Understanding the founding president
Most people look upon founding president Sukarno as having being more of a nationalist, with some considering him a Marxist, rather than an Islamist.
During the formulation of state ideology Pancasila, Sukarno proposed that the principle on belief in one God should be put after nationality and humanity in the five tenets. He prioritized nationality.
Some said Sukarno did this to prevent the new nation from becoming an Islamic state. He wanted to make a clear distinction between state and religion.
Eventually, the tenet on belief was put ahead of all the others.
Sukarno, who was born Kusno Sosrodihardjo, said that an Islamic state was not suitable for a pluralistic society.
According to him, individual devotion in religion was more important than making the country an Islamic state. He wanted to give fellow citizens the freedom to make their own choices in aspects related to faith.
Former Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) chairman Hasyim Muzadi said that Sukarno’s thoughts were actually in line with Islam.
“Take a look at all the five tenets of Pancasila — what’s not Islamic about them?” asked Hasyim.
According to Hasyim, all the principles of Pancasila are in line with Islamic teachings. Sukarno simply expressed it differently.
“Sukarno used logical approaches to Islamic teachings and applied it to the state ideology. He took the substantial points,” he said during a discussion titled “Sukarno and Islam” at the State Islamic University (UIN) in Ciputat, Tangerang, recently.
Sukarno was born in June 1901 and died in the same month in 1970. He also declared Pancasila the state ideology on June 1, 1945.
June is now commemorated as “Sukarno month”.
One of Sukarno’s granddaughters, Puan Maharani, said there was a misconception about Sukarno in that he was indeed a true Muslim, not a communist or socialist.
“Sukarno was even on Muhammadiyah’s [patron] board before he passed away,” Puan said.
Another NU scholar, Masdar F. Mas’udi, said that instead of following existing mazhab (school of thought), Sukarno had his own way concerning religious teachings.
“Sukarno didn’t declare someone heretical or not; nor did he say anything about halal (permissible according to Islamic law) or haram (forbidden). He had his own ways, but still in accordance with teachings,” he said.
Masdar said that Sukarno did not focus on religious symbols or attributes but rather practicalities in the wider picture, like social justice, which was then made one of the tenets of Pancasila.
Former Muhammadiyah chairman Ahmad Syafii Maarif said the founding president learned about Islam when he was exiled to Ende in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara. There, he used to discuss Islam in correspondence with Ahmad Hassan, a Singapore-born Persatuan Islam (Persis) leader.
Sukarno was born in Surabaya, where he was introduced to HOS Tjokroaminoto, a nationalist who established the Sarekat Islam political organization. Sukarno learned about politics and modern Islam from the nationalist.
There, he also learned a lot from Muhammadiyah founder Ahmad Dahlan.
Syafii said that Dahlan and Hassan were Sukarno’s teachers, indirectly. However, he added that Sukarno’s thoughts were formed more by the many books he read.
“He was more of an autodidact. Sukarno was a great reader,” Syafii said.
Syafii said that in 1935, Sukarno started to look into hadith (the Prophet’s traditions) from Imam Bukhari. He criticized people for buying into the weak hadith more than the Koran.
“This was a thing that even Hassan and Dahlan did not do,” he said.
After all, Sukarno was a Muslim. But the question of whether he was an Islamist or a nationalist is for us to consider and decide alone. (fzm)
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