Majelis Tarjih and its Fatwas

Majelis Tarjih buying kamagra online and its Fatwas*
By: Syamsul Anwar

Muhammadiyah’s use of the word tarjih has changed over the course of its development. In its early period, and in accordance with its usage in the principles of law (Ar. usul al-fiqh), tarjih conveyed the meaning of examining the various opinions of Muslim jurists on a certain question and evaluating them in order to determine which is most faithful to the original Shari’a sources. Over the course of time this usage gradually came to include any intellectual endeavor used to study new cases that had not been addressed by earlier jurists. In short, tarjih is identical, or almost identical, to ijtihad.

The success of Muhammadiyah in its missionary activities and in the development of its programs in the social and religious spheres spurred its leaders to undertake more difficult tasks. In the first decades of its development, the tasks of studying religious matters, issuing fatwa, and implementing social and educational programs, were all carried out directly by the leadership. However, as a result of the growth of its activities and the broadening of its organizational network, the leadership was less able to control and synchronize the implementation of its programs in accordance with the underlying principles of the movement.

This condition required a division of labor. Hence in response to a recommendation made by K.H. Mas Mansur, it was decided at Muhammadiyah’s sixteenth congress in 1927 to establish a tarjih council to deal with religious matters and to provide direction for its movement. The name of the council was changed slightly after its inception, as a reflection of the emphasis on the tasks it bore in a given period. Since 1995, this body has been called the Council of Tarjih and the Development of Islamic Thought.

Majelis Tarjih maintains a centralized and hierarchical branch structure and undertakes tasks in line with Muhammadiyah’s orientation as a reformist movement. It is therefore directed to the examination of Islamic teachings; providing guidance in matters of belief, ethics, ritual observances and social relations; issuing fatwa either on request or on its own initiative; constructively directing controversies on religious matters; improving the general quality of religious scholarship; and handling other matters determined by the board of Muhammadiyah.

One of the responsibilities of Majelis Tarjih is to formulate the ideological bases of the Muhammadiyah movement. Acting as an interpreter of alternative ideological frames of reference, the Council may announce that its dictums can serve as a philosophical justification for the programs and goals of the movement. Muhammadiyah’s religious views are flexible and its ideological elements can be modified in accordance with the dynamics of progress and change. This is the basic framework within which Majelis Tarjih deals with the reevaluation and reformulation of its outlook to ensure a continuous evolution (Jainuri 1997: 100).

Majelis Tarjih has central, regional, and district boards. However, each board has only a structural relationship with the board of Muhammadiyah at its commensurate level. Thus Majelis Tarjih of the Central Board (Pimpinan Pusat) is responsible to the Central Board of Muhammadiyah, while a regional tarjih council answers to the regional board to which it belongs. There is no structural chain of command linking Majelis Tarjih at the central level to a regional or district council. The relationship between them is solely one of functionality and coordination.

This structure affects the level of authority of Islamic legal decisions; decisions that emanate from a lower tarjih have less authority and cannot contradict a decision issued by a higher one. Furthermore Muhammadiyah, through the Majelis Tarjih of the Central Board produces two kinds of Islamic legal pronouncements of differing value. Resolutions adopted at a Tarjih Conference held by Majelis Tarjih are called keputusan tarjih (tarjih decisions).

A conference held by the Majelis Tarjih of the Central Board is called a National Tarjih Conference. This is attended by male and female ‘ulama’ and intellectuals (including staff of Majelis Tarjih) who have the proven capacity to exercise tarjih in the sense that their knowledge of the sources enables them to carry out ijtihad. It is also attended by invited ulama and scholars from outside Muhammadiyah. The decisions of such a national conference become the formal stand of the organization as a whole. It is important to note that the decisions are not brought directly to the public; rather they first must be submitted to the Central Board in order to be officially promulgated (ditanfidz).

Formally speaking, these decisions are binding on Muhammadiyah as an institution as well as on its individual members. In practice, however, members exercise their right not to be bound absolutely to a certain decision if they have reached a different opinion as a result of ijtihad on the same issue. Majelis Tarjih also issues fatwas. Unlike the keputusan, fatwa is not produced by a formal mechanism of the organization such as a Tarjih Conference. Rather, it is issued by Majelis Tarjih in response to questions posed by members of the community. Such questions may have been sent to the editors of Suara Muhammadiyah or directly to the Council.

Council staff then make copies of the questions, file the originals in its records and pass on one or more questions to members entrusted with the task of preparing draft fatwa to be discussed at a scheduled time. Usually informal meetings for discussing the draft fatwa are held in rotation at the homes of members or at a restaurant. At the scheduled time the participants discuss the relevant fatwa, making any necessary changes before sending the final fatwa to the editors of Suara Muhammadiyah or publication. The fatwa may also be delivered directly to the questioner if need be. Unlike the keputusan, the fatwa is binding neither on Muhammadiyah as an organization nor on the questioner or other members of Muhammadiyah. However, in practice it serves as a guide for members of Muhammadiyah, as evinced by the fact that fatwa collections are often reprinted.

