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M. Dawam Rahardjo: Defending the nation’s religious minority groups
Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Jakarta
During a discussion aired by a Jakarta radio station on August 4, 2005 veteran Muslim activist M. Dawam Rahardjo blatantly attacked the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI) for declaring Ahmadiyah teachings as hearsay.
He said MUI had no right to declare such fatwa or religious edicts that discriminate against minority groups.
He also regretted said fatwa had led to many Ahmadiyah members being attacked and their houses of worship destroyed by provoked rioters.
The discussion, however, turned ugly when some hardliners in the studio audience stood up, approached Dawam and threatened him with violence unless he stopped talking.
But Dawam has always stood firmly beside his principles.
On April 17, 2006, Dawam led hundreds of members of the National Alliance for Freedom of Religion and Belief in their march to the Ministry of Religious Affairs to protest the minister’s stance on Ahmadiyah.
The minister said Ahmadiyah was a danger to the spirit of tolerance across the nation.
Dawam not only defended Ahmadiyah, he showed support for other minority groups, including Komunitas Eden, whose leader, Lia Aminudin, claims to be the manifestation of Gabriel.
Dawam visited her when she was detained at the Jakarta Police detention house and attended her court proceedings at Central Jakarta State Court.
And when Komunitas Eden activist M. Abdul Rachman was detained at Salemba prison in East Jakarta, Dawam sent him a copy of his book (published by Kompas) to boost Abdul’s morale.
The book is a short story about the group’s activism and its struggle to find the truth.
A group of hardliners staged protests in front of Kompas daily, claiming Dawam’s short stories insulted Islam.
“Tolerance is a key to peace, brotherhood and progress,” Dawam said during the launch of this book.
“Tolerance will not weaken our own belief, it will instead encourage us to understand and accept others,” he said during the launch which was also in celebration of his 65th birthday.
His tolerant attitude, however, does not come for free.
“Many of my old friends at the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) left me because they regard pluralism as a threat.
“Many wrongly accuse me of becoming a follower of Ahmadiyah or Komunitas Eden.
“I merely defend their existence and respect for what they believe,” he said.
Born on April 20, 1942 in Baluwarti, Solo, Central Java, Dawam’s interest in literary was developed when his aunt Ba’diyah would tell him stories after his Koranic lessons, including Hikayat Amir Hamzah and Flash Gordon.
His father Muhammadiyah, as well as his teacher and entrepreneur Zuhdi Rahardjo, never hesitated to spend money on Dawam’s books.
Dawam was educated in Bustanul Athfal Muhammadiyah and later Madrasah Ibtidaiyyah Muhammadiyah at Masjid Besar Solo.
In the morning he attended the first grade of public school Al Robithoh al-Allawiyah.
He later continued his study at public elementary school Loji Wetan in the morning and Madrasah Diniyah Al-Islam in the afternoon; Junior High School and Senior High School in Manahan.
His first poems were published in Harian Abadi and he mingled with many writers, including Kustiowismo, Aslamah Jasin, Sogijono, Abdul Nur Adnan, Lasti Fardani, Ken Suheni, Darmanto Jatman, Elrlanda Rosi Ds., Husin Landicing, Jussac MR.
Some of these writers “disappeared” after 1965 due to their involvement in Indonesian Communist Party’s cultural wing Lekra.
Dawam was later awarded the American Field Service (AFS) fellowship to study in Borah High School in Idaho, U.S., among others, due to his involvement in PII (Indonesian Islamic Student) association.
But instead of becoming a poet and after distancing himself from many of his friends involved in Lekra, Dawam enrolled at Faculty of Economics at Gadjah Mada University where he was involved intensively in Islamic Students Association (HMI).
He established a Marxism Study Club with Arief Budiman, Sritua Arief and Farchan Bulkin.
After completing his degree in economics, he stayed at Bank of America for two years as a trainee officer.
He switched to renowned research institute LP3ES, where Nono Anwar Makarim was director.
He was further involved in many grassroots development projects supported by Friederich Naumann Stiftung.
At the age of 38, Dawam became its director.
He edited and wrote several scholarly works during his time at LP3ES including Insan Kamil: Konsepsi Manusia Menurut Islam (Insan Kamil: Human Conception according to Islam (1985), Pergulatan Dunia Pesantren: Membangun Dari Bawah (The Struggle of Pesantren: Development from the Grassroots), Esai-esai Ekonomi Politik (Essays on Economics and Politics) (1983), Pesantren dan Pembaharuan (Pesantren and Modernism) (1984), and Perekonomian Indonesia: Pertumbuhan dan Krisis (Indonesia’s Economy: Growth and Crisis (1987).
Dawam was awarded a professorship from Muhammadiyah Malang University in 1993 and was involved in the formation of ICMI. He became rector of Universitas Islam ‘45 (UNISMA).
Scholar Franz Magnis Suseno said Dawam’s spirit for tolerance developed because he viewed religion as not theory or ideology, but a force to lift up those who are marginalized and exploited.
The mushrooming of non-government organizations in the 1980s is inseparable from Dawam’s struggle to introduce and implement “people’s economy”.
It is because of his colorful career as an Islamic and NGO activist and trained economist – as well as his evolving perspective toward religions – that Dawam has evolved into a genuine pluralist who defends the rights of religious minority groups including Ahmadiyah, Komunitas Eden and Syi’ah.
He is against the bill on anti-pornography because he it would restrain creativity and kill the plurality of Indonesian culture.
Dawam may no longer be psychically strong but his mind is still active.
He is still able to produce numerous short stories and essays despite his hospitalization.
And his voice remains critical and as outspoken as ever.
Especially when he sees his countrymen being marginalized or ill-treated.
Daniel Dhakidae, his long time friend at LP3ES, said Dawam might forget people’s names, a long time habit – but one thing he will always remember and stick to is justice.