian) and dictatorship can go well together? After all, these are examples in which big parts of Christian populations in Europe enthusiastically supported their dictatorial leaders, which led to millions of dead.

If I would say on basis of these experiences that Christianity and democracy are actually incompatible, I would almost certainly be ridiculed, because it will, rightly, be considered as nonsense. After all, most of Europe is now democratic, and the big majority is still Christian. That should be proof enough in itself, wouldn’t it? We would not need to study the Bible or other Christian texts to convince us of the thesis that democracy and Christianity (or being a Christian) are compatible.

Following the same logic, we do not have to study the Qur’an or other Islamic texts to convince us of the fact that Islam and democracy go well together, as is illustrated by countries with a Muslim majority which have democracies, like for instance Indonesia (with more than 205 million Muslims), Pakistan (178 million), Bangladesh (148 million) and Turkey (75 million), or a democracy with a very sizable Muslim population like India (which with its 177 million Muslim inhabitants almost equals Pakistan in this respect, and actually is the third largest country in the world as to the number of Muslim inhabitants after Indonesia and Pakistan). Indonesia also happens to be the third largest democracy in the world, after the United States and India.

To put it differently: there are various Islamic countries with a democratic political system, just as there are various predominantly Muslim countries that have a dictatorship. The same applies to non-Muslim countries: some are democracies; others are dictatorships, irrespective of the religions prevalent amongst its rulers or people. To me this just indicates that Islam and democracy, or being simultaneously a Muslim and democrat, can go very well together, just as the opposite may be the case. The same applies to countries with people having another religion, such as Christianity. Therefore one might draw as a main conclusion that in practice there is no specific link here between religion and either democracy or dictatorship.

To take a different, related question: is the Christian West (if we can call it Christian) democratically inclined when it comes to Islam?

We have seen various examples where Western countries have called upon the Palestinians to have free and democratic elections. When the result was a victory of the Islamic Resistance Organization Hamas, however, Western countries boycotted the results and generally refused contacts with the new Hamas local government, because of its position towards Israel. Something similar happened with the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in Algeria when it won the elections there. Their victory was rejected by the Algerian military, and this rejection was generally supported in the West.

From previous experiences the conclusion can be drawn that politicians in the West generally do indeed want to see democracy and democratic elections in the Islamic world, albeit that when the victorious parties happen to be predominantly Islamic oriented, they are not only not enthusiastic about the outcome but they sometimes even tend to reject the results, because that is not something they generally expected or wanted. One of the reasons for this rejection is the expectation that the Islamic forces that come to power through a democratic system, may turn out to misuse the same system so as to later impose their rule undemocratically. This, in turn, is based on the presumption that Islam and democracy are not really compatible. In some cases the expectations of misusing the democratic system may be quite justified, like recently in Egypt, but in other cases, like Indonesia, they are unfounded.

It just depends on which Islamic oriented group one takes as an example and to which period of time one refers. Some Islamic groups are at present clearly democratically oriented, like for instance the biggest Muslim organizations in Indonesia like the Muhammadiyah and the Nahdhatul Ulema that represent a very large part of the Indonesian Muslim population, whereas other, much smaller movements like the Jemaah Islamiyah or the Hizb al-Tahrir are undemocratically oriented. They want to use or misuse the democratic system to achieve their undemocratic aims, or they even reject democratic politics and the nation state.

The Muhammadiyah and the Nahdhatul Ulema are unique in the sense that nowhere else in the Islamic world can we find such big Islamic organizations. They are at present a stabilizing force helping the further democratic transformation of the country.

These parties today represent what in the past has been called “the smiling face of Indonesian Islam”, albeit that this expression also hides less pleasant factors, such as the mass killings of alleged communists during 1965-1966 that were orchestrated by Suharto’s military and were largely carried out by killing squads recruited from the main Muslim organizations. Fortunately, times have strongly changed in the positive sense. Change, however, is not always going into one direction. There have been shifts within the Muhammadiyah and Nahdhatal Ulema from liberal and progressive to more fundamentally conservative, and it is only natural that such large organizations are not homogeneous, but contain a variety of opinion.

I consider it a good phenomenon that we want to know much more about Indonesia and the Indonesians, while welcoming at the same time if Indonesians would want to know much more about the Netherlands and Europe.