The authoritative value of decisions produced by the Tarjih Conference and of fatwa issued by Majelis Tarjih is determined by the quality of the arguments and Shari’a evidence on which they are based and by the faithfulness to Islamic law of the methodological procedures followed (cf. Arkoun 1988: 63). The more tarjih decisions and fatwa are based on the Qur’an and Hadith, the stronger their authoritative value. Conversely, a legal decision or a fatwa for which there is no basis in these two sources, and which is based merely on a saying of a religious scholar, will be considered as lacking authority. This reflects the basic principle of Muhammadiyah, i.e., “a return to the Qur’an and the Sunna of the Prophet.”

Scholars and muftis have only derivative authority, which means that their ijtihad and fatwas are authoritative only if predicated upon the Qur’an and Hadith. They must therefore fulfill the prerequisites of ijtihad stipulated in usul al-fiqh, which includes a mastery of Arabic, the Qur’an, Hadith and other branches of Islamic knowledge, in addition to “secular” science. Fulfilment of these conditions guarantees the authoritative value of the resulting interpretation. But the authority of the instrument itself is also decisive. Thus a Majelis Tarjih decision binds individual members and the organization at large, and becomes the formal position of Muhammadiyah, while a fatwa issued by the Council does not. The reason for this is that the former is a product of a process that involves competent scholars and people in a formal conference forum, while the latter does not.

Furthermore, a Majelis Tarjih decision does not automatically lose its authoritative value when new arguments contrary to it are discovered, unless a decision abrogating the earlier decision is taken in an equally formal procedure through a Tarjih resolution. The emergence of institutional authority is connected to the cumulative process through which the authority of Majelis Tarjih came to be accepted. However, in the course of its history, some Muhammadiyah members came to believe that only Tarjih legal decisions were valid or represented sound religious interpretation; as a result, they were skeptical towards any interpretations that had not been assessed by the Council.

In 1936, fearing that this situation might lead to too doctrinaire an attitude among Muhammadiyah members, the Central Board issued its “explanation of tarjih.” According to this explanation, tarjih is employed to avoid conflicts in Muhammadiyah that might be caused by differences of opinion in understanding religion. A Majelis Tarjih decision, the explanation adds, is not made in order to contest other opinions, that is, it does not seek to challenge or denounce opinions that Majelis Tarjih does not accept. Rather, Majelis Tarjih was created to strengthen unity by identifying the opinion that is closest to Qur’an and Sunna.

Therefore, prevailing opinions are accepted, on the condition that support for them can be found in the Qur’an and Hadlth and regardless of whether or not they have been evaluated by the Council. The function of Majelis Tarjih, then, is simply to explicate matters of controversy and to seek a solution (Penerangan 1936: 145; Boeah Congres 26: 31; Anwar 2000: 34). Furthermore, Majelis Tarjih does not want to establish itself as the sole bearer of the right to interpret religion and it is fully aware of the possibility of forming erroneous conclusions. Therefore, it “eagerly invites all ulama to be willing to evaluate Majelis Tarjih decisions to find out the weakness of its arguments …, for the evaluation is made only on the basis of our understanding and ability at that time” (Penerangan 1936: 145).

Because the authority of the Tarjih Council’s fatwas is determined by the quality of their arguments and the evidence supporting them, readers of Suara Muhammadiyah often adopt critical attitudes to them. Frequently a fatwa issued by Majelis Tarjih in response to a reader’s question is debated by other readers of Suara Muhammadiyah or is called into question. The Council then reevaluates the fatwa and issues a more comprehensive elucidation. Indeed, the Council appreciates feedback and acknowledges when the argument of one of its fatwas is weaker than that of its readers. There is yet another kind of tarjih product called wacana tarjih (tarjih discourse).

Although this discourse is not mentioned explicitly in the statutes of Majelis Tarjih, it is carried out by the Council informally, based on paragraph a of Article 4 of those statutes, which states that the main tasks of the Council include “intensifying the study and investigation of the Islamic teachings in the framework of realizing tajdid (renewal) and anticipating social development.” In contrast to a keputusan and a fatwa, both of which constitute a formal opinion, the former binding and the latter persuasive, wacana tarjih represents ideas, thought, or opinions concerning contemporary issues adduced and brought to the fore by the Council. This third kind of tarjih resolution is aimed at making Majelis Tarjih more dynamic and developing Islamic thought in Muhammadiyah circles in order to be able to anticipate and deal with various contemporary issues. The existence of the discourse is a logical consequence of the addition in 1995 of the words “the Development of Islamic Thought” to the name of Majlis Tarjih, which reflects the broadening of the Council’s mission.

In this connection, in 2000 the Council produced a controversial book entitled A Thematic exegesis of the Quran on Inter-religious social Relations (Majelis Tarjih dan Pengembangan Pemikiran Islam PP Muhammadiyah 2000). This work-prepared by the board of Majelis Tarjih and then discussed at the twenty-fourth National Tarjih Conference of early 2000-interprets thematically a number of Qur’anic verses closely connected to central issues in interfaith relations, including pluralism, cooperation among adherents of different religions, and the Qur’anic view of ahl al-kitab. As a non-binding resolution, wacana tarjih is open to discussion and may even be rejected. In any case, however, the Council hopes that by producing such a discourse it will broaden the horizons of its readers and elicit valuable ideas from them to be used in solving problems faced by the community.

* this writing is part of long article published at Journal of Islamic Law and Society, Vol. 12, No. 1, year 2005 under the title “Fatwa, Purification and Dynamization: A Study of Tarjīḥ in Muhammadiyah”. For complete reading and understanding, the reader may refer to the original edition.

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