Hasyim devotes life to peace

Many predicted a meeting between President Megawati Soekarnoputri and her predecessor Abdurrahman Wahid recently was unlikely, but Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) chairman Hasyim Muzadi used his sense of humor to save the occasion.

When a presidential staff asked him whether Gus Dur, as Abdurrahman is widely known, would be present at the NU congress Megawati was due to open, Hasyim replied: "There are only some NU senior clerics, of course Gus Dur is among them".

The next day, the picture of Megawati shaking hands with Gus Dur was printed on the front page of most dailies in the country.

It was the first public appearance of them together since the two former allies parted after the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) dismissed Gus Dur and replaced him with Megawati in July last year.

Nobody knows whether the relationship between Gus Dur and Megawati will be revived, but one thing is sure: Hasyim has stamped his status as a noted peace broker.

Gus Dur may not yet be reconciled with MPR Speaker Amien Rais, but Hasyim has established a peaceful coexistence between NU and Muhammadiyah, the latter being the country's second largest Muslim organization after NU, which Amien used to chair. The two organizations were known for their bitter rivalry in the past.

Hasyim, incumbent Muhammadiyah chairman Syafii Ma'arif and other religious leaders like Julius Kardinal Darmaatmadja of the Indonesian Conference of Bishops and Wismoady Wahono of the Indonesian Communion of Churches and Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid,, have also declared a national movement aimed at bolstering peace in Indonesia's pluralistic society.

This move came amid the radicalization of certain Muslim groups in response to the United States-led global war on terrorism, which many feared would discredit Islam. At about the same time, Indonesia has seen renewed sectarian conflicts, which have in the past left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Hasyim is strict when it comes to people who use religion to justify violence.

He said he found it hard to believe that religious worshipers would kill each other in the name of God.

"As a religion, Islam should not exist exclusively in this pluralistic community. Looking at the current conflict in Maluku and Poso (Central Sulawesi), has it not been caused by the implementation of religious teachings while neglecting humanitarian values?" Hasyim said recently.

"This country has suffered too much from brutal behavior. I see the pain has worsened due to the maneuvering of certain groups who have pursued their own political interests."

Hasyim has criticized radical Muslim groups saying: "even those who call themselves religious leaders sometimes drive people to sow hatred for just a few cents".

His firm stance drew the attention of the U.S. government, which later invited him to Washington to brief policy makers in the country about the true face of Islam in Indonesia.

"At the time, the U.S. planned to launch military attacks on several Islamic countries, including Indonesia, on charges that it was harboring terrorists. I told them the radicals here were not representative of Islam. There's nothing wrong with Islam," Hasyim said.

Due to his pivotal role, U.S. State Secretary Colin Powell spared time during his recent visit to Jakarta to hold talks with Hasyim and other moderate Muslim leaders.

Born in the coastal town of Tuban, East Java, on Aug. 8, 1944, Hasyim's parents Muzadi and Rumyati were a devout couple. He grew up with seven brothers and sisters.

After graduating from Gontor modern Islamic boarding school in Ponorogo in 1963, Hasyim continued his studies at Malang Islamic Teaching School in East Java, where he met Muthommimah whom he married in 1972.

Now, the father of six, runs Al Hikam Islamic boarding school in Malang.

Hasyim replaced Gus Dur as the skipper of the 40 million-strong NU in 1999, months after the latter had been elected the nation's president.

Many doubted at the time whether Hasyim could maintain the organization's independence because of his close relationship to president Abdurrahman.

Hasyim's commitment to keep NU away from politics was immediately tested when Gus Dur was involved in bickering with his opponents, who wanted him ousted.

The heated political rivalry in Jakarta triggered riots in several towns in East Java, known as NU's stronghold. People in the towns attacked facilities belonging to Muhammadiyah and even called for a holy war against those who tried to unseat Gus Dur.

It was later resolved peacefully, thanks in part to Hasyim's move to calm the angry public, although he admitted "the forced succession reveals the power of tyranny".

Hasyim, however, has never questioned the legitimacy of the post-Gus Dur government, unlike the former president and his followers.

Staying outside politics has enabled Hasyim, as well as NU, to criticize the government and the political elite, without harboring vested interests. It is this feature that has attracted public recognition of his influential role.

He plays down his work, however.

"I have called on the political elite on many occasions to always be careful with their words and behavior because they may adversely affect the public. Thank God it has worked, though some of them have turned a deaf ear to my appeals.

"It's perhaps easy to settle differences of opinion, but not the conflict of wealth," he once said.

* Published by The Jakarta Post on August 15, 2002