New MUI Leaders
The new Indonesian Ulemas Council management does not include outspoken figures. Nahdlatul Ulama formed small teams to support Miftachul Akhyar’s candidacy.
VICE President Ma’ruf Amin likened the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) to a train in his opening speech for the organization's national conference which took place at the Sultan Hotel, Jakarta, Wednesday, November 25, 2020. According to the inactive general chairman of the MUI for the 2015-2020 period, the Council consists of various organizations, Islamic society and institutions. “Like a train, the people on board follow the engineer. At the MUI, we must obey and follow the principles and organizational lines,” he said.
Ma’ruf reminded the MUI to put forward moderate Islam, continue to serve the people, and work together with the government. He invited those who did not follow MUI rules to leave and look for another carriage. A number of MUI officials who met with Tempo assessed that that among the board members, the speech was interpreted as a signal to prevent those who frequently criticize the government from returning to their positions at the institution.
In 2015-2020, a number of MUI administrators indeed often criticized the government. Among them were the Chairman of the Advisory Council Din Syamsuddin, Deputy Secretary of the Advisory Council Bachtiar Nasir, Deputy Secretary-General for Preaching and Community Development Tengku Zulkarnain, and Treasurer Yusuf Martak. A number of administrators were reportedly bothered by their actions. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the central MUI office in Jalan Proklamasi, Menteng, Central Jakarta, was used as a rehearsal for the inauguration of a movement criticizing the government, namely the Save Indonesia Coalition (KAMI).
Asked for a response to this matter, MUI Deputy Chairman Marsudi Syuhud said his institution was formed to promote moderate and tolerant Islamic values. Recently, Marsudi said, there were a number of groups using the MUI to foster anti-government sentiments. “The MUI may indeed criticize, but constructively, not destructive,” said Marsudi, who is also the Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama Executive Board (PBNU). Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) is the biggest Islamic organization in Indonesia.
The MUI National Conference recently selected new leadership for the 2020-2025 period. The formation was formulated by a team of 17 individuals led by Ma’ruf Amin. On Friday morning, November 27, the team elected PBNU’s Rais Am (general chairman) Miftachul Akhyar as the general chairman. MUI Secretary-General Amirsyah Tambunan said the election for the general chairman was going well. “Decisions were made after thorough deliberations,” he said on December 30.
Two members of the formation team who participated in the election said that there was no rejection of Miftachul Akhyar’s election. Once elected, Miftachul went down from his room at the Sultan Hotel to the formation meeting room. Then the MUI management arrangements began. Ma’ruf Amin was elected as Chairman of the Advisory Council. However, the same source said that discussions were rather tough regarding the position of the secretary-general.
Amirsyah Tambunan said, before he was elected, there were a number of candidates for secretary-general. For example, the Secretary-General of the Indonesian Mosque Council Imam Addaruqutni and the Chairman of the MUI Sudarnoto Abdul Hakim. Chairman of the Muhammadiyah Central Board Busyro Muqoddas said his organization proposed the name Amirsyah Tambunan because he had served as deputy secretary-general for two terms. “In principle, we seek people who are appropriate and capable considering their fields,” he said.
The new MUI leadership noticeably did not include names of those that were considered to be at odds with the government. MUI Deputy Chairman Marsudi Syuhud said some of them refused to step up to the position, while others were not proposed by their respective organizations. For instance, according to Marsudi, Mathla’ul Anwar organization did not propose Tengku Zulkarnain as a committee member. In the end, Ahmad Sadeli Karim, Chairman of Mathla’ul Anwar, was appointed as Deputy Chair of the MUI Advisory Council.
Tengku Zulkarnain has not responded to phone calls and messages sent by Tempo. Meanwhile, Din Syamsuddin said he wanted to relinquish his position at the Council because he had been with the organization for 25 years. He also said the position was not special.
MUI General Chairman Miftachul Akhyar asked the new management to enlighten Muslims, which also serves as the responsibility of being a partner to the government. He also advised ulemas to preach without ridiculing. “Embrace, not beat; cherish, not rival; educate, not aim; uplift, not insult; look for solutions instead of sympathy; defend, not criticize,” he said.
