|Biographical detail : ||Cleric and politician who solidified Indonesian democracy
An eccentric, nearly blind cleric, Abdurrahman Wahid served for almost two turbulent years as Indonesia’s president, a nation of 13,466 islands, 360 ethnic groups and 719 languages.
A politically moderate intellectual Wahid became the first person to win a contested presidential election in 1999 in a parliamentary vote. He was overwhelmed by the political infighting that engulfed Indonesia after the resignation of Suharto from presidency in 1998. Indonesia, a nation of 235 million people, in those post-Suharto years was an unstable place, shaken by economic collapse, sectarian violence, separatist movements and political disarray.
An important figure both among religious and political movements in espousing a liberal Islam and promoting inter-faith dialogue, Wahid, in 2001, was voted out of office in a parliamentary session after declaring a state of emergency that was widely ignored.
As a reformist scholar and the leader of ‘Nahdlatul Ulama’, (founded by his grandfather upon returning from Al-Azhar University), with up to 40 million members, and later as president, Wahid promoted rights of minorities, of non-Muslims such as Chinese. He was a vocal critic of Suharto, eventually becoming a key figure in the Reformasi movement that led to the autocrat’s 1998 fall, and in the eruption of multi-party politics. He worked for peaceful solutions to secessionist efforts in Aceh and West Papua.
Challenging established centres of power Wahid, as president of Indonesia from 1999 to 2001 pushed for civilian controls over the military, and in a decisive showdown fired his ambitious security minister, Gen. Wiranto, who led the military in East Timor in 1999. He constantly spoke up for persecuted minorities, even at the risk of his own popularity.
Wahid was Dean of the faculty of ‘Usu’Luddin’ at the university of Hasyim Asy’ Ari. He was given the 1993 Raman Magsaysay award, the Asian Noble prize, for his guidance of south Asia’s largest Muslim organisation.
Wahid was born Abdurrahman ad-Dakhil Wahid, the son of Wahid Hasyim a hero of Indonesia’s final struggle against Dutch colonisers and minister of religion in the government that was formed after independence in 1945.
A brilliant and cultured man Abdurrahman Wahid nicknamed Gus Dur, who read widely and loved music suffered for years with kidney problems and post-strokes. He passed away during surgery to remove a blood clot. He said he wanted his tomb to read HERE LIES A HUMANIST. That he was.
At his funeral, the current Indonesian president praised him as the “father of multiculturalism and pluralism” who “raised awareness and institutionalised our respect for the diversity of ideas and identity, of religions, ethnicity and primordial ties.”