CHRISTIANS SHOULD RELAX, SAYS MUHAMMADIYAH RECTOR
© Duncan Graham 2006
Minority faiths in Indonesia have nothing to fear from a more conservative Muhammadiyah, according to Muhadjir Effendy.
In an interview with The Jakarta Post on his return from studying education systems in Scotland, the rector of Muhammadiyah University Malang (MUM) and member of the organisation’s doctrinal committee said:
· The Ahmadiyah sect that has been persecuted by hard line Muslims should be tolerated.
· Indonesia was not a secular society because the government was involved in religious affairs.
· Christians should not be called kafir (unbelievers).
· He accepted the Liberal Islamic Network though disagreed with some of its doctrines.
· The government and police should exercise their legal powers to arrest and prosecute lawbreakers who took violent action in the name of Islam.
· He supported the introduction of sharia law with qualifications.
“Christians and followers of other religions should not be concerned at any perceived shift in the philosophy of Muhammadiyah under the new leadership of chairman Din Syamsuddin,” Muhadjir said.
“I agree with observers who say the organisation has become more conservative. Values and interpretations are all open to debate.
“But it’s wrong to assume from this that Muhammadiyah is in any way a threat to anyone. Please don’t say that Muhammadiyah has only one view. It is not unilateral – it is tolerant. There are many factions.
“The changes now underway are to purify and reform. Muhammadiyah is also a social movement with concern for education, welfare, health care and the economy.
“When I talk about sharia I’m not suggesting that this should in any way be imposed on non-Muslims. Not do I support some of the things that are happening in the name of sharia, like forcing women to wear headscarves and the public flogging of wrongdoers.
“I’m more interested in sharia as a financial system which distributes profits evenly and fairly. The negative public image of sharia is wrong”
MUM is the largest Muhammadiyah university in the country with about 20,000 students. Muhammadiyah is the second largest Islamic organisation in the nation with an estimated 30 million supporters. (Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) claims around 40 million members.)
MUM does not require its female students to wear headscarves, and permits other faiths to enrol. It has links with universities overseas. Eight Australians are currently enrolled. The campus library has an ‘American Corner’ where the US flag is displayed alongside shelves of books and magazines donated by the US Embassy.
Muhadjir would not be drawn on the election of Din who is also the leader of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). Last year the MUI reportedly issued edicts banning Islamic interpretations of secularism, pluralism and liberalism.
Muhammadiyah was a democratic organisation and the elected leader had to be supported and respected by members, whatever their personal views, he said.
Nor would he comment on the controversial case of scholar Dawam Rahardjo who has been either expelled or has resigned from Muhammadiyah. Dawam’s disputed departure has been linked to his liberal views and reported support for Ahmadiyah.
“I know Dawam, he used to teach economics here at MUM,” said Muhadjir. “Let’s just say he is a flamboyant character who has held different views in the past.”
Muhadjir accepted he was a pluralist but declined to label himself a liberal, preferring to use the term ‘accommodationist’. He said he was a member of the silent majority that recognised and accepted that Indonesia was a multi-faith, multi-cultural society.
He said he regularly met members of other religions and respected their views, doing so “from my heart with sincerity.”
“Ahmadiyah is a sect of Islam. Of course it should be tolerated,” he said. “If some aspects of their beliefs don’t conform to Islam we should call them back to Islamic doctrine.
“They should not be kicked out of Islam.
“As a Muslim I oppose alcohol but I’m against the Islamic Defenders’ Front which raids nightclubs, smashes bottles and intimidates foreigners. This is very wrong. We have no right to impose our views on others. We have to coexist. The government is weak in not prosecuting such people.
“These violent attitudes are quite out of date. We all have to live together and respect each other’s beliefs. You won’t find members of Muhammadiyah taking part in such demonstrations, I guarantee that.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post Wednesday 15 March 2006)