Sun, 25 May 2003

Award celebrates Muslim intellectual Ahmad Wahib

Fifi Yulianti, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

His eye-opening idea on moderate Islam as an open, releasing and unbinding faith probably won the hearts of many Muslim intellectuals during his time. His insight has made him part of the Muslim intellectual circle in Indonesia.

Although not so well known among Indonesians, the name Ahmad Wahib is influential and respectable in the history of Islam development in this country.

To mark the 30th anniversary of Ahmad Wahib's death, the Muslim Students Association (HMI) and the Freedom Institute and the Economic Social and Education Research Institute (LP3ES) jointly held an essay competition called the Ahmad Wahib Award, the winner of which would receive a cash prize of Rp 30 million (US$3534).

Zezen, an executive committee member, explained the reason behind naming the award after Ahmad Wahib.

"Ahmad is a man who gave new meaning to Islam and on being a Muslim here. Although he's not so famous and not many young people know of him, his ideas have provided new meaning to Muslim thinking," Zezen said.

Born to a staunch Madurese Muslim family in the small town of Sampang in 1942, Ahmad Wahib was fortunate to have been enrolled at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, where he could sharpen his young intellectual's mind.

During his studies, Ahmad Wahib was involved in HMI, but he was not a typical conservative Muslim activist. Among his peers, he was known for his rebellious ideas. Young Ahmad Wahib was hungry for the truth. He was dedicated in his efforts in seeking and trying to formulate new ideas to develop Indonesian Islam.

Ahmad Wahib later became known among a larger circle of intellectuals after his diary was published posthumously as Pergolakan Pemikiran Islam (The Dynamics of Islamic Thoughts) by LP3ES in 1981.

Wahib is described in the book as a Muslim activist who struggled with a discourse on modern Islam in the Indonesian context.

He believed that every Muslim should contextually understand the Koran, saying, "We will understand the meaning if we know the context," and that one of the biggest problems in Islam was that its meaning was misunderstood.

One of his main ideas is that a religion is a freedom that every human being is entitled to.

"Religion is not an obligation ... it is a human right," he wrote.

He also said that "God is rational, so people can't find God with an irrational mind."

The winner of the award, the first of its kind, was announced on Wednesday during the association's 56th anniversary celebration at Wisma Antara in Central Jakarta.

A young, talented writer, Muhammad Ja'far, won the award with his essay Surat Buat Tuan Wahib (A letter for Mr. Wahib), which explored the deeper meaning of Ahmad's ideas on Islam.

Noted scholars Dawam Rahardjo, Moeslim Abdurrahman, Budhy Munawar Rachman and Hamid Basyaib sat on the competition's jury. They selected Ja'far's essay, written as a letter addressed to Ahmad Wahib, as the winning composition as it did not only explore, but also critically questioned, Ahmad Wahib's thoughts.