Abdurrahman Wahid, the 4th President of the Republic of Indonesia, was born in a prominent family, and represented Indonesia’s modern and moderate views. Equipped with religious education and modern thinking, he became the Chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), and founded the National Awakening Party (PKB). Following Dictator Suharto’s resignation, he was elected President by the Assembly. As the head of a coalition cabinet, he faced a lot of political constraints. During his 20-month tenure, he tried to reduce the dominance of the army in political and social matters. Two ministries, the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Welfare, were methodically dismantled because of their poor records. A firm believer in pluralism, he reached out to ethnic Chinese, and participated in peace talks with separatists in East Timor and Aceh. Internationally, he became respected for his promotion of peace and understanding. Despite being the leader of the world’s most populous Muslim country, he had great respect for Israel, and visited the country 6 times. His reforms did not go down well with the army and some vested interests in his cabinet and this slowly and gradually fanned the growing unrest. Following his impeachment, he continued to serve the country as an opposition leader.
- Abdurrahman ad-Dakhil Wahid was born to Abdul Wahid Hasyim and Siti Solichah. Named after Abd ar-Rahman I of the Umayyad Caliphate and nicknamed "ad-Dakhil" ("the conqueror"), he became popular by the name Gus Dur.The oldest of five siblings, he belonged to a very prominent family in East Java. His father participated in the nationalist movement and was Indonesia's first Minister of Religious Affairs.He attended KRIS Primary School and Matraman Perwari Primary School in Jakarta. In 1957, he passed Junior High School, in Yogyakarta, Java region. He shifted to Magelang to obtain Muslim Education at Tegalrejo Pesantren.He enrolled at the Higher Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies in 1965, but did not like the rote learning method used by the University. He also began to work at the Indonesian Embassy.Career
- In Egypt, when he was working at the Indonesian Embassy, the 30 September Movement, a coup led by Communist Party of Indonesia, happened and Wahid was charged with writing the reports.He transferred to the University of Baghdad and moved to Iraq, but continued associating with the Association of Indonesian Students and writing articles for Indonesian readers. He returned to Indonesia in 1971.He joined the Institute for Economic and Social Research, Education and Information (LP3ES), whose members were progressive Muslim intellectuals, and as an important contributor to its magazine Prisma, toured the pesantren and madrasahs across Java.In 1977, he became the Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Beliefs and Practices at the Hasyim Asyari University, and served well in that capacity. He also delivered speeches to the Jombang Muslim community.He joined the Nahdlatul Ulama’s (NU) Religious Advisory Council. Before the 1982 Legislative Elections, he campaigned for the United Development Party (PPP), formed by the union of four Islamist parties including NU.In 1983, the NU agreed with President Suharto on the implementation of Pancasila as the basic ideology for all organizations. The NU decided to focus on social issues, by withdrawing the NU from politics.In1984, he was elected Chairman of NU, and sought changes in the pesantren education system so that it could compete with secular schools. He became close to Suharto as his Pancasila indoctrinator.He continued as Chairman of NU for two more terms. He refused to join the Reform Committee proposed by Suharto who resigned as President of Indonesia in 1998, amidst growing discontent and student protests.He supported the formation of PKB, a new political party, and became the Chairman of its Advisory Council in 1998. He also became their presidential candidate for the forthcoming elections.In 1999, the People's Consultative Assembly of the Republic of Indonesia (MPR) elected him Indonesia's fourth president defeating Megawati. He convinced a disheartened Megawati to stand for vice-presidential election, which she won.As president, he won the hearts of the Chinese minority by declaring the Chinese New Year an optional holiday, lifting curbs on the use of Chinese characters and giving official religion status to Kongfucu.In 2000, he faced two scandals – the Buloggate related to the disappearance of $ 4 million from the inventory of Bulog (state logistics agency), and the Bruneigate, of embezzling $ 2 million donated by the Sultan of Brunei.During his presidency, he visited the ASEAN countries, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Jordan, China, Saudi Arabia, India, South Korea, Thailand, Brunei, Pakistan, Egypt, the United States, and many European countries.His relations with TNI, the country’s armed force, deteriorated over his efforts to reduce military dominance in politics. He also did not like the fact that they were arming Laskar Jihad in Maluku.Indonesia seemed headed for anarchy as the country faced terrorist attacks, and the cabinet members became openly diffident. The MPR impeached him, and Megawati became President in 2002.He formed a political coalition called United Awakened Archipelago in 2005, and criticized the Yudhoyono Government. He was also involved in the activities of the nonprofit organization, The Wahid Institute, founded by him.Major Works
- Wahid’s National Unity Cabinet, in 1999, abolished the Ministry of Information, which controlled the media during the Suharto regime. He also dismantled the corrupt Ministry of Welfare for extorting money from the poor.Faced with separatist movements, he offered East Timor autonomy, instead of independence. He held peace talks with the Free Aceh Movement’s commander Abdullah Syafii and achieved a ‘humanitarian pause’ in 1999.Awards
- In 1993, Abdurrahman Wahid received the prestigious Magsaysay Award for his efforts to promote inter-religious relations in Indonesia within a democratic society. The award is referred to as ‘Asia's Nobel Prize’.In 2003, he received the Friends of the United Nations Global Tolerance award for promoting the principles of the United Nations, and the Appeal of Conscience Foundation Award, four years later.He was conferred honorary doctorates by the Netanya University (Israel), Konkuk and Sun Moon universities (South Korea), Soka Gakkai University (Japan), Thammasat University (Thailand), Pantheon Sorborne University (France), and many other universities around the world.Personal Life & Legacy
- Wahid married Sinta Nuriyah and fathered four daughters: Alissa Qotrunnada Munawaroh, Zannuba Arifah Chafsoh (Yenny Wahid), Annita Hayatunnufus, and Inayah Wulandari.He died due to diabetes-related complications, and was buried at his birthplace, Jombang.Trivia
- This Indonesian president loved listening to classical music especially Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9th, Mozart in 20th piano concerto, Egyptian Umm Khulsum, Janis Joplin and Indonesian singer Ebiet G. Ade.He declared, “The most important thing about Islam is that we have to differentiate between two kinds of Islam. The first one is the institution of Islam; second, the culture of Islam”.
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