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Jakarta Post

M. Dawam Rahardjo: Champion of pluralism and religious freedom

  • Bambang Muryanto

    The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta   /   Wed, February 5, 2014   /  11:39 am
M. Dawam Rahardjo: Champion of pluralism and religious freedom (Courtesy of Dawam Rahardjo)

(Courtesy of Dawam Rahardjo)

Being old and visually impaired has not prevented M. Dawam Rahardjo, 71, from continuing his hobby of reading books, although he now has to use a magnifying glass to do so.

Recipient of the 2013 Yap Thiam Hien Award, Dawam still has a great passion for reading as a means of improving his knowledge. He also continues to express a clear mind and commitment to fighting for the rights of minority groups and for freedom of religion.

He, for example, voiced his strong opposition when particular community groups demanded the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) declare Shia as deviant from Islamic teaching.

'€œShia is not a deviant sect because Shia adherents are educated people. MUI may declare Shia as deviant but the Shiites have never declared Sunni deviant. That'€™s what makes both [sects] different,'€ said Dawam, the rector of Yogyakarta Proklamasi 45 University.

At other times, Dawam, who is also director of the Institute of Religious and Philosophical Studies (LSAF), has fought to help Christian communities that faced challenges building their churches. He has also fought for the rights of Ahmadis to receive protection from the state.

'€œI have an ideal of upholding pluralism in Indonesia in the milieu of Islam,'€ said the father of two and husband of Sunarni.

Dawam believes that pluralism is a necessity. He says that people have to respect freedom of religion because faith cannot be controlled. Only by respecting pluralism can peace be achieved, he adds.

'€œFreedom of religion is in line with Islamic principles. No compulsion is allowed in religion. That is what Islam teaches,'€ he said.

An activist with the Liberal Islamic Network (JIL), he said he did not mind if others considered him as having liberal tendencies in the sense of pluralism.

'€œI respect human thinking. God'€™s revelation always faces objectivity when applied. That'€™s why human thought is needed,'€ Surakarta-born Dawam said.

It is because of his ideals and struggle for pluralism and human rights that the not-for-profit Yap Thiam Hien Foundation named Dawam as its 18th recipient of the Yap Thiam Hien Award in 2013. The hand over ceremony for the award was held in Jakarta on Thursday.

The annual award is given to individuals or organizations considered to have made a significant contribution to upholding human rights. The award has been made since 1992.

'€œThis year we decided to name Dawam as the award recipient because of his ability in fighting for and defending the principles of equality and pluralism in Indonesia,'€ Yulia Siswaningsih of the Yap Thiam Hien Foundation said.

Yulia said Dawam was firm in upholding his principles and he was unwavering despite intimidation and threats.

It was because of this firmness of principle that in 2006 he was expelled from Muhammadiyah, the country'€™s second-largest Muslim organization, for defending the Ahmadi minority who were denounced as deviant from Islam.

'€œWe have so many sects in Islam. They should have united to make Islam strong,'€ Dawan said.

Chairman of the Yogyakarta Interfaith Brotherhood Forum (FPUB), Abdul Muhaimin, said that Dawam was indeed a strong fighter for human rights.

'€œHe does not hesitate in the face of resistance, or even being made a persona non grata in his various associations, when fighting for the rights of those who are marginalized,'€ said Muhaimin.

A 1969 graduate of Gadjah Mada University'€™s (UGM) School of Economics, Dawam was initially more popularly known as a pro-people economist. He started to seriously study the Quran and sunnah (words and deeds of the Prophet) in the 1980s.

His thoughts on the economy have been widely published in the mass media and Prisma scientific journal. A collection of his writings published in Prisma were published in an 800-page book entitled Politik Ekonomi Pembangunan (Development Economy Politics).

His great passion for economic issues is still obvious when he talks about the current situation in Indonesia, which upsets him because of the country'€™s high dependence on the world'€™s economic powers and lack of economic independence.

He said he still had a dream of creating an economic policy that benefitted the people and not just foreign investors.

'€œI would take economic power from foreign hands. We would start with the food, clothing and energy sectors,'€ said Dawam who is also a professor of economy at the Malang Muhammadiyah University.

In the energy sector, he said, he urged the development of a biomass-based energy industry and not industries whose technologies had not yet been fully mastered by Indonesia. Biomass energy was a viable option because Indonesia was rich in the basic materials to produce it, he said.

Scholar Arie Sujito of UGM'€™s school of social and political sciences said that Dawam'€™s critical views on pluralism, economics and social justice had contributed a great deal to the development of democracy and pluralism in Indonesia.

'€œWe are lucky to have a thinker like Dawam Rahardjo,'€ Arie said.

Director of interfaith dialog institute Dian/Interfidei, Elga Sarapung, expressed the same view saying that Dawam fully deserved the Yap Thiam Hien Award. '€œCongratulations, Pak Dawam. We will always continue our struggle,'€ Elga said.