Actually, one should have expected the Dutch to be already well informed about Indonesia and Islam. Unfortunately, however, we are not that well informed at all, not to say that bigger parts of the Dutch population are quite ignorant of Indonesia, its people and its rich cultures, just as they are generally not that well informed about Islam. This is because education about Indonesia and Islam is quite minimal, if not to say inadequate. People are, unfortunately, not born with knowledge, like some bird species are, but have to obtain it during their lives through study, education, experience and their surroundings. Public education unfortunately does not really provide it. The idea that it might be a moral obligation to be at least better informed about one’s own colonial history – with both its negative and positive sides – apparently hardly finds any positive response in the Netherlands.

Who does still remember today that the Kingdom of the Netherlands once upon a time had the biggest number of Muslim citizens in the world, because of its colonies in what today is the Republic of Indonesia? And who remembers that the Consulate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Jeddah (which is now closed) was one of the most important consulates in the world because of the numerous Hajj pilgrims of the Dutch Indies who had to pass through this city on their way to Mecca? With this background in mind it was only logical that Islam was seriously studied by Dutch scholars; and that many of their Islamic studies were related to the situation in the Dutch Indies. Some of the best libraries on the subject were established in the Netherlands and many of the studies that were carried out by Dutch scholars at that time are still valuable today. The libraries and materials are still there, but the number of scholars dealing with Indonesia has drastically declined. So has the interest among students. Nevertheless, interest in Islamic studies is still very vivid, albeit that the motivations have shifted and have become quite different.
One would have expected that the Kingdom of Netherlands of today, being formerly the state with the biggest number of Muslim citizens in the world, would be populated by people having a special awareness, sensitivity, experience and knowledge about Islam. But this is not the case, and probably never has been so. Two of the reasons for this are that the people of Indonesian origin living in the Netherlands are almost exclusively Christians, and that the Dutch in the Indonesian Archipelago generally were not very close with the Muslim communities there, for fear of Islamic opposition and hostility towards Dutch colonialism.

This attitude is reflected in the collections of today’s Dutch museums. In the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam a lot is exhibited about Indonesian minorities like the Bataks, Dayaks, Papuas, and so on; but hardly anything can be found on the Muslim majority. And this is no coincidence; it was on purpose, because in the past special public attention to the Muslim population was avoided in exhibitions.

I have been following developments in the Islamic and Arab world half a century now, and for most of that time I never felt bothered by the question of whether or not Islam was compatible with democracy. To me it was not really a theme that I considered to be relevant.

On the contrary: I considered it to be a kind of non-issue, and to a certain extent I still do. Except for the fact that many people, particularly in the West, have in the meantime started to consider it to be of essential importance. Therefore it has become a controversial question, which can no longer be fully ignored. Not that it is always a realistic one based on actual facts. In a way, it tells more about the attitude of those who imagine Islam and democracy to be incompatible than about the realities in the Islamic world.

Does Islam adapt itself to society or does society adapt itself to Islam?

Some describe Indonesia as an Islamic country, although there are many people with other religions living here. These constitute some 10% of the population, making up some 24 million people. In 2009 not less than 10 of the 33 Provinces in Indonesia had a non-Muslim Governor. Instead of calling Indonesia an Islamic country, it is more appropriate to describe it as “the country with the biggest Muslim population of the world”. Different from what some Western observers tend to suggest, Indonesia’s official state ideology, the Pancasila, is not really secular, because its first principle is the “belief in One God”. There is no strict separation between religion and state, and since the Indonesian state with its Pancasila ideology “is already Islamic enough”, there is, as Professor Azyumardi Azra has pointed out, “no strong reason for mainstream Muslims to transform Indonesia into an Islamic state”. At the same time the principle of “unity in diversity” is to be respected. It is even the slogan in the national weapon: “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”.

It should be added here that many of the more purist Muslims have in the course of time rejected the Pancasila. They wanted to give a constitutional status to the Shari’ah, at least during the discussions on the Jakarta Charter, as the preamble to the 1945 Constitution was called. But they failed, and the Pancasila was succesfully imposed from above, which, in turn, strengthened Indonesia’s unity in diversity. By way of an exception in the Islamic world, Islam in Indonesia was not placed above other officially recognized religions but was allocated a place side by side with Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and Buddhism.

