Abdurrahman Wahid (deceased)
On January 2, 2010, one million candles were lit in cities throughout Indonesia in honor of Abdurrahman Wahid, the former Indonesian President who died three days earlier.
The disappearance of the beloved leader of the world’s most populous Muslim nation marked a sad day in not just the short history of Indonesia’s democratic tenure, but also throughout the Asia-Pacific region. As a tribute, Indonesian leader Sudsilo Bambang Yudhoyono reminded mourners that Abdurrahman Wahid had made Indonesians “realize and respect the diversity of ideas and identities brought about by differences in faiths, beliefs, ethnicity and locality”. He declared Wahid “the father of pluralism and multiculturalism in Indonesia.”
Abdurrahman Wahid’s achievements did much to promote cultural diversity, democratic governance and respect for minority and civilian rights in Indonesia, helping the country to play a more prominent role in regional affairs. A leader ahead of his time, Wahid was one of the most popular democratically-elected leaders in Indonesian history. As a prominent Islamic scholar, he persistently preached for religious tolerance and moderate politics. Before his election, he headed Indonesia's largest Muslim organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama. He consistently maintained that faith is a personal matter. His moderate stance won him many enemies and brought him harsh criticism from radical Islamic circles, but earned him the respect of many Muslims and non-Muslims throughout Indonesia and the world.
President Wahid opposed the idea of a fully-fledged Islamic state, arguing that if Islam was institutionalized, it would marginalize Indonesia's minorities and inevitably lead to widespread social unrest.
Born in East Java in 1940, Abdurrahman Wahid came from a family of prominent Muslim intellectuals. His education included periods abroad, both in the Middle East and Europe. Wahid abandoned an overtly political role in the mid-1980s, after the government moved to have all organizations accept the state ideology Pancasila. Later, he opposed the former president's efforts to harness Islam to the regime's own advantage. He declined membership of the government-backed association of Indonesian Muslim intellectuals, ICMI, when it was created in late 1990, setting up the alternative 'Forum Demokrasi.'
Throughout his leadership, Wahid pushed for a more secular Indonesia. He reined in the power of the military and formally apologized to the Timorese people for the crimes committed by the army. In Aceh, he promoted strong relations between the Muslim population and other faiths.
In his post-political years, President Wahid suffered a series of strokes which severely affected his mobility. But he remained in the public eye about domestic politics, determined to be contribute to Indonesia’s rise as Southeast Asia’s shining democratic example to the world. He also opened the Wahid Institute, a body which aims to uphold a vision for close relations between the West and a progressive Islamic society.