Image: Bismo Agung


By Pera Soparianti and Sari Narulita

Musdah Mulia is an intellectual and activist focusing on various social justice issues, particularly women’s rights issues. She is the first woman to complete a doctorate in the field of Islamic political thought at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University Jakarta. Musdah is also the first woman to be inaugurated by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences as research professor in the field of Religious Studies at the Ministry of Religion in 1999. She is active in both formal and nonformal educational initiatives on a national and international level in topics such as women, democracy, human rights, advocacy, leadership and more. Musdah is a prominent member of various women’s organisations, such as the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI), Women’s Shura Consultative Council, and is chairperson of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace, an interfaith organisation. 

Her writings express her views on human values, democracy, pluralism, justice and gender equality. Her publications include Muslimah Reformis Perempuan Pembaru Keagamaan (Reformed Muslima: Female Religious Reformers) (2005), Perempuan dan Politik (Women and Politics) (2002), Islam dan Hak Asasi Manusia (Islam and Human Rights) (2010), and Ensiklopedi Muslimah Reformis Pokok-Pokok Pemikiran untuk Interpretasi dan Aksi (The Encyclopedia of Reformist Muslima, Principles of Thought for Interpretation and Action) (2019). 

Reformist Muslima Concepts according to Musdah Mulia

Reformist Muslima (Muslim women), according to Musdah, hold the notion that humanity originates from the essence of Islam. Reformist Muslima are not fixated on Islamic symbols that then become capitalist commodities, nor are they fixated on the formal and legal matters of religion. They are known for their determination and humanitarian work which intends to benefit and bring blessing to all beings in the universe (rahmatan lil alamin). 

The term ‘Muslima’ originates from the Arabic word salima or salaam which means ‘peace’. ‘Muslima’ connotates a dynamic woman who strives to create peace according to the guidance of the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. In this instance ‘creating peace’ refers to peace within oneself, fellow humans, other creatures and the universe.

‘Reformist’ is a translation of the Arabic term musliha. Musliha is derived from the word shaliha which refers to a woman who is determined to create reform for self-improvement. She strives for improvement in family life and society, and aims to achieve a civil society (balda thayyiba wa rabbun ghafur).

In her book The Encyclopedia of Reformist Muslima, Musdah describes the primary characteristics of a reformist Muslima. A reformist Muslima is one who shows appreciation and experience of tauhid (monotheism), which teaches that only Allah is worthy of worship. Embracing and practising tauhid makes one an autonomous self, free from the shackles of servitude toward fellow humans and creatures. 

Embracing and practising tauhid makes one steadfast in displaying morality towards other humans and creatures in the universe (akhlaq al-karima). A Muslim woman honouring tauhid should be seen as an insightful, independent, dynamic, critical, rational, tolerant and empathetic reformist Muslima. Experiencing and embracing tauhid encourages believers to bravely fight for and strive to uphold the values of justice, equality and freedom so that all forms of discrimination, exploitation and violence are eliminated or at least reduced. 

Reformist Muslima commit themselves to the understanding and practice of the vision of human creation as the khalifa fil ard, the leaders who are responsible for realising peace and harmony on earth. Doing as God commanded (amar makruf nahi munkar) is viewed as a transformative effort to create a fair, prosperous and civilised society. In everyday activities, reformist Muslima always conduct themselves peacefully with a humanistic and anti-violence approach. 

Musdah gives two important reasons for introducing the concept of reformist Muslima. Firstly, the drastic changes to social life due to advances in science and technology. These changes had a significant impact on people’s religiosity as humans became alienated and marginalized, losing their direction. Secondly, globalisation materialised in the form of digital information available through social media that enveloped all aspects of everyday life. This has caused social friction which has the possibility of leading to disunity, conflict and war. 

In The Encyclopedia of Reformist Muslima, Musdah discusses the position of Muslima, who are reformist in family life as a child, wife and mother. Musdah also writes about the attitude of reformist Muslima as local and global citizens. The book explains how reformist Muslima respond to social change without losing their identity as Muslim women. According to Musdah, in any situation a Muslima has to stay oriented to monotheistic principle as an essential teaching in the Quran and Sunnah.

A Muslima must emulate the Prophet Muhammad wholly and holistically, as he is the role model for Muslims. The ultimate goal of the Prophet’s teaching is to produce good-natured people upholding justice, equality, peace and welfare. 

The concept of Reformist Muslima does not stop at ideology. Musdah endeavours to initiate change by providing recurring education sessions across Indonesia through the Mulia Raya Foundation. This educational initiative specifically targets young women to take part in the reformist movement and encourages them to spread positive values on social media. This is conducted knowing that the digital era has placed the younger generation as agents of change. Technological development must be balanced with critical thinking so that people can avoid hoax news, ideological propaganda that encourages intolerance, and violence that permeates the internet and social media platforms. Through her educational initiatives, Musdah strengthens the national awareness of the younger generation and their religious and environmental literacy, as well as their knowledge of Counter Violence Extremism (CVE). This initiative, in turn, can grow shoots to introduce and expand the concept of reformist Muslima to its realisation of a civil society in Indonesia (and beyond). 


Translated by Charlotte Hains (student pursuing a Bachelor of Languages/Bachelor of Asian Studies at the Australian National University. She is majoring in Indonesian Language and Southeast Asian Studies)

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