What do you remember about Gus Dur? His famous “gitu aja kok repot” (why fuss?!) remark has become an icon on political talk shows. This remark showed how he could easily solve problems even though his decisions could spark anger from others.
Gus Dur passed away at the age of 69 at the Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital, Central Jakarta, on Wednesday at 6:45 p.m. Family members, figures from the country’s biggest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), as well as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who served as energy and mineral resources minister during Gus Dur’s tenure between 1999 and 2001, were beside him during his critical moment.
Gus Dur was long known as a humorist. He always threw in punches on serious issues, even on religious matters, which remains a sensitive topic in Indonesia. He revoked the ban on Chinese-related celebrations, making Imlek (Chinese New Year) a national holiday and barongsai (lion dance) and liong (dragon dance) a common attraction in malls and other festivities today.
He campaigned on interfaith dialogue, promoted Islam as a peaceful religion instead of its tarnished violent image after the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and a string of terror attacks at home.
“Becoming a mujahideen in Indonesia does not have to mean you explode bombs. It contradicts the spirit of jihad,” he once said.
Born in the small town of Jombang, East Java, on Aug. 4, 1940, son of Wahid Hasjim and Solichah, he was named Abdurrahman Addakhil. Addakhil means “the conqueror”. The eldest of six siblings, Gus Dur enjoyed the privilege of being the son to the religious affairs minister when Wahid Hasjim was appointed in 1949.
Gus Dur continued his studies at the Al-Azhar University School of Islamic Study in Cairo, from 1964 to 1966. He then studied at the School of Literature at Baghdad University before graduating in 1970.
Back to Indonesia a year later, Gus Dur joined the Institute of Research, Education and Information of Social and Economic Affairs and was a contributor to Prisma, a magazine established by the institute.
He also developed his career in journalism by writing for Tempo magazine and Kompas.
The husband of Sinta Nuriyah, who together they have four daughters, established Pesantren Ciganjur, an Islamic boarding school in 1984, due to his concern regarding the poor infrastructure and facilities of schools.
Grandson of Hasjim Ashari, the founder of NU, like it or not, Gus Dur was assigned to take over the leadership of the organization. In 1982, Gus Dur had his first political experience campaigning for the United Development Party (PPP). But a year later, he decided to quit the party to concentrate on reforming NU. He was elected NU chairman during a 1984 national congress.
Gus Dur finally became directly involved in politics after the downfall of Soeharto, who ruled the country for 32 years. He approved the establishment of the National Awakening Party (PKB) and became its chief patron. The new party only won 12 percent of total votes, but Gus Dur was elected as the new president and named Megawati Soekarnoputri, whose Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) won the election with 33 percent of votes, as his vice president.
During his presidency, Gus Dur made radical changes including dismissing the information ministry, that had served as Soeharto’s propaganda weapon, and the social services ministry, one of the most corrupt state institutions at that time, as well as the state ministry of youth and sports affairs.
Despite his involvement in politics and education, Gus Dur was known as an avid soccer fan. His predictions at competitions were mostly accurate and he used soccer terms – catenaccio, total football, you name it when dealing with the House of Representatives. However, that did not include his harsh comment on lawmakers, who he described as “kindergarten kids”.
Gus Dur also loved music. He admired the works of composers Beethoven and Mozart and rocker Janis Joplin, as well as Indonesian ballad singer Ebiet G. Ade.
Gus Dur has gone. However, his legacy remains. And it is the duty of Indonesians to continue his fight, especially on the pluralism issue that is pertinent in the country.
His jokes will always stay with us. “In pesantren, humor is a part of our lives. With jokes, we can forget our hardships. With jokes, we can have a healthy mind.”