The collapse of the Soeharto regime in 1998 led to the opening up of previously unimaginable political opportunities and transformations in Indonesian society. The Reformasi (reformation) movement demanded democratization, good governance, and the empowerment of civil society. Most existing Muslim organizations redefined their orientation and political platforms, as did most other associations; and many new Muslim organizations, movements, and political parties emerged, armed with new nationalist, liberal or Islamist paradigms. They have endeavoured to present their own concepts of Reformasi, and to avoid the stigma of being anti-Reformasi.
The Majelis Ulama Indonesia (Indonesian Council of Ulama, or MUI), a semi-official institution of Indonesian ulama established by Soeharto in 1975, is no exception. At the beginning of the Reformasi era, the MUI seemed disoriented and struggled to come to terms with the changes. During the Habibie era, it focused not on issuing fatwas, but on producing tausiyahs to legitimize a number of Habibie's policies, and, in the period in which Habibie was confronted with political moves to discredit him, by visiting the president at the palace. It was only at the 2000 National Congress, during the Abdurrahman Wahid era, that the MUI proclaimed its ambition to change its role from being the “khadim al-hukumah” (servant of the government) to serving as the “khadim al-ummah” (servant of the ummah). This resonated with the central Reformasi concept of empowering society vis-à-vis the state, besides expressing the MUI's vision of its own agenda-setting role in the Reformasi process. Since that time, the MUI has endeavoured to reposition itself in Indonesia's transitional politics by defending more conservative Muslim interests and aspirations. This can be seen from various fatwas, tausiyahs, and other statements produced by the MUI, and in the way in which it has dealt with social, political, economic and cultural issues.
In the present study, I shall focus on the MUI's endeavours to redefine its role in the post-Soeharto era, analyse its transformation from a government-oriented to an ummah-oriented body, and explore the implications of this transformation.
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