In 2005 the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI, Indonesian Council of Islamic Scholars) issued a fatwa (religious opinion) declaring secularism, pluralism and religious liberalism to be incompatible with Islam. Fatwas like these were also an attack against the thought of prominent liberal reformers like Abdarrahman Wahid (later Indonesian president) and Nurcholish Majid. Many Muslims did, however, protest against the fatwas of the Majelis Ulema Indonesia, including the former chairmen of the Muhammadiyah and the Nahdhatul Ulema.

Respect for unity in diversity is clearly reflected in a special phenomenon in Indonesia, which I did not come across in any Arab Islamic country, and that is the greeting of different religious communities with their respective greeting formulas, even if one does not belong to one of these communities. When addressing a Muslim audience it is fully accepted in Indonesia to start with the Islamic greeting of “assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh”, also by non-Muslims (although not all Muslims appreciate this); when addressing Christians in for instance Manado, a Muslim, on the other hand, might start with “shalom”, and in Bali the Buddhist greetings might be used. It is, however, appropriate to, after a religious formula, always add the more general and religiously neutral formula of: “Salam sejahtera bagi kita semua”, so as not to exclude anyone in the audience from being addressed.

islam democSome have noted that “the Islam” does not really exist, because there are so many forms of Islam. I would argue, rather, that although Islam does have so many varieties and whereas there is such a rich diversity in Islamic communities, this does not exclude “the Islam” from existing. It merely means that there are different interpretations of it. Certain basic principles of Islam are, however, the same everywhere. What is different are the regional and cultural diversities among Islamic communities.

Islam emanated in a specific Arabian social and cultural environment, existing in the Arabian Peninsula at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. It is only natural, therefore, that the original Islam contains many Arab specifics. Although Islam can be said to be a universalistic religion, it can also be said that it started as an Arab religion, revealed in the Arabic language. This language is so much part of Islam, that it is considered inappropriate to do the ritual prayer (Salat) in any other language than Arabic. An Indonesian religious leader who led the ritual prayers in Indonesian was imprisoned for this one day in the past.

When Islam spread outside the Arabian Peninsula and came into contact with other cultures, Islam adapted itself to these regions in the sense that various local habits and traditions where not only being accepted as not contradicting those of Islam, but were later on also sometimes interpreted by the local populations as being in line with Islam, if not Islamic itself. Many people who as new Muslims continued part of their former traditions, gradually came to argue that these traditions were in fact part of Islam. In the traditional West Sumatra Minangkabau society, for instance, Minang culture is said to be based on Islam: “culture based on religion, which in turn is being based on the Qur’an”. One might, however, also say that Islam has merged here to a large extent with local culture, because Islamic religion and Adat are in this region perceived to be almost identical. A remarkable aspect of Minang society is that, different from Arab Islamic custom, it has a matriarchal system. There is nothing which prevents the Minang from being both devote Muslims and having a matriarchal system.

More generally, one might say that in large parts of Indonesia Islam has adapted itself to the local cultures and traditions, or has embedded itself into them, instead of fully adapting to the culture and traditions of the Arabian Peninsula the other way around. A similar phenomenon could be said to have taken place in other regions of what today is considered to be the Islamic world outside the Arabian Peninsula.

The aspect of peaceful coexistence of Indonesian cultures, traditions and Islam has been formulated most clearly, if not bluntly, by one of the most prominent members and thinkers of the Liberal Islamic Network (JIL: Jaringan Islam Liberal) the Indonesian Ulil Abshar-Abdallah in 2002, and I quote here from Martin van Bruinessen’s article “What happened to the smiling face of Indonesian Islam?”:

“I consider Islam as a living organism”, Ulil began his declaration, “and not as a dead monument erected in the seventh century…” There is a strong tendency these days to treat Islam as a monument, petrified and immutable, and it is time to challenge that attitude. We need interpretations that are non-literal, substantive, contextual and consonant with the heartbeat of a human civilization that is ever-changing. The substance of Islam should be separated from the culture of the Arabian peninsula, and it is that universal substance that has to be interpreted in accordance with the local cultural context. Whipping, stoning and the cutting of hands, the jilbab (full female covering) and beard are Arab cultural peculiarities and there is no reason why other Muslims should follow them.”

It is not surprising that Ulil’s remarks caused great controversy, even though many well-educated Muslims in Indonesia may share his views. Some orthodox Muslims even wanted him to be sentenced to death.

