Aisyiyah’s Challenges in the 2nd Century

Born in 1917, the oldest women’s organizations in Indonesia, Aisyiyah, is going to be a hundred years old. This is an important achievement, considering other organizations born at the same era or even afterwards many have been collapsed.

A number of milestones have been recorded as Aisyiyah’s contributions to the nation. A number of annotations also should be delivered as a sign of love for Aisyiyah.

With the establishment of Aisyiyah alone has proved Muhammadiyah’s ijtihad in translating the values of progressive Islam. Through the examples shown by Kiai Ahmad Dahlan, Muhammadiyah firmly demonstrated the importance of women within organization and educating people. Starting from the establishment of Sopo Tresno association that taught women how to read, write, and recite Al Quran, then the association changed into Aisyiyah, Muhammadiyah showed its attitude against colonial politics that restricted access to education for Muslims and women.

Aisyiyah’s Contributions

Through Aisyiyah, within Aisyiyah, and together with Aisyiyah, Muhammadiyah has offered a progressive perspective that allows Muslim women to have a choice that is justified by syar’i to have roles in the realm of domestic and public spheres, dakwah, and tajdid. Aisyiyah’s movement is manifested in the strengthening and renewal of religious, educational, health, social services, and organizational disciplines.
All activities are driven by the members who are willing to practice good deeds and worship under the command of an organization that is tiered from the center to its branches throughout Indonesia. Using their own way, they are trying to translate the dakwah principles that keep people from ignorance through the real dakwah action by helping the duafa-mustadh’afin.

Together with the development of the country, Aisyiyah showed its achievements that were harmonious with the development of the era. In the New Order era, when a great number of Islamic organizations collapsed and did not pass “litsus”, Muhammadiyah and Aisyiyah survived as urban and middle-class organizations. Many of people reckoned it was because of their accommodative stances against the state’s will. In fact, it was not that easy because Muhammadiyah and Aisyiyah needed to keep the ideology and faith of its members. At that time, it was not easy as well to be different from the views of the country that insists on imposing the ideology of Pancasila as the single interpretation of the New Order.

Similarly, that happened to women’s issues. At that time, the state insisted on carrying the ideology of “Ibuism” that positioned women solely as a companion to the husband. This ideology was widely penetrated in the form of state’s version of coercive Keluarga Berencana (Family Planning). Among the difficulties to oppose, Aisyiyah chose to hold on to the principle of “Amar Makruf Nahi Munkar” (choose virtues, refuse wrongdoings). On the full support of Mr. A.R. Fachruddin, Chairman of Muhammadiyah at that time, Aisyiyah thrust the concept of “Sakinah Family” as a different perspective against “Kekonco-wingkingan” ideology that the New Order created.

Although it seems simple, the concept of “Sakinah Family” was based on the idea of responsibility that must be carried out by each individual, no matter what his/her position within the family was. This role will have to be accountable before God. The role of mothers in this concept was to protect family members.

Critically, this idea was interpreted as a form of Aisyiyah’s submission to the will of the New Order. On the other hand, this idea was suspected as an effort in the process of family Islamization. At that time the country was so phobia against Islam. In fact, the idea of “Sakinah Family” gave different basis because its basic concept was a matter of responsibility of the afterlife. Later on, when the country was more open to Muslims, the idea was adopted by the country in order to boost family planning program.

Losing Basic Rights

Right now, Aisyiyah’s effort in giving a decent place for women within organization has demonstrated outstanding achievements. Aisyiyah has managed to build valuable social capital, which is spread all over the country. Various types of Aisyiyah’s divine struggles include educational institutions, which are built from the level of early childhood/kindergarten (Aisyiyah Bustanul Atfal) up to the college level, including non-formal education.
The number of the educational institutions is approximately 24,000. They set up thousands of social welfare institutions (orphanages), homes for the elderly, and safe shelter for victims of domestic violence. In health sector, Aisyiyah works from bottom to top; they provide skilled workers in healthcare, hospitals, maternal child health centers, and polyclinics. The number is thousands with various capacity in delivering service; large, medium, and small.

Despite of Aisyiyah’s track record, this organization is dealing with issues that require a new tajdid attitude in their movement to face the second century. The extent of the problems faced is larger and more fundamental. Globalization has affected households, even up to the relationship between husband and wife. Relations carried on in the idea of “Sakinah Family” are no longer suitable in viewing the issues. It is because of changes in the living space due to the loss of people’s access, particularly poor people, half of them are women, over land and economic resources.

Ownership and land use transfer into giant extractive industries, forest clearance for coal and oil, demolition mountains to cement, as well as fishing by giant dredger, have clearly changed the resilience of families and people of the villages. Changes in living space cause millions of women migrate as low-skilled labors in the city, but they are rarely connected with religious organizations. Millions of women are losing their basic rights with vulnerable physical and reproductive health conditions.

Likewise, thousands of female workers have little protection. They need to be addressed with an approach that also understands the new forms of exploitation in the era of globalization. It shows humanitarian problems that are caused by changes in living space, and economic power relations should be seen as a problem of the people and not women solely.

Along with socio-ecological changes, the structures of social relations in urban and rural areas are also changing. The role of officials and religious leaders more as the servants of the corporations. Or they are eliminated by the exploitation and expansion of giant industries. When there is a “void” in leadership, the positions are filled with new players who do not understand the context of Islam and nationality. They conduct a new interpretation that is discriminatory against women, but use a more conservative and radical religious authority. Child marriage as well as exclusion of women from public sphere in the name syar’i are rampant. They are presumably two major issues that require consideration, not only for Aisyiyah, but also for Muhammadiyah.

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