Islamic Cleric among Indonesian “Modernist” Muslims

…it would be a problematic to generalize the norm of Islamic Clerics among Indonesian Modernist Muslims. The ‘faces’ of modernist Muslims are changing just as other institutions where polarization is one of the characteristics. The clerical authority among reformist Muslim in Indonesia is now, especially after reformation era, more multipolar and more plural than ever before.

Muslims ScholarsMuhammadiyah did play important and significant role in establishing and maintaining clerical authorities among the modernist in the Old Order and the New Order, especially in the urban area as well as national political landscape. Muhammadiyah had special “relationship” with the two Presidents of Indonesia, Soekarno, and Soeharto. Both of them openly declared that they were Muhammadiyah cadres.

In the New Order era, almost all the minister of religious affairs are from the modernist Muslims wing, such as Mukti Ali, Munawarir Sadzali, Tarmidzi Tahir, and Malik Fadjar. The leader of MUI at the New Order era was also mostly from Muhammadiyah backgrounds, such as Hamka, E.Z. Muttaqin, and Hasan Basri. Muhammadiyah Bureaucrat also dominated in the Department of Religious Affairs (DEPAG).

How did Muhammadiyah breed their religious cleric at that time? In my humble opinions, two institutions of religious education in Yogyakarta played important roles. The first is Madrasah Mualimim Muhamadiyah in jl. Patangpuluhan Yogyakarta. This is the first boarding school initiated by the founder of Muhammadiyah, K.H. Ahmad Dahlan. The students in the school represented nationally, coming from a various region of the archipelago. After finishing the six-years study, they were sent to various areas to do dakwah, spreading Muhammadiyah’s mission.

The second is PHIN (Pendidikan Hakim Islam Negeri – State Education for Islamic Judge) in Jl. C. Simanjutak Yogyakarta, near by Gadjah Mada University. Unlike Muallimin, PHIN is a public school, dedicated specifically to educate candidates of Islamic judges. Its students also came from various regions in Indonesia. In the middle and the end of New Order era, the alumni of the school dominated officers of Kantor Wilayah Departemen Agama and Pengadilan Agama. Although the PHIN is a public school, almost its teachers are Muhammadiyah activities. The way the teachers teach attract students to be like what the teachers said and did. The alumni of the school then are Muhammadiyah activists or if they are not, at least open-minded religious cleric that accept and support modernity.

In the early 1980s, the role of Muallimin and PHIN as breeding areas for modernist Muslims cleric reduces significantly. Mualimin changed their curricula just to follow the curricula of Madrasah Tsanawiyah and Madrasah Aliyah Negeri (Islamic Lower and Upper Secondary School administrated by the Department of Religious Affairs), and the duties of a student to do one-year pengabdian (community development) were erased. The PHIN was then closed and replaced by Madrasah Aliyah Negeri (MAN) Yogyakarta I.

Following the success of Muallimin cadres prior 1980s, a number of regional Muhmmadiyah activists created Sekolah Kader (Cadre School) that mostly run in pesantren styles. The schools are called also as Pesantren Muhammadiyah, stressing on Quranic studies, Hadith, Arabic, Fiqh, plus the curricula of Madrasah Tsanawiyah and Madrasah Aliyah. Among the prominent and well know are Pesantren Darul Arqam Muhammadiyah in Garut, West Jawa; Pesantren Darul Arqam Muhamadiyah in Gombara, South Sulawesi; Pesantren Muhammadiyah in Paciran, Lamongan East Java; and many others.

In addition to Muhamadiyah pesantren for secondary students, there are also higher degree pesantren. These include Pondok Pesantren Hajjah Nurriyah Sabron in Solo that is under the auspice of Muhamadiyah University of Surakarta and Pesantren Ulama Tarjih Muhammadiyah, a higher degree Muhammadiyah pesantren dedicated to training students in Islamic Legal Law, in Yogyakarta.

Organizationally, the breeding, maintaining, and disseminating of Muhamadiyah clerics are under the duties of Majelis Tarjih dan Tajdid (Department of Tarjih and Reform) and Majelis Tabligh dan Dakwah Khusus (Department of Propagation and Special Mission). The Majelis Tarjih dan Tajdid focuses on Islamic law, fatwas, rituals, and developing Islamic thought, whereas Majelis Tabligh dan Dakwah Khusus focuses on Islamic Missionary including training, administrating and supporting Muhammadiyah preachers who live in remote and hinterland areas.

