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Jokowi goes extra mile in wooing Muhammadiyah

Jakarta Post - February 25, 2017

Haeril Halim, Jakarta – For President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, attending and opening a national meeting of Muhammadiyah is not usually included in his presidential commitments.

While Muhammadiyah is a politically influential religious organization in the country, there is no need for a president to attend one of its national meetings.

However, he did it anyway. On Friday, Jokowi flew all the way from Jakarta to Ambon to attend Muhammadiyah's tanwir (enlightenment) meeting. He was en route to Australia for a two-day state visit on Feb. 25-26.

Although the invitation to attend the meeting was only submitted to the State Palace on Feb. 13, Jokowi immediately accepted and inked it into his presidential agenda. The President agreed to go to Maluku for Muhammadiyah despite the fact that the President had visited the city for a working visit just weeks ago.

In his opening speech, Jokowi admitted that some people questioned his decision to fly to Ambon from Jakarta just to attend the tanwir meeting as he had already visited Muhammadiyah's congress in Makassar in August 2015.

"So, I am here again in Ambon after being here two weeks ago. The first reason is because I love Maluku. And the second reason is because I love Muhammadiyah," Jokowi said, which was met with applause.

"Some whispered to me 'you have attended Muktamar [congress], so why are you attending tanwir, too?' I replied that I wanted to come. I wanted to come. I attended Muktamar, and I am also attending tanwir," Jokowi added.

The conciliatory gestures that the President showed on Friday came after what appeared to be a rocky relationship between Jokowi and the organization, which sometimes behaves as a thorn in the President's side.

In July 2016, Jokowi appointed a Muhammadiyah executive Muhadjir Effendy as Education and Culture Minister in an apparent attempt to embrace members of the organization in order to garner support for his presidency. The move proved to be futile.

Only a few weeks after the appointment of Muhadjir, Muhammadiyah threatened to challenge Jokowi's tax amnesty at the Constitutional Court in August. It later canceled its plan after Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati went to its headquarters to further explain Jokowi's signature program.

A few months later, relations between Jokowi and the group seemed to have soured again after Jokowi's ally, Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, was accused of blasphemy when he cited a Quranic verse. The youth wing of Muhammadiyah was one of the first groups to report Ahok to the police for alleged blasphemy.

A member of Muhammadiyah's majlis tarjih (legislative division), Bachtiar Nasir, has been a leading figure in a series of anti-Ahok rallies, including the Nov. 4 rally which was exploited by Jokowi's political enemies in an effort to undermine his administration.

The rally forced Jokowi to visit the headquarters of Islamic organizations, including Muhammadiyah, and the armed forces to maintain political stability.

As Jokowi faced an inquiry initiated by the opposition parties for his decision not to suspend Ahok after being indicted for blasphemy, Muhammadiyah failed to give him public support by asking him to do exactly what the opposition parties wanted.

In the short term, what Jokowi did in Ambon was meant to ease the rising sectarian tension in the country following Ahok's blasphemy case, political observer Arya Fernandez of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said.

In the long run, Arya said, it is important for the President to stay close to Muslim voters ahead of the 2019 presidential election. "The message that the President wants to deliver is that he wants to maintain relationships with Muslim organizations," Arya said.

As the second largest Muslim organization after Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Muhammadiyah, with more than 40 million followers, is a culturally and politically significant organization. The group has long been considered as the voice of religious moderation in the country.

However, as Jokowi tried to win the hearts of the Muhammadiyah elite, many of whom are progressive Muslims, questions linger over whether the elites within the group could help Jokowi win the support of the grassroots.

Bachtiar, who secretary-general Abdul Mu'ti said was no longer active in majlis tarjih, may represent a more conservative faction within Muhammadiyah, which the organization's central board no longer controls.

Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2017/02/25/jokowi-goes-extra-mile-in-wooing-muhammadiyah.html