Muhammaddiyah, the Fatwa & Paradox of Modernity

“Why does Muhammadiyah enthusiastically release fatwas (religious verdicts) lately?”

Ask a friend of mine in a milis responding the new fatwa of the Majelis Tarjih and Tajdid (MTT – Council of Legal Affair and Reform) on bank interest. The fatwa was one of Council National Meeting (Munas Tarjih) outcomes in Malang, East Java, 1-4 April 2010. Like previous Muhammadiyah fatwa on banning cigarette, the latest fatwa also stirred up pros and conts.

This brief posting will not address to the pro and cont issues about the fatwa. It rather would like to see beyond the fatwa from theory of modernity noting the phenomena as both the paradox of Muhammadiyah and, in a broader scope, the paradox of modernity.

It should be said that the fatwa reflects strong evident of the existence of Muhammadiyah’s religious scholars (keulamaan) among its members. As we have known, no fatwa is released from vacuum of locus and tempus. Every fatwa was initiated by a number of questions from Muslims to Islamic clerics about new case or phenomena to be clarified its religious legal status. The cleric than studied the case from various perspectives in order to have broaden perspective before released the fatwa.

In the sociology of religion studies, Muhammadiyah is so far known as modernist Muslims organization. Nevertheless, the fatwa reflects oppositely: Muhammadiyah members are not truly ‘modern’. Religiously, they are neither independent nor progressive. Instead, they still rely on cleric’s guidance, the trend that is opposite to modern society. Such strong influences of religious clerics among the member of modernist organization are paradox to Freud’s claim saying the more modern a society the farther it away from religious principals.

In the West, modernism and secularism are sides of a coin, where religions are separated from secular lives. A number of secular theories even blatantly note that modernity is a symptom of the death of religious institutions. In Indonesia, on the contrary, modernity and religions live side-by-side, secular institutions next to the religious ones. Religious teachings are even frequently invited to “judge” profane acts. This is what I call the paradox of modernity where modernity as well as secularization do not means the demise of religions. Eisenstadt noted such a phenomena as “Multiple Modernity”, (2002, 2003) where modernity manifests in various shapes around the world and religious trajectories are so vivid accompanying modern and secular life.

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