It is worth to note here that most of the Majelis Tarjih dan Tajdid members at the Central Board Muhammadiyah (Pimpinan Pusat Muhammadiyah) are from the IAIN, Institute Agama Islam Negeri (now is UIN, Universitas Islam Negeri, State Islamic University) Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta. They are either university professors or lecturers in Tafsir (Quranic exegesis), Hadits (Prophet Tradition), Fiqh & Ushul Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), Falaq (Islamic Astronomy), Kalam (Islamic Theology) and Islamic Philosophy. Only a few of them were graduated from Middle Eastern Universities, and the majorities are graduated from the IAIN Sunan Kalijaga.

After the reformation era, where state control of religious life is lessening, new urban Muslim groups appear. The groups that were previously associated to the Muhammadiyah in term of ritual and cultural dimension have vividly come into different sight. They created new institutions and identities, as well as point out their own cleric as an authoritative one to deliver Islamic point of view. The Tarbiyyah movement previously spread in University campuses and now manifested in Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia is example of such group. Each of the group now has its own person or institution considered as their authoritative Islamic clerics. Some of them note as Majelis Syura, and some of them just call ustadz. Using multilevel structure, the Tarbiyyah activists also routinely have weekly meeting (liqa) lead by a Murabbi (literarily means educator). In fact, the murabbi is the frontline of an Islamic cleric in the lowest level, whereas in the highest one is Majelis Syura.

Meanwhile, other Muslim organizations that are also associated with modernist groups such as Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia, Persatuan Islam (Persis), and Al Irsyad, are seemed to be more confident to appear on their own. In the New Order Era, these organizations, as long as I concerned, tend to stand behind the Muhammadiyah in term of religious opinion. Some of DDII activist are also Muhammadiyah activist.

For most Indonesians Muslims, alumni of Middle Eastern Universities have a special place in term of religious knowledge but not in religious privileges and authorities. In Nahdhatul Ulama religious authorities are the privileges of kyais and in Muhammadiyah religious authorities is hold institutionally by the Majelis Tarjih dan Tajdid and Muhammadiyah figures known as Muslims intellectuals. Interestingly enough, most of the Muslim intellectuals in Muhammadiyah are graduated from Western Universities, such as Din Syamsuddin (UCLA), M. Amien Rais (Chicago), Syafi’i Maarif (Chicago). Out 13 figures of Central Board Muhammadiyah members, only 2 were graduated from Middle East Universities.

Not all kyais in NU are the alumni of the Middle East Universities as well as only a few members of Majelis Tarjih dan Tajdid Muhammadiyah are alumni of Middle East Universities. It seems to me that the alumni of Middle East Universities have a special place and more religious authorities among the Tarbiyyah movements. The figures appear in various institutions such as schools, social foundations, and magazine as dewan Syariah (Syariah Council).

In urban area and university campuses, the “magnet” of Muhammadiyah preachers tends to decrease. Pengajian or Qur’anic studies forum in mosques and voluntarily houses used to be led by Muhammadiyah preachers are now “replaced” by those who are unified in IKADI (Ikatan Dai Indonesia – Indonesian Islamic Preachers Union), which is known for having an alliance with PKS or at least the Tarbiyah connections. The competition of the two for gaining and maintaining jamaah sometimes lead to a tension and even psychological conflict.

The decrease of Muhammadiyah magnets in an urban area is in parallel with some critics noting Muhammadiyah are facing serious problem in breeding Ulama cadres. The notion of ”kelangkaan ulama’ in Muhammadiyah is one of alerts frequently sounded by the Muhammadiyah activists. My experience as a Muhammadiyah activist would say that even Muhammadiyah is now exhausted in fulfilling its internal ‘ulama’. Answering to such a bemoan and critics, the Majelis Tabligh dan Dakwah Khusus released new program on Higher Education for Muhammadiyah Preachers (Program Pendidikan Tinggi Mubaligh Muhammadiyah) last June 2008, in Yogyakarta.

In sum, I would like to say that it would be a problematic to generalize the norm of Islamic Clerics among Indonesian Modernist Muslims. The ‘faces’ of modernist Muslims are changing just as other institutions where polarization is one of the characteristics.

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