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Fostering progressive Islam

Jakarta Post Editorial - November 18, 2022

Jakarta – Muhammadiyah, the largest modernist Islamic organization in Indonesia, will begin its 48th national congress today after two years of postponement as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The congress is nothing short of a major event for Indonesia, which is home to the world's largest Muslim population. But it is now even more important given the rising political temperature ahead of the 2024 election, which is likely to divide the nation along ideological lines – the nationalists versus the Islamists.

Muhammadiyah, like Nahdlatul Ulama, its traditional counterpart, is expected to go beyond partisan politics and serve as a voice of reason in the cacophony of divisive political rhetoric that will infest our social media feeds.

The Islamic organization, established more than a century ago, has portrayed itself as proponent of "Islam berkemajuan" or "progressive Islam". It champions the ideals of Islam that overlap with progressive values such as social justice and democracy, which it has propagated through its educational and cultural institutions.

It is, therefore, essential that this year's congress, which is being held in Surakarta from Friday to Sunday, will produce new leadership that is committed to such ideals.

The stakes are high, considering the experience we had in the past two national elections, in which nationalist and Islamist rhetoric were both used to exclude others, paving the way for the rise of both hyper-nationalism and Islamic populism. The challenge is even greater for Muhammadiyah, which represents conservative urban Muslims, a key voter bloc that can sway the results of elections, particularly in major cities.

It does not help that Muhammadiyah members are also involved in practical politics. The organization is still historically and ideologically linked to the National Mandate Party (PAN), a pro-government party, whose co-founder, Amien Rais, a former Muhammadiyah chairman, is now leading the Ummat Party, an opposition Islamist party. Some of its younger members have also joined the pro-government Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI).

It is only natural that those parties will fight to get Muhammadiyah votes, so it is critical that the organization honors its policy of not getting involved in practical politics. It must, instead, influence the political process in a way that will elevate our politics as a whole.

It is not an understatement to say that whoever leads Muhammadiyah for the next five years will help shape the tone of Islamist politics for the 2024 election. We cannot afford to have another election dominated by sectarianism and political repression in the name of a "war on Islamic radicalism". Muhammadiyah and NU have shown us that Islamist politics is not necessary sectarian, that it can be inclusive and liberating.

The political and economic challenges that we are going to face in the coming years will be tough, with all the gloomy prognoses for the global economy after two years of pandemic lockdowns and a series of interest rate hikes.

Muhammadiyah has the responsibility to ensure that short-term elite interests will not, again, co-opt Muslim voters and steer the political conversation in a direction that is far from the ideals of the progressive Islam that it champions.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2022/11/17/fostering-progressive-islam.html