Indeed, by far not all Indonesian Muslims accept the local cultural and syncretic mystical elements as part of Islam. Some of the more orthodox Muslims tend to strongly reject them as unislamic. And although abangan, or Javanese syncretic oriented Muslims, do not enjoy formal recognition, most of them feel that the Pancasila protects them from santri (or more orthodox) pressure to conform to formal Islam. Tensions between more and less orthodox Muslims have existed throughout history and are bound to remain, varying in intensity from time to time, and making change always a possibility in one direction or another.

I would like to give a few practical examples, typical for Islamic tolerance in Indonesia:

– The Ramayana is a very popular epic in Indonesia, Java in particular. When I saw this dance performed in Yogyakarta for the first time, I asked what the religion of the dancers was. The reply was that they were all Muslims. I was amazed because I considered the Ramayana performance to be Hindu, and therefore was surprised that such a dance related to another religion could be performed by Muslims. A friend of mine, who had studied Indonesia for a long time, explained, however, that the Ramayana should in this case not be considered as a Hindu dance, but rather as a performance which was an expression of Indonesian or Javanese culture. Therefore culture was the key concept here, not religion.

– Something similar is the case when you look at many of the Javanese mosques. As has been described by Prof. Pijper in his well-known study on the mosques of Java, the roof or roofs of the typically Javanese mosques consist of various layers, the forms of which go back to Hindu-Javanese times, and may symbolize various heavens. These have nothing to do with Islam, but rather with the heavens existing in Hinduism. Here, again, the present shape has nothing to do with Hindu religion, but is rather a residue of Hindu culture in Java.

– Whereas in many other countries with Islamic majorities the use of Arabic Islamic names is very popular, in Indonesia, Java in particular, it is more common to frequently use traditional Javanese names. For that reason it is often not possible to know someone’s religious identity. But the ethnic and cultural background is often easily recognized. It is another example of the fact that traditional culture is given a prominent place in Indonesian society.

– Quite particular is also the performing by women of Qur’an recitals during opening ceremonies of important gatherings. In other Islamic or Arab countries I have never noticed such a phenomenon. It simply is an Indonesian tradition that reflects more the position of women in society than religion itself. Indonesia’s feminist movement is most dynamic and diverse.

When turning to the elections in Indonesia, one can note that the religious parties do not dominate the political scene, even if they theoretically could. During the legislative elections of April 2014 the Islamic-based parties had an impressive 32 percent of the total votes, enough to put forward their own presidential candidate. This prompted a number of prominent clerics from a wide range of Muslim organizations, including Professor Din Syamsuddin, the chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), to call for a coalition in an effort to indeed put forward their own presidential candidate for the presidential elections next July. Nothing came of it, however, because Islamic-based parties prefer to pragmatically cooperate with secular nationalist parties in order to obtain positions of political power, preferably in government, that offer more benefits than being in the formal parliamentary opposition. Political pragmatism prevails among the Islamic-based parties, as has been the case during earlier elections.

To make a long story short: Islam and democracy, or being simultaneously a Muslim and democrat, are fully compatible in Indonesia, as well as in quite a number of other countries with a Muslim majority. This being said, I should add that the perpetuation of democracy is not something that should be taken for granted, neither in Indonesia nor anywhere elsewhere in the world.

* Dr. Nikolaos van Dam was ambassador of The Netherlands to Indonesia, Germany, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq (1988-2010). He is the author of The Struggle for Political Power in Syria (London: I.B. Tauris, 2011, 4th edition).

Martin van Bruinessen, What happened to the smiling face of Indonesian Islam?, RSIS Working Paper No. 222, Singapore, 2011, p. 1; 3; 41-42.

Azyumardi Azra, ‘Indonesian Islam, Mainstream Muslims and Politics’, in: Umar Hadi, Abdul Mu’ti, et.al, Islam in Indonesia, Jakarta, 2009.

Martin van Bruinessen, ‘Islamic state or state Islam? Fifty years of state-Islam relations in Indonesia’, in: Ingrid Wessel (ed.), Indonesien am Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts, Hamburg: Abera-Verlag, 1996, p. 19-34.

Martin van Bruinessen, ‘Indonesian Muslims and Their Place in the Larger World of Islam’, in: Anthony Reid (ed.), Indonesia rising: the repositioning of Asia’s third giant, Singapore: ISEAS, 2012, pp. 117-140.

— Delivered at the Round Table Conference Indonesia Nederland Society, The Hague, Senate Building, 25 June 2014

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