AS Maarif Receives R Magsaysay Award 2008

The 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding

Ramon Magsaysay Award Presentation Ceremonies
31 August 2008, Manila, Philippines

In Islam, authority rests in knowledge. In times of crisis and for guidance in day-to-day life, Muslims turn to scholars. It is their role to apply the truth of the Holy Quran and the lessons of the Prophet Muhammad to human life in matters large and small. Yet, Islam’s religious scholars-who these days may be teachers or preachers or public intellectuals, and are often all three-do not always see eye-to-eye. Their debates over the centuries have produced the heterogeneous world of Islam today, with its various sects and schools of law. In such debates, the authority of individual thinkers weighs heavily. And in countries like Indonesia, with vast Muslim majorities, intellectuals such as Ahmad Syafii Maarif can influence millions and shape the character of national life.

Syafii Maarif was born in West Sumatra in 1935. Through his family and early schooling, he was exposed to the teachings of reform Islam as espoused by Muhammadiyah, one of two mass organizations that dominate Muslim life in Indonesia. After university, he shifted naturally into teaching and later earned his doctorate in Islamic thought at the University of Chicago under the eminent scholar of Islam, Fazlur Rahman. By the 1980s he was an intellectual of serious reputation and a rising leader in Muhammadiyah.

The Indonesian nationalists who declared their country independent in 1945 created a secular state. They chose not to enshrine the shari’a, Islamic law, as the law of the land for Muslims. Instead, befitting Indonesia’s extraordinary diversity, the new nation’s creed became Panca Sila, whose ecumenical five principles began with “belief in one God” and otherwise spoke to the ideals of a just and civilized humanity, national unity, democracy, and social justice. This decision became a matter of bitter dispute among Indonesian Muslims that lingered under the thirty-year-long dictatorship of Suharto. His downfall in 1998 brought a new era of openness, reform, and democratizaton to Indonesia but also tumultuous sectarian conflict. It was at exactly this time that Syafii Maarif assumed leadership of Muhammadiyah and its thirty million members and sympathizers.

Syafii Maarif embraced his country’s fresh hopes for democracy and good governance and, in the stormy seas ahead, became a force for calm and moderation. When violence erupted between Indonesian Muslims and Christians, he reminded Muslims that Islam teaches the equality of all people; he took the lead in interfaith dialogues and warned against provocateurs who fanned fear and hate. When activists revived the call for an Islamic state and pressed urgently for implementation of the shari’a, he opposed them; the nonsectarian principles of Panca Sila, he said, were the right ones for Indonesia’s plural society. And when the impact of 9/11 and the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq reached Indonesia, and when terrorism struck home in Bali and Jakarta, he stressed that “Terrorism is not the authentic face of Islam.” In concert with other moderate leaders, he denounced it as a “crime against humanity.” He said much the same about the new American wars but urged Indonesian Muslims to reject spurious calls to Holy War, and to make their protests peacefully. He did so himself.

As Muhammadiyah’s president, Syafii Maarif spurned the trappings of power and resisted the call to politics. Today, at 73 and retired, he relishes his role as an independent thinker and mentor to the young. We must learn to look beyond our individual nations, he says, and see the world from a global perspective-“from a human perspective and from a justice perspective.” Indeed, justice is the key to “global wisdom.” Without it, he says, “I think the world will go astray forever.”

In electing Ahmad Syafii Maarif to receive the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding, the board of trustees recognizes his guiding Muslims to embrace tolerance and pluralism as the basis for justice and harmony in Indonesia and in the world at large.

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