After the national conference, the MUI held a regional meeting to change the management at the regional level, from provincial to the subdistrict level. According to Amirsyah Tambunan, regional meetings were held because the relationship between the central and regional councils was structural, coordinative and administrative in nature. “In order to be in line with the central management, (to) have the same views and (take the same) steps,” he said.
EFFORTS to push Miftachul Achyar to lead the Indonesian Ulemas Council started in July of 2020. MUI Deputy Chairman Marsudi Syuhud said, at the end of July, he met Miftachul Akhyar at the NU Executive Board office and stated that Miftachul would be nominated as general chairman. “Kiai Miftach must be willing, for the sake of people,” said Marsudi recounting the meeting to Tempo on Thursday, December 17.
According to Marsudi, Miftachul had rejected the offer twice before. He said that he is still focused on his activities as PBNU general chairman and managing his Miftachussunnah Islamic Boarding School in Surabaya, East Java. Marsudi admitted that there were a number of other names nominated to lead MUI. Among others, the Grand Imam of the Istiqlal Mosque who was also the former deputy minister of religion, Nasaruddin Umar, and a special staff member of Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, Masduki Baidlowi.
Recently, said Marsudi, Miftachul’s name had strengthened within the PBNU because he was considered a senior and had a long history. He became PBNU’s general chairman replacing Ma’ruf Amin, who resigned to become a vice-presidential candidate. When he was elected as General Chair of the MUI, Miftachul was 67 years old. The MUI chairman who is also a former PBNU administrator, Muhammad Cholil Nafis, also confirmed that there were a number of names being pushed to lead the MUI. “Because no one wanted to become chairman, the most pious and long-standing cleric in the organization was chosen,” he said.
According to Marsudi Syuhud, after being invited to the discussion, Miftachul was willing to be nominated as chairman of the MUI. The news was conveyed to PBNU Chairman Said Aqil Siroj, who was also at his office at that time. Said Aqil, Miftachul, Marsudi, and a number of other PBNU administrators also discussed initial preparations for the MUI national conference. “NU must be ready because it has decided on a number of figures to be assigned to the MUI,” said Marsudi.
The two PBNU officials said that NU had assembled a small team to secure the MUI national conference arena. There is a concern that Miftachul’s candidacy will have some hiccups because he was never been a central MUI administrator before. The team then mapped all MUI administrators at the provincial, city and district levels whose administrators are NU members to support Miftachul’s candidacy.
The same source said that the PBNU team lobbied six MUI leaders at the provincial level who rejected Miftachul’s nomination. Four of them are in Sumatra. It was also reported that the head of the MUI in East Java and Bali rejected Miftachul. MUI Bali Chairman for the 2015-2020 period, Muhammad Taufik Asyadi, confirmed that a number of groups approached him and introduced the figure of Miftachul. Taufik admitted that he advised the general chair of the MUI to accommodate all Islamic groups or organizations. “Whoever is elected does not matter, as long as they can unite (all groups),” he said when contacted on December 29.
Chairman Abdusshomad Buchori from the East Java MUI has yet to respond to telephone calls and messages sent by Tempo. Tempo also visited his residence in Sepanjang, Sidoarjo, East Java. However, one domestic worker said Abdusshomad was not at home.
After the national deliberation arena was deemed safe for Miftachul Akhyar, Said Aqil Siroj and Miftachul met with Ma’ruf Amin at the Vice President’s official residence on October 15. The meeting was interspersed with the submission of eight notes from the PBNU regarding the Job Creation Law, which at that time has just been passed by the House of Representatives and the government.
Marsudi Syuhud said, at the meeting, Ma’ruf expressed his hope that the MUI national conference would be run well and thoroughly deliberate with all groups. “The point is that there should be no tug of war,” he said. Spokesperson for the Vice President, Masduki Baidlowi, could not yet be reached for comment on the meeting. However, during the meeting, Masduki said Ma’ruf asked the PBNU to help cool tensions regarding the passage of the Job Creation Law.