BUDHY MUNAWAR-RACHMAN: JOURNEY TOWARD (RELIGIOUS) PLURALISM
Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Tangerang, Banten
Muslim intellectual Budhy Munawar-Rachman looked relieved and satisfied. Completing a 4,000-page series of books on the thoughts of the late Muslim thinker Nurcholish "Cak Nur" Madjid required a lot of patience, hard work and a high degree of accuracy, for which Budhy deserves praise.
Cak Nur passed away in 2005 due to illness.
"It has been my dream (to complete such a series) since 1996, and it was a fully rewarding and intellectual experience for me," Budhy, who first met Cak Nur in 1984 and later became his assistant in 1992 at the Paramadina Foundation, told The Jakarta Post of his series of books Ensiklopedi Nurcholish Madjid.
The series, comprising four volumes, comprehensively compiles the thoughts and opinions of Cak Nur, and was mostly transcribed from oral presentations, discussions and lectures, and scholarly papers presented at various conferences and seminars.
When asked why he decided to use the word Ensiklopedi, Budhy said that Cak Nur was just like an encyclopedia. He had a broad knowledge of Islam and modernism and his thoughts have become a source which people from various backgrounds can consult from students to intellectuals, and even presidential candidates.
"Cak Nur is a source of inspiration for many, and his thoughts went way beyond his generation. For some, his thoughts might be considered controversial, but they have profoundly influenced the direction of Islamic discourse and movements in this country, especially toward the acceptance of moderation, secularization and pluralism," said Budhy.
"Cak Nur is simply indispensable."
Budhy transcribed and edited Cak Nur's lectures from 1996 to 2002. From 2004 to 2006 he worked almost full-time on editing before arranging them into the four-set series.
Born on June 22, 1963, in
His father, Abd. Rachman Shaleh, a research professor in Islamic studies at the Religious Affairs Ministry, graduated from an Islamic boarding school, or pesantren, affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), while his mother, Siti Munawarah, was a member of Muhammadiyah.
It was perhaps this non-monolithic atmosphere that enabled Budhy to humbly accept differences, "although my father's influence was stronger than my mother's," he said.
"One thing about my parents that made them very similar is that they never spoke ill of non-Muslims," Budhy said.
His flexibility and willingness in embracing pluralism was enhanced even further when his parents sent him to secular and public schools in the morning and then to the religious Madrasah al-Ittihad school in Tanah Abang, Central Jakarta, in the afternoons.
"I studied all-day long," recalled Budhy, "and I thank my parents for giving me a solid Islamic education, both at home and in the madrasah, which has been vital in the subsequent years of my life and in dealing with difficult religious discourses and doctrines."
After completing high school, Budhy developed an interest in helping the local Muslim community. He undertook community development training at pesantren Asyafi'iyah in
Budhy studied the philosophies of Paulo Freire, whose emphasis on dialog was well-known among those concerned with informal education, and Ivan Illich, whose polemics on the different forms of professional authority, such as his idea onsociety", earned the philosopher an unsavory reputation.
Teachers at the school included Mansur Faqih, a student of Muslim scholar Harun Nasution, who was famous for his teachings on rational Islam and neo-Mu'tazilah, accepting that the future is in the hands of man, or to put it radically: man decides and God follows. Other teachers at the school included Utomo Danandjaya, who taught Budhy about the importance of tolerance, and Roem Topatimasang, who taught leftist philosophy.
The training was a real eye-opener for Budhy in learning that Islam, indeed, has many faces.
The school, however, only managed to produce one batch of graduates as it was closed down in 1984 after a dispute among members of the pesantren who believed that the school was leading students downdangerous path".
Budhy later joined the Proklamasi Religious Study group in the house of Djohan Effendi, together with activists Fachri Ali and Bachtiar Effendi and activist-turned-journalist Syafi'i Anwar.
"It was a study group designed to welcome home Cak Nur, who, at the time, had almost finished writing his PhD in the
He also enrolled in the Catholic-oriented STF Driyarkara Institute of Philosophy, and found his time there to beand intellectually worthwhile."
Unlike other religion-oriented schools, STF Driyarkara welcomes students from various religious backgrounds.learned Catholic theology, not from Muslims, but directly from Catholics themselves," said Budhy. His lecturers included Christ Veshaak, J. Verhaar, Kees Bertens and Franz Magnis-Suseno.
He said he was marveled by the teachings of love within Christianity. "It is an unconditional love, which is nearly impossible for ordinary human beings to learn," he said.
Budhy did not stop there. He later studied Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. He said his study of oriental mysticism with
Reflecting on his religious and spiritual journey, Budhy said he applies "passing-over" methodology, meaning that he crosses over his own religion and embraces another, andback" methodology, which means as a pious Muslim, he should consider everything he learns from other religions or spiritual philosophies.
Budhy is currently the project officer of Islam and Civil Society at The Asia Foundation. The Foundation's approach in
Nevertheless, just like Cak Nur, Budhy has been unable to escape controversy. His involvement in interfaith marriage agreements has earned him notoriety among mainstream Muslims.
"Interfaith marriage is merely a logical consequence of pluralism," defended Budhy.
"Many couples, particularly Muslims and non-Muslims - find difficulty in getting married. Ultimately, one person is forced to change their religion in order to get married, which is bad. We are just trying to help, as the state is still helpless," he said, adding that interfaith marriage is religiously acceptable.