“Companies, come to Indonesia but don’t take the resources and leave people under the poverty line”

Photo Din Syamsuddin« The “constitutional djihad” is a way to direct Indonesia (…) and realise a new peaceful and prosperous world in order with religious beliefs. » Din SYAMSUDDIN, chairman of the Advisory Council of the Indonesian Ulama Council Centre (MUI).

“Companies, come to Indonesia but don’t take the resources and leave people under the poverty line”

Interview with Prof. Din SYAMSUDDIN, chairman of the Advisory Council of the Indonesian Ulama Council Centre (MUI), former chairman of Muhammadiyah (2005-2015), Professor of Islam and Politics at the National Islamic University, Jakarta.

Muhammadiyah, one of the biggest Islamic movements in Indonesia (over 29 million members), was created in 1912 and is mainly devoted to social and educational activities.

You have just ended your two-term mandate at the head of Muhammadiyah. What do you believe your main achievements have been?

I shouldn’t be the one talking of my own achievements! However, I will mention five main achievements that members of the organisation agree with and which have been mentioned in the last General Assembly reports.

1. First of all, revitalisation of branches and sub-branches of Muhammadiyah, the two lowest levels of the organisation, the grassroots’ level, which is important as the following achievements will prove.

2. Revitalisation of activities to empower the deprived people, peasants, farmers, fishermen, workmen, who have been the victims of modernisation, development processes and global capitalism for four decades. The socio-economic disparity has been getting worse.

For the last ten years, Muhammadiyah has developed a program to help deprived people to get over socio-economic problems, in helping them, for example, to implant organic agriculture for farmers and fishermen.

We created a new body in the organisation: the council or people’s empowerment, which is very important for us. It is consistent with Muhammadiyah’s approach to help the poor since its creation in 1912. Since the 60s though, it had focused on helping the poor through services, education and health. The level of services helped the medium or middleclass level of people but neglected the poor.

3. Since 2005, we have also engaged Muhammadiyah in humanitarian works (it started with the tsunami) through a new body, the MDMC (Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Centre). It is very active with victims of natural disasters, not only in Indonesia, but also in the Philippines, in Nepal, in Gaza… MDMC is recognised as a strategic partner of the national body of disaster management, and collaborates with non Muslim organisations such as Catholic Relief Service, World Vision, Caritas, within the Humanitarian Forum Indonesia. It also works with the other Islamic NGOs such as Islamic Relief Service or Muslim Aid.

4. Another achievement has been to get the movement to be quality orientated, which is very important for the standing of Muhammadiyah as the largest modernist modernist Islamic movement. As a result, many of our elementary and high schools have won national and international contests in sciences, maths, olympiades, art and robotic… We have managed to install an ethos of competitiveness.

5. The last achievement I wish to mention now (but there are others!) is that of the safeguard of the Nation to remain in its mission and vision of independence, and therefore to be based on the Indonesian Constitution. The Nation’s vision and mission are strongly mentioned in our Constitution, which is the very basis of our national life. Muhammadiyah is recognised as the most active element of civil society at the creation of the State of Indonesia, starting long before the independence, since 1912. Muhammadiyah was very involved in the struggle for independence and the awakening of Indonesian nationalism. I have to mention that Muhammadiyah made a strong sacrifice in the wording of the Djakarta Charter as it accepted to replace “with the obligation of its Muslims adherents to follow sharia law » (known as the “seven words” in Indonesia), in the first sentence of the Pancasila by ”believe in the oneness of God”.

How did Muhammadiyah actually get involved to implement a better “safeguard of the Nation’s mission” ?

The current State has been moving away from this very mission, especially since the beginning of the Reform era in 1998. It has been violating the principles of the Constitution, in particular article 33 which mentions that all natural resources should be in control of the State and be used as much as possible for the purpose of the people’s prosperity. The modern era, with the ideology of modernisation, has moved towards liberalisation and has given a systemic bad impact to the Nation in terms of prosperity and well-being.

Muhammadiyah considered it to be its own responsibility to safeguard the Nation. I must make it clear though that this orientation does not consist in ignoring the importance of globalisation and modernisation, in line with Muhammadiyah’s view of a modern and moderate Islam. It cannot leave the Nation to betray its original vision.

What has been done then?

We have conveyed criticism to the government’s policy when it is wrong; we make sure we maintain a proportional relationship to government: we support it if it is right and correct it when it is wrong. And I myself was the most vocal critic to the former government.

In my second mandate (2010-2015), we launched a “constitutional djihad”, by calling for judicial review of several laws (we started in 2012). According to the research we conducted, approximately 115 laws would be in contradiction with the imperatives of our Constitution. If we don’t solve this problem, it will exacerbate the situation, increase the lack of prosperity and could lead to a social revolution.

According to the State, there are only 12% of poor – but that’s if you count the people with less than 1$ per day. If you count the people with less than 2$ a day, 50% of the population lives under the poverty line.

Does that mean you don’t wish foreign companies or investment in Indonesia?

No. We are a modern organisation and believe we need a win-win solution. We do not wish to open our door to capital violence: the people will respond with physical violence, especially with all the difficult religious context we have today. We wish to maintain our country in its median position, which is typical of the Indonesian way, away from extreme capitalism or socialism. We tell the foreign companies “Come to Indonesia, but don’t take the resources and leave people under the poverty line”. And it is up to the State to be present in controlling the country’s natural resources, and avoid State violence. If we have State violence plus capitalism violence, the people will respond in their own way.

Amongst the laws we have succeeded in filing to the Constitutional hall on economy and energy issues, is the Oil and Gas law (79% of the production of oil and gas was in control of foreign companies), and the water resources law. We are now filing various laws on currency costs, on investments and on electric power. In our opinion, it is a way to direct Indonesia and the world to be in line with moral and ethical beliefs, so that we will realise a new peaceful and prosperous world in order with religious beliefs. This is not a chauvinistic or nationalistic position. We don’t want to accumulate global damage: poverty, illiteracy, injustice, terrorism, environmental crisis… All this is far from moral principles. And being able to guarantee halal products brings us back to moral principals.

What is your position about foreign companies having to guarantee their products are halal?

The principle is that Muslim people should consume and use only halal products – food, cosmetics and drugs. This trend started 30 years ago, and there is a growing consciousness of the people. It is up to the government to fix the halal labeling and certification of products. It is interesting to note that consumption of halal products is practiced by non Muslims too.

Interview conducted by Lucy de Noblet, published on September 23rd 2015

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