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Muhammadiyah and disaster response: innovation and change in social welfare

Robin Bush, National University of Singapore | Introduction | Over the past 20 years, Asia in general and Southeast Asia in particular has been the site of some of the worst natural disasters in recent history. At the same time, many Southeast Asian nations are now “middle-income countries” and for a variety of political reasons, their governments increasingly decline to request humanitarian aid through traditional channels coordinated by UN agencies. This has opened the door for a more active role to be played by domestic and international NGOs (INGOs). Meanwhile, over the past two decades, and again often due to political factors, Muslim INGOs are playing an increasingly important role as providers of humanitarian and disaster relief in much of the Muslim world. Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organization, is one of the country’s largest and oldest social welfare organizations – running thousands of schools, clinics, hospitals, and universities. Over the past decade however, its identity as a social welfare focused organization has been problematized, by changes in service provision for the poor both on the part of Muhammadiyah, and the Indonesian state. Since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Muhammadiyah has developed a relatively new element of social welfare provision, by becoming one of the country’s most active private disaster relief agencies, responding subsequently to the Yogyakarta earthquake (2006), Sumatra earthquake (2009) and Mt Merapi eruption (2010). Muhammadiyah’s leading role in the area of disaster and humanitarian assistance in Indonesia has furthermore brought it into international political discourses on humanitarian aid. Muhammadiyah is the Indonesian representative on Humanitarian Forum International, a London-based coalition of Islamic and non-Islamic aid agencies seeking to remove the stigma of Islamism from international aid agencies like Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, etc, and to contribute to greater understanding and collaboration between Islamic and non-Islamic aid organizations. Muhammadiyah, through its MDMC (Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center) has played a leading role in organizing other religious groups in Indonesia to bring their weight to bear on the issue – both inside Indonesia and globally. With this context as a backdrop, this paper will examine Muhammadiyah’s disaster response activities as representing innovation and the direction of the future both for international humanitarian assistance, and for Muhammadiyah internally.

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